Yang Hongqiong competes in the women's long-distance sitting cross-country skiing event on March 6 at the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics. [Photo by Zhang Cheng /chinadaily.com.cn]
Three years after switching from wheelchair basketball to snow sports, Yang Hongqiong found herself among the most decorated Chinese Paralympians, winning three gold medals at the 2022 Beijing Winter Paralympics in March.
"Sports changed my life and brought me out of depression," said the 32-year-old cross-country skier from Yunnan province.
Born into a rural family in Yunnan's Luoping county, Yang was athletic and active in her childhood. But she broke her spine in the middle and lower sections and lost sensation in her legs at 14 when she stumbled and fell while climbing a hill.
"At the beginning, I couldn't accept the fact that I would never walk again," she said. "I always stayed at home and tried to avoid contact with people as much as possible.
"Several years later when my parents were older, I realized I could no longer be their burden."
In 2012, her father brought her a mobile phone, which she used to connect with opportunities for the disabled. She entered Yunnan Huaxia Specialized Secondary School in Kunming, the only secondary school in southwestern China that offered classes for disabled students.
In 2014, she was recruited to the provincial wheelchair basketball team because of her athletic talent.
In the following years, her rigorous training was rewarded in provincial-level and national-level competitions.
When she got the news that some athletes involved in the Summer Olympic sports in the province would be recruited for the Winter Paralympic team to prepare for the 2022 Beijing Winter Paralympic Games, she applied without hesitation for the sitting cross-country ski event. She began training, but became the one who fell the most on the team.
"My parents advised me to give up and return home, as I was getting older," she said. "However, I told them I would continue to the end."
Her persistence at last bore fruit. On March 6, she won the gold medal in the women's long-distance sitting event at the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics and then another two gold medals, including the women's short-distance sitting on March 9 and the women's middle-distance sitting on March 12.
She was chosen as the flag-bearer of the Chinese delegation at the closing ceremony.
On April 8, Yang was commended for her outstanding contribution to the Beijing 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Games and spoke on behalf of Olympic and Paralympic winners at the Great Hall of the People.
"I want to tell all disabled people that everyone has a right to pursue their dreams and is qualified to challenge their fate," she said. "As long as you set your own target and make the effort, you can realize your value in life and even win glory for the country."