From poverty to peak performer

Yan Gong, para Alpine skier.

One-legged Chinese skier keeps beating the odds to chase his Paralympic dreams

Yan Gong had never even seen snow up close until six years ago. Now, remarkably, he is preparing to compete in the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics.

His route to the Games, however, has been rocky to say the least. When he was 17, Yan lost part of his right leg below the knee when the three-wheel vehicle he was driving overturned.

Yan was born in an impoverished family in the city of Pu'er, Southwest China's Yunnan province. In 2015, about a third of residents in his subtropical hometown still lived in poverty. At that time, Yan had to share a bamboo hut with three other family members.

Yan's mother passed away when he was only 8 years old, and a year after his amputation, his father suddenly died of gastrorrhagia-a gastric hemorrhage.

"I took so many of life's punches back then and just wanted to give up on life," said Yan, 24. "After my amputation in 2015, I could do nothing but stay at home."

Shortly after the death of his father, the plight of Yan and his young sister came to the attention of local officials who were assigned to the village as part of an anti-poverty program. With renewed support and hope, Yan managed to pull himself together and resumed his favorite hobby-playing basketball.

In 2016, Yan enrolled in a vocational school in Kunming, Yunnan's capital, which provides free education for persons with disabilities.

A few weeks into his first semester, Yan's strong build was noticed by provincial sports officials. After multiple tryouts, he was drafted as a para Alpine skier-much to his surprise.

"I was so fascinated when I saw snow in Shenyang (in Northeast China's Liaoning province) for the very first time because the climate in my hometown is so warm in winter," Yan recalled.

However, he was soon overwhelmed by the sports' notoriously demanding training schedule.

"When I first skied on the slopes, I could not even keep my balance and twisted my knee," said Yan. "The giant slalom was the toughest, and it was very hard to pass the obstacles."

Just as he had overcome difficulties in his personal life, Yan overcame his fears and soon was zooming down the slopes, minus the constant tumbles.

He arrives at the Beijing Winter Games in encouraging form, claiming a gold medal at the Alpine skiing national championships.

"Through skiing, I earned an allowance and income to support my younger sister to continue her education," he said.

Yan said he is grateful to local officials, school teachers and his coach for their help over the years. "I also want to say 'well done' to myself as I didn't give up and am becoming more fearless and confident," he added.

"I will go all out in the 2022 Winter Paralympics. My biggest wish is simply to produce my best performances at the Games."

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