Feature: “Sports raise me up,” says one Chinese wheelchair basketballer

22-year-old Shang Ting received a pass from her teammate, and quickly rolled her wheelchair and dribbled ahead. She held the ball up, shot for the hoop and the ball directly fell through the basket. Nothing but net!

Shang, the youngest member of the Sichuan women’s wheelchair basketball team, scored six points for her team on Saturday at the 10th National Games for Persons with Disabilities held in north China’s Tianjin Municipality.

At the final whistle, Shang’s team beat their opponent 35-6 in their last game, sitting seventh among eight teams after four consecutive defeats. This win means a lot to her.

Shang was known to many in the news 11 years ago for her miraculous survival in the 8.0-magnitude Wenchuan Earthquake after being buried in the ruins for 102 hours.

Despite losing her legs, left eye and index finger of left hand, Shang conquered incredible difficulty in order to stand up with prosthetic legs and has since participated in many sports events.

“My childhood dream is to become an athlete. Sports raise me up,” said Shang, adding that sports helped her to recover from her pain both physically and psychologically.


Shang always loved running and received lots of awards in school games. She was born in 1997 in the Yingxiu Town of Wenchuan County, the epicenter and one of the worst-hit areas in southwest China’s Sichuan Province in 2008.

The earthquake hit on May 12 left nearly 70,000 people dead, 374,000 injured, 18,000 missing and millions homeless. Shang went through her darkest 102 hours of life on that day.

“We were having science class on the second floor. Suddenly, my world was violently shaking. I rushed out desperately. However, before I could even reach the stairwell, the four-storey school building collapsed and buried me,” Shang recalled.

Some children were trapped not far away from Shang. They together shouted for help and kept encouraging each other with the belief that “rescue teams are coming soon.”

During the seemingly hopeless wait, Shang lost the track of time. The sounds from the other kids became weaker and weaker, and finally she could only hear her own breathing.

A life detection instrument showed that there were no signs of life under the ruins on May 15, but Shang did her best to stay alive until May 16 when an old lady tried to find her grandson who was also buried there.

The old lady found Shang and called the rescuers. Ten hours later, Shang was rescued.

The moment Shang saw her mother, the 11-year-old girl asked “where is my dad?” She smiled for the first time after being buried for five days after learning that both of her parents were 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.

Shang suffered a great deal from physical and mental pain after the quake.

With the help of many warm-hearted people and social organizations, Shang received several recovery surgeries as well as rehabilitation training. Half a year later, she returned to a temporary school.

“I devoted myself to study, and it helped me conquer all of the hardship and trauma,” Shang said.


In September 2009, China’s first “entirely mixed school” was established, where ordinary students and students with disabilities could study and live together. The new school was named “Youai,” which means ‘friend’ and ‘love.’ Shang and other 112 students who became disabled in the earthquake joined the school.

“Barrier-free facilities could be seen everywhere in the school. We can reach to every corner just as the other kids,” Shang said.

It was then that Shang started to participate in sports again. In 2010, she gained an opportunity to join the national wheelchair basketball tournament on behalf of Sichuan Province 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!” Shang beamed.

Shang has since learned to swim, play wheelchair volleyball and run on the playground, and has participated in provincial competitions many times.

During high school, Shang has concentrated on studying and was admitted to the Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. During the three years without sports, Shang has 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,” Shang said.

But Shang was able to overcome this difficulty just like all of the others, and now walks with ease.


Shang has never given up her sporting dream. During her summer vacation this year, the 10th National Games for Persons with Disabilities offered Shang another chance of playing wheelchair basketball.

Shang noted that, for a player to be successful, the wheelchair and the person should combine into one. Compared with ordinary basketball games, that’s more difficult.

In the past two months, Shang’s team trained for more than six hours a day. “This collective sport made me stronger than before,” Shang said.

Shang was not the only one who regained confidence from sports after the devastating earthquake.

Ma Cong, another high school alumnus from Sichuan who lost her left leg under the knee, took part in a wheelchair volleyball match. “I’m healthier after doing sports, and also make friends with lots of people.”

“The indomitable and unyielding spirit showed in sports is what we need to fight disability and the physical challenges it brings,” Shang said.

She notes that China has created more opportunities for persons with disabilities to show their stuff in sports competitions in recent years.

During the eight-day sporting event, Shang has seen many athletes stroll down the avenue with ease on wheelchairs and artificial limbs. “They do not have to cover them up with clothes. It is just as natural for them as it is for able-bodied people.”

For Shang, her “black 100 hours” more than 10 years ago has brought her another “bright 100 months” of memories to cherish as an athlete.

“My dream to be an athlete has come true and I cherish my life with sports as a part of it even more,” Shang concluded.