Wheelchair athlete a whiz on the ice
Chen Jianxin attends the 2021 World Wheelchair Curling Championship in Beijing in October last year as a member of the country's mixed wheelchair curling team.[Photo/China Daily]
Chen Jianxin experienced the worst days of his life during the summer of 2010, when the then 18-year-old Yanqing native was involved in a car accident that left him with severe paraplegia.
Afterward, he remained at home in the district of Beijing, rarely meeting anyone, on the verge of tears most days.
His grandparents, who were in their 80s, took care of him, and because he was unable to move, were forced to carry him when he needed to make use of other parts of the house.
Those dark days lasted for about two years until Chen's despair finally lifted after he took part in a sports session organized by the Beijing Disabled Persons' Federation.
He kept at it and his persistence paid off. As a member of China's mixed wheelchair curling team during the finals of the Wheelchair Curling competition at the Pyeong-Chang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games, Chen helped cinch the championship, making history by winning the country's first-ever Winter Paralympic gold medal.
Fast forward to March 6 this year, and he also helped the Chinese team defend its crown during the 2022 Beijing Paralympic Winter Games.
"I trained hard and achieved what I wanted to prove to myself, that even in a wheelchair, I can do something I want, and do it well," the now 30-year-old said.
"Life is full of new hopes and goals. And where there are both, you can accomplish what you want, and shine at things you're good at doing."
Curling is not an easy sport and it is even more difficult for someone in a wheelchair to curl a stone on ice.
"I tried wheelchair fencing initially, but I found it hard to score well," Chen said, "so I changed over to wheelchair curling instead in 2014, as I wanted to take part in the Beijing 2022 Games, which my hometown was co-hosting."
He began putting in hours of painstaking training in 2016 after returning from the Wheelchair Curling World Championship.
"I realized during the competition that there was still a big gap between the wheelchair skills of our team and those of other countries, which made me train even harder when I returned to Beijing," Chen said. Eight hours of training by day were not enough and each evening, he would put in another two to three hours.
"It's very cold out on the ice, which made me anxious. Every day, I had to practice using the pole to curl the stone thousands of times, developing my muscle memory and strength. The more I practiced, the more accurate my throws became," he said.
Playing as third, Chen said knowing how to communicate properly with other team members was indispensable.
"Third is a bridging role and during a competition, it's up to me to communicate what my teammates in first and second are thinking, so that whoever is in fourth can make the final play," Chen said.
"Wheelchair curling is a team sport. You have to build up teamwork and develop tacit understanding so you're better able to compete."
Since 2016, Chen has spent each Spring Festival training intensively with his teammates instead of going home.
"I remember that on the lunar New Year's Eve during the Spring Festival in 2018, I had just returned from intensive training in Canada and landed in Beijing at 9 pm. Although our training center is about a two-hour drive from my home, I chose to stay at the center," Chen said.
"Who doesn't like to relax after playing? But I felt I'd set my training back if I went home to relax for a few days."
Chen has won seven gold medals in the sport and in September, he donated replicas of his medals to the Archives and History Museum in Yanqing.
"For me personally, I hope to continue wheelchair curling until I'm in my 80s, and I also want to take part in the 2026 Winter Paralympics in Italy," he said.
"As for my hometown, I only ever had one simple wish, and that was whenever I went back, people wouldn't say that it was a shame that I was in a wheelchair."