From hopelessness to hoops
Sichuan earthquake survivor savoring new lease of life on the court
Shang Ting receives a pass, rolls her wheelchair, dribbles, stops, shoots - and scores!
Nothing but net.
At 22, Shang is the youngest member of the Sichuan women's wheelchair basketball team. Her six points on Saturday helped her team win their final game at the 10th National Games for Persons with Disabilities in Tianjin.
From hopelessness to hoops
Shang Ting unloads a shot for the Sichuan women's wheelchair basketball team at the 10th National Games for Persons with Disabilities in Tianjin on Saturday. Wang Hui / Xinhua
After four consecutive losses, the victory meant a lot to her.
Eleven years ago, Shang's miraculous survival in the 8.0-magnitude Wenchuan earthquake stirred the nation's heart.
After being buried in the ruins for over four days, she lost her legs, an eye and an index finger. Now, following an excruciating rehabilitation process, Shang walks with the use of prosthetic legs and participates in numerous sports.
"My childhood dream was to become an athlete. Sports raise me up," said Shang, who excelled at running in her school days.
Shang was born in 1997 in the town of Yingxiu, Wenchuan county, the epicenter of the earthquake in Sichuan province in 2008.
The earthquake hit on May 12, leaving nearly 70,000 dead, 374,000 injured, 18,000 missing and millions homeless.
It was then that Shang endured her darkest hours - 102 to be exact.
"We were having science class on the second floor. Suddenly, my world was violently shaking. I rushed out, but before I could even reach the stairwell, the four-story building collapsed and buried me," she recalled.
Some children were trapped not far away from Shang. They shouted for help and kept encouraging each other in the belief that "rescue teams are coming soon".
During the seemingly hopeless wait, Shang lost track of time. The sounds from the other kids became weaker and weaker, and finally she could only hear her own breathing.
A scan of the area showed no signs of life under the ruins on May 15. The next day, however, an old woman searching for her grandson discovered Shang and alerted rescuers. Ten hours later, Shang was saved.
Upon seeing her mother again, the 11-year-old Shang asked, "Where is my dad?" She smiled for the first time since her ordeal after learning that he was also safe.
"My mother wept when seeing the bandages heavily wrapped around my body. I comforted her with the words, 'It is the best out of the worst and I am still alive,' since only 11 of 44 in my class survived," Shang said.
The physical and mental toll of the quake on Shang was immense, but after several surgeries, rehab and the love and support of her family she returned to school, albeit a temporary one, just six months later.
"I devoted myself to study, and it helped me conquer all of the hardship and trauma," she said.
In September 2009, Shang was one of 113 students who were seriously injured in the earthquake to become pupils at China's first "entirely mixed school", where able-bodied students and those with disabilities study and live together.
The new school was named Youai, a combination of the Mandarin words for 'friend' and 'love'.
"Barrier-free facilities could be seen everywhere in the school. We could reach every corner of the building, just like the other kids," Shang said.
It was there she picked up sports again, with wheelchair basketball her first foray back into fitness with the help of the local disabled persons federation.
"I once thought doing sports would be a bridge too far for me, but wheelchair basketball has proven me wrong," she said.
Shang has since learned to swim, play wheelchair volleyball and run, and has participated in provincial competitions many times.
During high school, Shang concentrated on her academic studies and gained admittance to Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
During those three years without sports, Shang tried hard to walk again with the prosthetic legs.
"I was not accustomed to the prosthetic legs at the beginning, and my legs were often red with rashes and blood after several minutes," she said.
Shang was able to overcome those challenges and now walks with ease.
During her summer vacation this year, Shang rekindled her love for wheelchair basketball at the National Games for Persons with Disabilities.
She said the best players "become one" with their wheelchair, and that, compared to regular hoops, the game is much more difficult.
In the past two months, Shang's team has trained over six hours a day.
"This collective sport made me stronger than before," she said.
"The indomitable and unyielding spirit necessary to be competitive in sports is what we need to fight disability and the physical challenges it brings."
Plenty of others maimed in the earthquake are also rebuilding their lives through sports.
Ma Cong, who lost her left lower leg, took part in a wheelchair volleyball match at the Games and agrees with Shang's assessment of the value of competition.
"I'm healthier after doing sports, and I also make friends with lots of people," Ma said.
Just seeing so many people moving around with ease and with such confidence on wheelchairs or artificial limbs at the eight-day event was inspiring for Shang.
"They do not have to cover up with clothes. It is just as natural for them as it is for able-bodied people," she said.
"My dream to be an athlete has come true and I cherish my life with sports as a part of it even more."