Editor's note: Zhang Bian is the Rio Paralympics wheelchair table tennis champion. She studied at Jiangsu Open University’s Lianyungang School, majoring in Social Work in the autumn 2014 class at the OUC's School for the Disabled. She was the class monitor.
I was born in a small village in Pizhou, Jiangsu province. In 1988, several months of rain caused water pollution in the villages and towns around my hometown. A massive outbreak of polio hit my hometown. At that time, more than six hundred children were diagnosed with polio. I was one of them.
I remember the first time I made contact with table tennis in March 2003, when I was 17 years old. I participated on a table tennis team for less than one month when, one day, my coach asked me not to play table tennis any more. I was very surprised: I thought I had played well. Why had he given up on me, I asked. He said that I was at a disadvantage due to my age; my teammates were younger than me. It was hard for me to win any competitions, and he asked me if I had the confidence to beat them. I promptly responded, “Definitely! I can!” My coach let me stay on the team, but his words had dealt me a heavy blow. I quickly believed I had no advantages in playing table tennis, nor any talent. Only faith helped me move forward, as I believed that, “God rewards those who work hard.” As long as I worked hard, I was sure I would make it.
May 2005 was my first time playing in a worldwide competition, at the Asian Para Games. At that competition, I was the team’s champion, the runner-up in singles. When the national flag rose, the national anthem was played, and my eyes were filled with tears. That atmosphere was deeply imprinted in my mind, and became an unforgettable moment for the rest of my life. I understood to my core that my hard work had finally paid off. I don't know when I developed such deep feelings for the national flag and anthem. Every time I see the flag and hear the anthem now, the tough and hard training days come to my mind. I feel fortunate that I suffered those setbacks that made me strong enough to undertake anything.
I remember a night at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, when all of my teammates earned medals, but I won nothing. All the pain I had suffered in training suddenly overwhelmed me, and all of my grievances came out as tears. I cried, and fell asleep with a great tiredness. When I think about that moment, my heart still aches - it was truly unforgettable. Over the following two years, I didn't join a single competition. Two years later, I was training in my hometown. I had rented a house, and was cooking for myself. I walked, with the support of crutches, to my training centre several miles away. I climbed up to the third floor several times every day.
In the first half of 2010, when the absence of an Olympic champion, who had failed to join the competition due to a change in rankings, prompted the national table tennis team to ask me to return, my two years of persistence had given me a glimmer of hope. I didn’t have much money at that time, but I collected subsidies and saved to buy a laptop that cost RMB 2,800. Then, I watched videos, studying how my opponents played. I learned how to spot my old opponents’ weaknesses easily, even with my eyes closed. No pain, no gain. I believe that God rewards those who work hard, and as long as I work hard, I will make it one day.
While receiving training, I realised that only with deeper cultural knowledge could I make further progress. I am grateful for the learning opportunity offered by the OUC. I think back warmly on my experience studying at the Lianyungang School. The tutors and classmates were friendly. Every time I took an exam, I had to trouble my classmates and tutors; they helped me by carrying my wheelchair to the third floor. They sweated a lot and panted out loud, but never complained, and thus they also moved me emotionally. They spared no efforts in teaching me, allowing me to gain more knowledge. I am grateful for their selfless contributions, and thank all of the people who helped me!
By Zhang Bian, School for the Disabled, OUC