CHINA’S Hou Bin was just nine years old when he was hit by a train.
He lost his left leg ... but not his will to live and persevere.
That says it all about this three-time Paralympic Games gold medal winner.
“I was running on the railway track to my grandmother’s place at my hometown in Xiamen ... the train hit me.
“I was my school’s 100m runner-up, but I guess on that day I just wasn’t fast enough,” he said, smiling.
Instead of wallowing in self-pity, he got himself a prosthetic leg and got on with life.
“I worked as a lorry driver in a factory. Life was hard,” he said on the sidelines of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) executive board meetings in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday.
“Then, I saw media reports about paralympic athletes and decided to give it a try. I always believed that sport can inspire people, ignite passion and give hope. I drew inspiration from other champions, including my favourite basketball player Michael Johnson.
“I tried my hands at discus, long jump, high jump and javelin ... but I liked high jump the most.
“It feels good when I ‘fly’ in the air ... it’s like you are free from all the cares of the world.”
The lanky Hou Bin, standing at 182cm, signed up for a regimented training and went on to represent China in two Olympic Games – 1996 Atlanta and 2000 Sydney – in the high jump. He won gold medals in both the Games.
His misfortune with trains came back to haunt him just before the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.
He was travelling in a train from Shanghai to Beijing when it stopped abrupty, throwing him off his seat. He fell and took a hard knock on his head.
“My brain was affected from the knock. Everyone told me to forget about competing at the Athens Olympics. But I didn’t want to give up,” he said.
With his head heavily strapped, Hou Bin then produced the leap of his life in Athens to return home with his third Paralympic Games gold medal. No one has bettered his record of 1.94m.
The 40-year-old Hou Bin feels that the trials and tribulations and the hard-earned victories have taught him all about passion, persistence and perseverance.
“I have faced many struggles. My hometown is in the North-East of China and it’s very cold. I used to ride bicycle but it’s tough with an artificial leg. I have lost control, fell and suffered cramps,” he said.
“The training was hard and strenuous. During competitions, few spectators turn up to watch disabled athletes. But I always felt good and inspired just to participate.
“Through sports, I’ve had the chance to mix with the society. My horizon has been expanded. Before that, my world was just my home and the factory.”
He also believes that education and support from his peers had helped him have a positive outlook on life despite his disability and adversities.
“My mother was a teacher and I had education. It helped me make the right choices,” said Hou Bin.
“I will never forget my first Paralympics. I was super excited, but lost my rhythm, missed my steps and almost blew it.
“A German competitor advised me to stay calm and to enjoy the occasion. It was a friendly encouragement and I got it right after that. Only in sport can you find such kindred spirit.
“Every athlete struggles ... able-bodied or not. But to compete with joy in your heart ... that’s the true Olympic spirit to me,” added Hou Bin, who was given the honour of being the last man to light the cauldron during the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008.
Although his athletics career ended in 2008, Hou Bin continues to give motivational talks to school children, corporate sectors and at various events.
The durian-lover is in Malaysia as the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic bid ambassador. China is competing with Kazakhstan to host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games and Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing.
“We have proven before that we can host huge Games. We have the public’s support and the capabilities to run a good show,” he said.“If we get the job, there will be a big jump in the development of winter sports in my country – for both the able and disabled athletes. And that will be truly satisfying for me.
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