In this four-part series, we look at the story of Dong Jiong and how this how this Olympic silver medallist started out on his path of making a difference to disabled and hearing-impaired players in China.
Friend-like mentor enriches lives, empowers youth
In Basel, after taking the men’s singles and doubles titles, Qu Zimo finally earned the right to say he was fighting for his idol Lin Dan.
Born with deficiency in his legs, Qu watched the Beijing Olympics men’s singles final as a 7-year-old. Lin triumphed over Lee Chong Wei, instantly becoming the youngster’s hero.
Little did Qu know at the time he could also play. After all, his mobility was so limited that he depended on his parents to travel to and from school.
Only 11 years later, the two stood side-by-side on court at the World Championships. Lin learned of Qu’s experience and paid him a visit before his game started. Qu bowed excitedly and held the superstar’s hands.
Dong Jiong jumped at the opportunity to remind his apprentice.
“Look, he is a world champion but still working so hard,” he told Qu.
On the day Qu played his first game, Lin navigated the second round. Both games started at the same time – Qu won but Lin faltered.
Dong Jiong remarked: “You have to work harder now to realise your idol’s championship dream!”
Dong Jiong’s team is like a big family. They pack the wheelchairs together. When on the plane, the standing group helps the wheelchair group carry the luggage. When outside, the wheelchair group members let their tired friends sit on their laps. The camaraderie and team spirit are second to none.
Many of Dong Jiong’s players come from poor backgrounds, but their families were coaxed into sending their children to him. It did not take them long to prefer training over staying home.
Yang Qiuxia took the Standing Upper (SU5) women’s singles crown in Basel. While waiting for the presentation ceremony, she pointed at Dong’s belly and said: “It’s actually quite easy!”
Dong Jiong teased: “Easy? Why three games then?”
The girl from Qiannan, Guizhou, lost her left arm to a snake bite. Her parents did not dare place expectations on her but when she started winning at home and abroad, they started pushing her harder.
Luo Guangliang belongs to the Short Stature (SH6) classification. When he graduated from school at 18, he learned welding. He was then identified by the Jiangsu Disabled Persons’ Federation.
Luo did not fall in love with badminton immediately but after the coach told him he could earn ¥200,000 by winning the National Games, he started taking the sport seriously.
The outcome? He finished runner-up, took home ¥100,000 and got married – his wife also a player of the same category.
These days, Luo is a seasoned campaigner among Dong Jiong’s charges. In addition to training, he works in the gym. His aim now is to keep playing “till he can no longer move”, then go back to his hometown to operate a gym.
Liu Yutong may only be 15 but she arrived in Basel having already won the Wheelchair (WH2) women’s singles in Ulsan two years earlier. In Switzerland, she retained her crown and added the doubles title to her name.
Liu lost her legs to a car accident when she was four. Before badminton, she had never been to school because no one in her hometown accepted disabled children. Ensuring his proteges don’t give up on education remains a goal for Dong Jiong.
Liu loves drawing comics and a day before departing to Basel, she showed everyone her artwork. Dong Jiong immediately threw her a challenge: “How about drawing for me after winning the World Championships?” Liu nodded enthusiastically.
On the final day of competition, Dong Jiong summoned his players for a group photo. Their medals adorned his neck and he was only too glad to “show off”.
Celebrations over, Dong Jiong’s mind was again occupied by his players’ future. His thoughts turned to getting them lighter wheelchairs, just like the ones owned by the Koreans and Japanese – the type he had always envied.
Badminton has changed Dong’s outlook on life, and now helps him enrich others’ existence.
Surely his favourite place – the badminton court – has plenty more pleasant memories to gift him and his mentees.
** This story was originally published on Chinese platform Tencent and translated into English with the permission of the author Zhang Nan.