Qian Hongyan, a 19-year-old woman from Yunnan, southwest China, lost both of her legs as a child in a devastating car accident, but her unfortunate situation did not prevent her from becoming a champion swimmer.
In 2000, at the age of 4, Qian was involved in a terrible car accident that forced doctors to amputate both of her legs. Her family was extremely impoverished and could not provide the finances needed to support the young girl’s medical situation.
Qian ended up learning how to walk using wooden paddles and an old basketball that her grandfather cut up to provide comfort for her when her arms got tired.
By the time she reached middle school she was known as the “basketball girl” and her disability was laughed at by many of the children she went to school with. However, in 2005 a photograph of Qian was taken that turned everything around. The photograph portrayed the young girl in worn clothes and hobbling along a dirt road with the aid of the basketball.
The photo spread internationally and people began sending donations to Qian that eventually provided an opportunity for her to travel to Beijing where she was given a set of legs and enrolled in primary school.
While the donations put Qian through her first years of schooling, they were not enough to allow her to pursue an education beyond the age of 11.
In 2007 she was forced to return back to her family in Yunnan, but she was not disheartened. Qian was determined to make a name for herself and she began by joining a swimming team for children who were disabled. At first she said it seemed impossible for her to swim. She told China Daily:
“It seemed there was no way I could float in the water. I always choked.”
However, Qian did not give up. She worked for a several years and became a natural in the water. In 2009, she made headlines in the Chinese National Paralympics Swimming Competition after she won a gold and two silver medals.
Qian received a bronze medal in the 2012 Paralympic qualifiers, but it was not enough for her to secure a spot on the team.
Qian was devastated by the news, but still she did not give up. Last year in September, Qian took first in the 100-meter breaststroke final at the Yunnan Provincial Paralympic Games.
Qian is a fighter and an advocate for the old saying: “Quitters never win, and winners never quit.”