China's Inspirational 'Basketball Girl' Gets New Legs

This is Qian Hongyan, an 18-year-old girl who lives in China. She may seem like your average teenager, but she has a pretty unique backstory.

Qian lost both her legs in a car accident in 2000 when she was just four years old. Growing up in rural Luliang county, southwestern China’s Yunnan province, her family had to improvise.

These pictures, taken in 2005 when Qian was just 10, show how. Qian learned to walk on her hands, using a basketball cut in half to steady herself. According to Xinhua news agency, she was dubbed “basketball girl” by locals.

In 2005, after attention in the Chinese press, Qian traveled to Beijing to receive free artificial limbs at the China Rehabilitation Centre. This photo, from 2007, shows her receiving a larger set of limbs after she had grown.

Xinhua reports that Qian was born to an impoverished family, and that she had to accept that when her medical treatment ended in 2007, she would not be able to continue her education with her peers. She was 11-years-old.

However, Qian found other opportunities. She joined a local swimming club for the disabled, the first of its kind in the country, sponsored by the Yunnan Provincial Federation of the Disabled.

At first, she found it difficult.

“I had to give much more than other kids when I learned to swim,” Qian told China Daily in 2011. “It seemed there was no way I could float in the water. I was choked.”

However, she went on to become a successful athlete, training for four hours every day. She hopes to one day win medals for her country in the Paralympic Games.

This week, she returned to the China Rehabilitation Centre in Beijing. Now 18 years old, she is ready for her adult prosthetics.

Qian Hongyan, the so-called “basketball girl,” has become something of a celebrity in China. Reports on the progress of her artificial limbs make national news. Her fame has even spread abroad, with photographs of her becoming viral sensations on Facebook.

Her success may mark the changing fortunes of China’s disabled. “In the past,” Her coach, Li Ke-qiang, told the BBC in 2008, “people despised the disabled. They thought they were all beggars, just asking for money.”

“But now, when they see disabled swimmers like these, they can see how hard they’re driving themselves. And that’s a start.”

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