The Special Olympics offers a broad stage
for the athletes to
show what they can achieve and to encourage more to participate
By TANG YUANKAI
BUT BEAUTIFUL: Qiao Meili hosts the opening ceremony
for the Shanghai Invitational Tournament of the 2006 Special
Qiao Meili, leader of the world's
No one expected Qiao Meili, a Shanghai-born
17-year-old girl who couldn’t even tell the different colors
at the age of seven, to become the “leader of the world’s
In Chinese, meili means beautiful,
but Qiao’s life was anything but that. She suffered a trauma
at birth, and the doctor told her father she could be saved but
she might suffer from severe problems in the future.
Qiao’s mother, Yang Zhaodi, took care
of the intellectually disabled girl at home, while the family was
supported by her father, Qiao Zhonglin, who is handicapped and earned
a monthly salary of only 1,000 yuan.
It took great effort to find a primary school
that would accept Qiao. “She could write the numbers 1 and
2, but just could not write the number 3. I didn’t have the
heart to see her taking such pains to try to put down the number
3,” her mother recalled.
Qiao had the lowest grades in her class and
inevitably she became the laughingstock. She developed an inferiority
complex and shut herself off from the outside world.
Later her parents had to transfer Qiao, whose
IQ is below 40, to another school, where she had many mentally handicapped
classmates. However, Qiao still did not know how to get along with
“But afterward I found there is no mockery
and discrimination in this school. Teachers here are especially
patient, and my classmates are all innocent and lovely,” Qiao
said. She has particular praise for Cai Jiahuan, a teacher who changed
Cai’s first impression of Qiao can be
described in three words: unhappy, unapproachable and unbalanced.
Cai often had intimate talks with the girl, helped her change her
improper behavior and gradually led her to the world of the Special
“I later realized that Cai designed a
step-by-step program for me in order to let me see my own progress
every day,” Qiao said.
Teachers also encouraged Qiao to be involved
in various non-sporting activities. “I no longer feel that
bad about myself as a result of these activities,” she said.
Last year at a summit meeting for the Eighth
Special Olympics Summer Games in Nagano, Japan, Qiao was praised
by former U.S. President Bill Clinton for her courage in speaking
with him in English. Qiao also played the role of a reporter to
cover the games.
“It was my first time as a reporter and
I knew nothing about reporting at all,” Qiao said. “I’m
glad Cai Jiahuan taught me how to gather material, interview people
and write articles.”
Qiao stood out with her excellent achievements
and was named the “leader of the world’s special athletes.”
Compared with three years ago she is a totally
different person, with a confident smile, fluent expression and
smooth speaking manner when being interviewed. She found her niche
on the Special Olympics stage with the help of others.
“All hardship will be overcome. We want
to live like normal people, assuming our responsibility and live
happily,” she said.
Last year, Timothy Shriver, Chairman of the
Special Olympics International Committee, visited Shanghai and met
with Qiao and Cai. He called Qiao “the most excellent girl”
and said Cai “is a great teacher as she cultivated such a
Qiao is about to graduate from school in two
years and she wants to learn to be a baker. “My next wish
would be eating the pastry made with your own hands,” Qiao’s
mother said to her beautiful daughter.
Jia Sirui, world champion and social activist
SPECIAL ACTIVIST Jia Sirui has her picture taken
with volunteers of the Special Olympics
“I wish all the mentally disadvantaged
children in the world would be taking part in the 2007 Shanghai
Special Olympic Games,” Jia Sirui said to Chinese President
Hu Jintao, who asked her what was on her mind when she became a
world champion in the Special Olympics.
Jia, 21, is a jovial person. Her smiling face
seems to tell anyone who meets her to take it easy and everything
will be all right. “I found the meaning of my life in all
kinds of activities concerning the Special Olympics. Like many other
retarded children, I became more positive and outgoing through the
joyful Olympics,” said Jia.
Jia became involved in the Special Olympics
10 years ago. Three years later, she participated in the 10th Special
Olympics, winning a gold medal for the balance beam and a bronze
Jia became intellectually disabled at the age
of seven, when she fell down some steps while playing with her classmates.
In 1992, her parents sent her to a “special” school
in Beijing. On the first day of class, teachers there welcomed the
students with a comforting smile.
Jia had a very flexible body so the gym teacher
trained her to do gymnastics. The best age for learning gymnastics
is around six or seven, but at the time Jia was 10, so it was more
difficult for her to learn.
Not long before she became the world champion,
Jia was awarded the title of “global envoy” and went
to the Netherlands for a training program on behalf of the athletes
in the Asia-Pacific region. She also began a career as an activist
for the intellectually disabled.
In 2002, she lit the torch at the opening ceremony
of the Third National Special Olympics held in Xi’an. The
following September, Jia was chosen as Vice Chairperson of the China
Association of Mentally Retarded People and their Families and Relatives.
Jia once told an autobiographical story during
a lecture about how an intellectually disabled child got rid of
feelings of inferiority, overcame obstacles and finally entered
a normal social life. The touching one-hour lecture caught the attention
of William Valentino, Bayer’s General Manager of Corporate
Communica-tions for Greater China. Not long after that, Valentino
offered the girl an opportunity to work at his company once a week.
Jia now speaks fluent English and Japanese.
Discussing her future plans, she said she wants “to do something
that’s good for society.” Not long ago she became a
volunteer for the Special Olympics and she spoke about getting more
mentally disadvantaged people to join the Special Olympics and blend
Zhao Zengzeng, the new face of Special Olympics
Zhao Zengzeng, the new face of the Special Olympics
ads, receives a pair of shoes from basketball superstar Yao
Ming as a gift
Advertisements with sports stars Yao Ming and
Liu Xiang on them can be found everywhere in Shanghai. But nowadays,
public-service ads with a new angelic, smiling face are emerging
on every street. The face belongs to Zhao Zengzeng, an 18-year-old
Special Olympics athlete who was diagnosed with Down’s syndrome
when she was young.
She has a sweet smile!” said TV advertising
director Yang Qingsheng, who promptly chose Zhao at an audition
in Shanghai. The filming of television spots went on for several
days, and Zhao had to do many takes to meet the director’s
standards, but she never complained. “I know this is for the
benefit of the Special Olympics; it’s an honor to me.”
Zhao has an unfortunate family background: her
father died when she was young and her mother is unemployed. Zhao
used to be bad tempered and was silent most of the time. But after
she participated in the Special Olympics four years ago, she began
to change. Her temper improved and she became more outgoing. Though
she was not that talented in sports, she worked hard in training.
“She is trying to do her best. No matter what the results
are, she already knows how to get joy and pleasure out of the games,”
one of her coaches said.
Zhao can handle her daily life and helps her
mother with household chores like cooking, washing dishes and cleaning
the floor. “To have a job and support my mother, this is my
future plan,” she said.