Disability no barrier to can-do spirit

Updated: 2013-12-03 13:18

By Nick Compton (China Daily)

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Disability no barrier to can-do spirit

Yi Xiaoyuan and his mother, Guo Qiongfen, in his Tsinghua dormitory. Guo left behind her job as a nursing teacher in Yuxi, Yunnan province, to care for her son in Beijing. Nick Compton / For China Daily

Childhood cut short

Yi was born in Yuxi, a city of 2.5 million people, 90 km south of Yunnan's capital city Kunming in Southwest China. For the first six years of his life, he developed normally, according to his mother. He was a happy boy, with round cheeks that dimpled when he smiled, as they still do, and an undeniable intellectual precociousness.

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At age 6, the troubles started. His development became abnormal, and in addition to rheumatoid arthritis, he was afflicted by a bone disorder that became progressively more debilitating. By 11, walking had become too excruciating and his legs too frail. He had to use a wheelchair. From that point forward, Yi's mother and his father, a policeman in Yuxi, stopped at nothing to give their son a chance to overcome his disability.

"My parents gave up many opportunities," he says, suddenly struggling for words. "My father could have been promoted, but he would have had to go to Kunming, away from me in Yuxi. He turned it down."

Since primary school, Yi's mother, Guo, has made sure he gets to school each day, and helped him from breakfast to bedtime. She says the whole family loves him and that the sacrifices come naturally. "I couldn't help but feel guilty after his condition worsened," Guo says. "Despite working in healthcare industry and spending all this money, I couldn't cure my own son."

Despite his physical limitations, Yi excelled academically. When it came time to take the national college entrance exam in 2012, he scored 16th highest in all of Yunnan province. It was his dream to get into Tsinghua. Now, he had the score to do it.

Yi's first impression of Tsinghua, whose gates he'd dreamed of entering for as long as he could remember, was surprise at its enormity. The vast, walled campus is a city unto itself and as he watched students zip down the roads on bikes and scooters he wondered about the logistics of getting from A to B in his wheelchair.

It was his first time in Beijing, his first time away from the south of China. But his mother was with him, and his family and friends, whose support he'd leaned on for so long, were counting on him. He was determined not to let them down.

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