She lost both her legs in a horrific car accident in 2000, when she was only four years old. Growing up in a rural area of China’s southwestern Yunnan province, prosthetic legs weren’t so easy to come across. Thus, Qian Hongyan and her family had to improvise.
So Hongyan learned to walk with her hands, using a basketball cut in half to steady herself. She soon became known locally as “Basketball Girl.”
In 2005, she started getting attention from the Chinese press, and soon she traveled to Beijing to be fitted with new artificial legs, entirely free of charge, at the China Rehabilitation Research Center, which has been providing help to disabled residents of China for more than 20 years.
After receiving her new legs, she could no longer attend a normal school along with her peers to complete her education, but she found alternatives. She even joined the nation’s first swimming club for the disabled, sponsored by the Yunnan Provincial Federation of the Disabled.
She found it difficult at first, but thanks to plenty of hard work and effort, she mastered the sport despite her disabilities, and now trains for four hours a day. She hopes one day to win a medal for her country in the Paralympic Games.
Hongyan has become a celebrity in China, news of her progress and prosthetics making national programs, and now, her story is receiving attention all across the globe.
This week, she went back to the China Rehabilitation Research Center to receive her adult-sized prosthetic limbs at the age of 18.
We’ve compiled some photos of Hongyan’s progress from being simply the young legless basketball girl to a full grown woman and world class swimmer, courtesy of Business Insider.