Tang Xuemei was a promising athlete who played for her school’s basketball and table tennis teams. She was in a school dormitory when a powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Wenchuan in southwest China’s Sichuan Province on May 12, 2008. The earthquake that lasted seconds-long left thousands of fatalities and injured people of those trapped in rubble, including Tang who was rescued 28 hours later.
Those early years of promise were clearly shattered by seconds of fear and vulnerability and many lives were completely changed after that. Tang survived but her left calf had to be amputated as a result of the unfortunate incident. The entire time she was trapped, all she longed for was to live.
Her struggles after amputation manifested but also held important lessons in dealing with her reality. When she got her prosthetic leg, things changed as she was able to stand again.
In Shanghai, she participated in an event organised for disabled youth and saw sitting volleyball, where she saw hope in the faces of the players on the court. And when she was given the chance to train for the Shanghai team, she did not think twice and the rest is history.
“Before I started with sitting volleyball, I thought I was a disabled person who couldn’t do anything. After I started with sitting volleyball it has given me confidence in life. To be able to continue playing and winning medals is a target and a dream for me in my life,” Tang said.
The girl who was once longing to live, now found her purpose and longing for greatness in the sport.
Tang’s first Paralympic Games stint produced gold, just four years after her amputation. Then she followed it up with a silver in Tokyo. After their 3-1 loss in the final to the United States at Makuhari Messe Hall, she described the tough journey they had and dedicated the medal to her parents.
“Of course, our team wanted to win the gold medal but today silver is also satisfying for us,” she said.
“Because of the coronavirus and the delay of the Games we did not go home for two years, to practise in an isolated environment in China.
“I called my parents every night and they encouraged me to keep going and to bring home a medal, so this medal is to my parents for their encouragement.”