Bodybuilder with one leg sets up disability centre to help and inspire China’s 85 million disabled people

22-Jan-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

China’s prize-winning female body builder Gui Yuna is showing the world just what disabled people like her can achieve. The fiercely determined 37-year-old can already lay claim to being an Olympian, a world-record holder, a prize-winning bodybuilder and a mother of one despite having lost a leg in a road accident when she was seven.

Now, the inspirational athlete who recently won first prize on her bodybuilding debut in Beijing, has plunged headfirst into her next challenge establishing a disability centre she hopes will inspire millions of Chinese like her.

With help from a local disability association in Yancheng, Gui and four friends have established the Wu’ai Disabled People’s Home to combat the high unemployment among China’s 85 million disabled people.

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The foundations for the disability centre are built on Gui’s own experience of discrimination in the working world, rejected repeatedly by employers who said she did not match their image. “I applied to nearly 20 companies and all of them said the same thing.”

While her disability may have presented uncharted territory for potential employers to even attempt to navigate, it wasn’t the first or last hurdle she would have to overcome. Gui’s formidable achievements area stark contrast to the challenges she has faced.

Born in Nanning, the southern capital of the Guangxi province near the Vietnamese border, Gui was raised by her mother because her father died before she was born. At the age of seven, Gui’s life took a tragic turn, when a truck ploughed into her on the way home from school. When she woke, her leg had been amputated.

“I saw my right leg was missing. I was so scared that I couldn’t stop crying,” Gui said. “At that time, I didn’t know what a huge impact this would have on my future life.”

She has no memory of the accident, but she will never forget the cruel taunts she endured at school about her missing leg.

Children often tormented her by kicking away her crutch or yanking her chair out from underneath her as she sat down, she said. They also threw ink at her and put caterpillars in her pencil case.

“They called me a cripple or a ‘three-legged cat’,” said Gui. “The first time they made me fall, I cried. But then I got used to it and thought: you can bully me however you want, but I’ll be fine because I have a brave heart.” Not wanting to worry her mother further, Gui silently nursed her pain and hurt.

In 2001, life again took an unexpected turn, but this time for the better when Gui’s school urged her to join the Paralympian team.

With a natural love of athletics, she became involved in the Paralympics, representing China at the 2004 Summer Paralympics in Athens, finishing seventh in the long jump. In 2007, Gui set a world record for disabled people by jumping over a 1.5m high bar and took part in the torch relay for the Beijing Summer Games and Paralympics in 2008.

But when she retired from competition in 2017, Gui faced further discrimination and was unable to get a job, despite applying to dozens of companies.

“I applied for posts in customer service or as an assistant. I have a tertiary education degree majoring in social work and I have skills in office automation. I didn’t understand why they didn’t hire me?” Gui said. “It was one of the most frustrating moments in my life.”

Gui finally got a break when an entrepreneurial manufacturer of home decorations in the city of Yancheng, in Jiangsu province, offered her a job working in customer service. Before long, she had moved into a more challenging sales role that saw her travel across the country from market to market with her products.

Using the same drive to succeed she had used as an athlete, Gui was quick to achieve exceptional sales results and was promoted to be partner in the firm a position she still holds today.

“My clients made orders perhaps because some felt sympathy for me, but many more said they trusted me and my products,” said Gui.

Now, she hopes her centre will inspire millions of other Chinese people with disabilities to become confident, contributing members of society while shattering society’s illusion that they are of no value.

While poor education and lack of work skills have been blamed for the high unemployment rate of population of 85 million disabled people, Gui said her focus would be on free vocational training classes that would allow disabled people to make their own living. Some of the practical modern-day skills such as video editing and learning how to attract an online audience to boost profiles on social media in order to attract financial sponsors, would be among the classes offered, she said.

“I hope we can help disabled people find jobs more easily in order to realise their value in life,” she said. “As an old Chinese proverb says, ‘It’s better to teach people how to fish rather than to just give them fish’.

“We don’t want others’ mercy, but we want equal opportunities in hunting jobs.” Gui’s unbreakable determination and positive attitude were recently highlighted in images of her proudly navigating the stage in a high-heeled shoe and bikini all while leaning on her crutch during her first bodybuilding tournament, held in Huai’an in the Jiangsu province.

In my mind, there is no ‘shouldn’t’… I want to tell the disabled people to just do what you want to do. They can drive, we can drive, too; they can have babies, we also can have babies

Gui Yuna, Paralympian, mother and bodybuilder

The images caused an online sensation and became an overnight inspiration for millions of her fellow disabled Chinese, who find themselves ignored by society.

Gui said she didn’t think the bodybuilding competition’s reward had brought her fame; but it showed her the public’s recognition and encouragement.

“It’s possible that I won first place not because of my professionalism or muscles, but because of my confidence and bravery to stand on the stage and show myself to everyone,” Gui said.

While many online congratulated Gui for her bodybuilding debut, dazzling audiences on another day on stage while wearing a traditional high-necked qipao dress to beat able-bodied rivals, some online critics told her to stay at home.

“The broken-winged angel is gorgeous”, said one internet user, while others mocked her with comments including, “With only one leg, what are you showing off?”

Gui, whose 12-year-old son now lives with her ex-husband, hits back at those who believe that disabled people “shouldn’t” do certain things such as have a baby. “In my mind, there is no ‘shouldn’t’. I want to challenge people’s old views.”

“Hearing I have a son, many people ask me how a one-legged woman give birth to a baby?” said Gui. “So I want to tell the disabled people to just do what you want to do. They can drive, we can drive, too; they can have babies, we also can have babies.”

In her daily life, Gui likes to do fitness exercises and to go on Douyin, China’s TikTok, where she shares gym sessions with her 220,000 followers.

She is still a sports fan, playing basketball, badminton, ping pong and skipping often, but riding a horse is what she most loves. “I don’t use my crutch when riding a horse,” she said. “While sitting on the horse, I regard it as my legs. When the horse runs, I feel like I am flying.”


Category: China

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