A Paralympic Gold Medalist
Champions come and go, but little do we remember the glorious winners of the past. Ping Yali is one among them.
Ping not only was the reason for the Chinese national flag to be hoisted for the first time at a Paralympics field but she was the first ever Chinese citizen to win the Paralympic Gold, even before Xu Haifeng, who won it almost a month later at the Olympics.
It was in New York, during the Seventh Paralympic Games, in June 1984, when Ping, who was then only 22-years-old, sprang with all her strength and won the first, long jump gold medal for China. Ping, however, was unable to visually experience this proud and historic moment.
Born in Beijing in 1961, Ping has been blind since birth due to a congenital cataract. As the youngest daughter and the only disabled child of the family, Ping was given a lot of love and care by her mother. Recalling the unforgettable moment, when she was standing on the winner’s podium, Ping wondered, if her mother would have been alive to see her daughter winning China’s first Paralympic gold medal, how she would have reacted, “I am not sure if she would’ve cried or smiled”.
Ping says that one of the inner most fears of most blind people is that of falling into holes or running into obstacles. Ping made an effort to overcome this mental barrier and gradually found a way to train effectively with her coach. To learn the skills needed to be a number one long jump athlete, she devised a specialised training method. While her coach would demonstrate step by step the different actions involved in long jump, Ping would have her hands on her coach’s body, enabling her to make a mental picture and imitate the movements.
It all started when her teacher at the blind school recognised her talent and love for sport. Although at first, Ping was terrified at the idea of jumping into the void and did show her resistance. But with the advice of her teacher and the guidance of her coach, she got into performing the long jump without any anxiety and problem. And then there was no looking back. Ping worked her way up the various stages and competitions until she was selected for the national team in 1984, and then selected to represent her country in the Paralympic games in New York.
Ping has gone through more than ordinary people can imagine. After her landmark victory at the 1984 Paralympic games, life presented her with many new problems. Ping had to start her life from scratch and was forced to live under severe poverty stricken conditions. To top it all, Ping gave birth to a son, who due to a cruel twist of fate was also born blind. Additionally, she also had to go through a failed marriage. Ping, the iron-willed woman, did not let anything get her down and insisted on bringing up her son herself. Despite qualifying for government aid, she refused it saying she wanted to earn her own living. She said, “If her blind son started depending solely on government aid, I would consider myself a failed mother.” Ping then started working out ways to solve her problems. She took professional training as a masseur and in the year 2001 Ping became a licensed massage practitioner.
With the help of her friends, she opened a small business in her home. In spite of winning a national television competition against 49 other would-be entrepreneurs, it was tough going during the early stages. She remembers being cheated by her customers, who gave her fake money after getting their massages. Since she couldn’t see it, Ping even returned the correct change to such people. It surely was very discouraging and she was almost ready to give up, when her friends gave her the strength and motivation to keep going. She is now the proud owner of three massage shops in Beijing. She not only can afford her son’s tuition fees, who is studying massage in a special school for the blind, but she also creates job vacancies for the disabled people. More than 20 disabled people work in her massage parlours.
Ping has a strong and unique character. Besides having the will to survive, she faces difficulties head on. No matter how tough the challenge is, she soldiers on and tries her best.
She was also one of the proud torchbearers of the 2008 Paralympic Games, held in her own country. Ping is not only a role model for her son, but her life undoubtedly is an inspiration for one and all.