Feature: Young mountain wrestlers inspired to chase dreams by senior's Asiad glory

(Xinhua) 11:04, October 23, 2023

CHONGQING, Oct. 21 (Xinhua) -- Two high school seniors from southwest China's Chongqing are left with indelible memories from the recently-concluded Hangzhou Asian Games.

Rao Peng and Zhong Xinyue, from the Red Lion Middle School in Yunyang County, Chongqing, watched on as their senior schoolmate Li Yiming secured a silver medal in the men's 97kg Greco-Roman wrestling for China at Hangzhou Asiad.

"I watched the match with my wrestling teammates at school," said Zhong. "Participating in such a grand event is already remarkable, and witnessing our senior win a silver medal has brought us immense pride and admiration."

This school, established in 1972, is situated deep within the mountains. Students here cannot access the educational resources enjoyed by their peers in more developed regions.

Therefore, starting in 2015, the school began exploring how to integrate sports and education, with a strong emphasis on developing events such as wrestling and rock climbing, aiming to create a new approach for students to break free from their surroundings.

"We're taking multiple approaches," explained school official Pu Changlian. "Exceptional talents with the potential for professional careers are guided toward national and professional teams, while others use their sports abilities to further their education."

Every May, the school conducts recruitment activities throughout Yunyang County. It was during one such drive that the young and restless Rao, who had recently completed his primary education, caught the eye of coach Li Xuekui.

The teenager's journey into wrestling was far from straightforward, as his parents used to believe that focusing on academics would lead to a brighter future.

Despite resistance from his parents, Rao would often spend his free time after class watching wrestling practice or sneaking into their training sessions during physical education classes.

"I didn't agree with my parents' perspective. Every path can lead to success," he said. "I love wrestling, and this is my choice."

It wasn't until his sophomore year that he managed to convince his parents otherwise.

Compared to his teammates who had started training in middle school, Rao was rather a latecomer. But through observation, practice, and determination, the old training gym, nestled in the mountains, became his daily sanctuary. The resonant sound of bodies hitting the mat filled the air, showing a testament to his relentless resolve to rise after each fall.

For the 18-year-old, wrestling is more than just a sport pitting him against opponents, it is a battle with himself.

"Perseverance - that's the lesson it taught me," he noted. Despite coming from a modest family background, he believed in presenting his best self and earning self-respect.

Zhong held a similar perspective. Out of the group of female companions who started wrestling training six years ago, she is the only one who still remains committed today. She has learned the values of mutual assistance and cooperation and is willing to inspire younger participants.

"If you give up now, all the hardships you've endured before will be in vain. If you persist, wrestling can lead you to a better path," said the 19-year-old.

Limited funds, tight spaces and a scarcity of talent present yearly challenges for the school. Nevertheless, they have adeptly turned adversity into opportunity. Over the past eight years, they have contributed a total of 102 national-level athletes, with 65 gaining admission to undergraduate institutions.

For both Rao and Zhong, though they may not reach the same dazzling heights on the wrestling mat as their seniors, the sport still motivates them to strive for greatness.

As they continue their rigorous training, they are preparing for their own pivotal moments in the coming year for gaining admission to desired universities, each determined to forge their own path.

"Not everyone can reach those towering heights, but Li serves as the benchmark for our unwavering commitment," Rao said.

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Liang Jun)


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