Three times Paralympics swimming champion Gregory Burns has seen the incredible rise of disabled Chinese athletes over the years.
Now an acclaimed artist and motivational speaker, Burns - who is visiting Shanghai with his latest art exhibition - is keen to speak about his experiences to promote the 2007 Special Olympics in Shanghai which concludes on Thursday, and next year's Beijing Paralympics.
He is also going to share with his Chinese counterparts how he has learned to "embrace challenge and creativity".
In the 1992 Barcelona, 1996 Atlanta and 2000 Sydney Paralympics, Burns set four world records and captured half a dozen medals. The child of US Foreign Service parents, Burns contracted polio as an infant while living in the Middle East in the late 1950s, and has been moving with the help of crutches and leg-braces.
Upon returning to Washington DC, he became interested in swimming, and with the help of family connections, even got the chance to swim regularly in the heated pool at the White House, where his grandfather was an advisor.
Burns has seen how Chinese athletes have become stronger with each new Paralympics, starting from 1992 when he first took part in the Games. The Chinese team was small and not that successful, Burns recalled.
"When I first started competing, China did not have a great presence at the Paralympics, but now the country prides itself on being one of the top teams. They will take a lot of medals not only at the 2008 Olympics, but in the Paralympics as well."
China won its first Paralympics gold in 1984 during the 7th Summer Paralympics Games in Stoke Mandeville, England. Since 1993, the China Disabled Persons Federation has been promoting the Paralympics more vigorously. So far there are about 300,000 Paralympics athletes in the country and more than 1 million have been trained.
Burns' advice for Chinese Paralympics athletes: "I would say: Don't be surprised if competing in your own country will make you cry. In a good sense, it can be a very emotional time, so try to use it and do your best."
After taking home medals in three Paralympics, Burns retired from professional sports to concentrate in his second love, the arts. And China carries a special place in his heart.
Burns not only competed alongside some of the very best Chinese disabled athletes in the three Paralympics, but also studied art in Taiwan in the mid-1980s.
He especially loves Chinese architecture.
"Since my first visit to Shanghai in 1985, the city has changed so much," he says. "I am very impressed with all the contemporary skyscrapers."
His exhibition, "Connection Shanghai", has received a positive response from both Chinese and international visitors, according to curator Reika Yu.
Until October 21, Burns' artworks will be on display in the River South Art Center as a parallel event to the Special Olympics in the city.
Source: China Daily