LANZHOU, China, Dec. 26 (Xinhua) — After retiring from China’s national women’s sitting volleyball team, Yang Yanling relaunched her career in the welfare services for people with disabilities.

The 40-year-old, three-time Paralympic gold winner (2004, 2008 and 2012), chose to leave the Olympic court after London Paralympics and returned to her hometown in Jiayuguan City, northwest China’s Gansu Province.

Born with congenital hip dislocation, Yang was a sensitive and introverted child. “I was aware of my own ‘difference’ since I was young, as I could not walk or run like others. It was hard for me to face my physical defect. I was so anxious in every PE class and avoided communicating with classmates,” recalled Yang.

Later, by chance, she was introduced to join the provincial women’s sitting volleyball team in Gansu in 2001, composed of athletes with amputations, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries and other physical disabilities.

At first, Yang was confused. For a long time, she thought that there were no sports events suitable for the disabled. “How could I play volleyball if I could not walk or run?”

On the first day she stepped into the volleyball stadium, she saw 12 girls sitting on the floor and tossing a ball towards each other within a smaller space and a lower net than in ordinary volleyball games.

Their passionate cheers echoed the entire stadium, and Yang quivered slightly with excitement. “They made me feel alive,” she said. Yang decided to stay and quickly showed her talent in the sport.

“The beginning was hard. According to the rules, players must keep a sitting position during the game. So we had to complete all the movements on the floor only using the strength of our arms and waist. Some girls’ new trousers had been completely worn through only after a few days’ training,” she recalled.

In 2002, she moved up to the national team and represented China in the World Championships held in Slovenia for the first time.

When the women’s sitting volleyball made its Paralympic debut in Athens, Yang and her teammates won the gold medal, the first team title for the Chinese disabled.

After completing a hat-trick feat at Paralympic Games in 2008 and 2012, Yang chose to retire due to her hip joint injury. She is currently hired by Jiayuguan Disabled Persons’ Federation in her hometown and helping more physically and mentally challenged.

“Sports made me a more confident person. Now it is time for me to help others,” said Yang.

In recent years, Yang and her colleagues have organized events like art performances and sports competitions to encourage more disabled people to participate.

They also promoted the construction of non-barrier facilities in their city to create a sound environment for the disabled. “I am happy to see the disabled are able to walk out of their houses, and more disabled children are not afraid of going to school and talking to strangers,” she said.

Sometimes, she went back to the volleyball court, and those glorious days flashed back in her memory.

“That 19-year athlete career has been a lifelong benefit, and I am so grateful for all the help,” she said. With 241 days to go before Tokyo Paralympic Games next year, Yang sent her best wishes to her former teammates.

“I wish them the very best and hope that they enjoy the competition and their stay in Tokyo.”