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Disabled Man Conquers English Channel
For the first time in two weeks, 66-year-old Liu Guizhi in Dalian, Liaoning Province, had the heavy worry lifted from her heart yesterday afternoon, when she finally heard the phone ring and her second son, Xie Yanhong, himself called her to reassure that he was fine.

Xie successfully swam across the English Channel over the weekend from Dover, in England, to Calais,in France. He is the first disabled person in the world to have swum across the channel, a total distance of 32 kilometers, and will now be on the tongue of every sports enthusiast in China.

"I learned from local disabled persons' federation on Sunday afternoon that he had succeeded. And I know the first thing he said on getting out of water was that he hoped I was proud of him. But hearing his voice was another thing,'' the retired doctor said in a voice a little choked with excitement.

Xie flew to Dover on August 11. Except for a call right after his arrival, he was out of contact with his family. He even refused to receive calls from them because, in the words of one of the persons accompanying him, he did not want to be distracted.

"He (Xie) had put so much hope into this hard-won opportunity,'' said Liu. "He told me he is very proud, as a Chinese disabled person, not to have let his comrades down.''

If it were not for the generous support of the Dalian municipal government, the swim, which cost over 200,000 yuan (US$24,154), would have been beyond the reach of an ordinary Chinese disabled person.

Suffering from a severe congenital malformation of his legs, Xie can only walk slowly with the help of crutches on land. But things are completely different for him in water, where he enjoys a much greater freedom.

"I do not know when or how he learned to swim. It must have been behind my back, because I forbade him to swim, because of the danger,'' Liu said.

But she eventually relented, when she saw that swimming was the only thing in his life that kept him from being depressed, after being rejected by colleges because of his physical defect.

"We have tried to find him a job or help him start a small businesses, but nothing appeals to him except swimming,'' said Liu. She could not remember exactly when she began to spend all of her income to support his swimming training and the cost of traveling to competitions. What she does recall is her tears and the dedication of her son's.

Liu said she never imagined that the son who brought her the most worry would become a world celebrity and her greatest pride.

Li Yang, a senior official with the Dalian Disabled Persons' Federation, said Xie would come home at the end of this month. "We have prepared a grand welcoming ceremony for our hero,'' he said.

Asked what she would like her son to try next, Liu said if it is possible, she would like to see him swim across the Taiwan Straits.

(China Daily August 26, 2003)

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