A silent success story

By SHI FUTIAN in Chengdu| (China Daily)| Updated : 2023-08-09

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Peng Huidi, who has a hearing impairment, powers down her lane during an individual medley race at the FISU World University Games in Chengdu last week. GUO JUNFENG/FOR CHINA DAILY

Hearing-impaired swimmer defies the odds to compete at Chengdu games

For hearing-impaired swimmer Peng Huidi, participating in the Chengdu FISU World University Games has been a life-changing experience and caps a remarkable journey for the young student who has defied the odds to pursue her sporting dreams.

Beyond the adrenaline rush of competition, however, the pool is first and foremost a sanctuary for Peng.

"I love being in the pool. When I'm in the water, I hear no noise. There's just me charging forward, and me alone. The blue pool in my eyes is peaceful, and it also represents strength," Peng, who studies at Central South University, told China Daily.

"The World University Games provide me with a very rare and important chance for me. It has broadened my horizons and allowed me to compete on a much bigger stage. I prepared for these games for a very long time."

Indeed, even though she didn't know it at the time, Peng's journey to the games began in her early childhood in Shandong province.

Her hearing was damaged due to a high fever when she was a 2-year-old, with the impairment severely denting her confidence as a child. She became withdrawn and dared not speak to others.

Hoping to bring her out of her shell, Peng's father took his daughter, then 6, to the nearest swimming pool. It was there that Peng discovered her passion and her talent was spotted by a coach.

Supported by her parents, Peng flourished in the pool while also continuing to study diligently at school. However, balancing her academic and athletic endeavors proved more challenging when she reached high school. Homework was always followed by pool practice, but with the school and training base over 70 kilometers apart, she admitted the daily commute took its toll.

"I thought about quitting. It was too pressurizing for me to take care of both training and academic life in school. I wanted to do my best in both, so I was pretty stressed out. But I just told myself, if I quit my future will be totally different than what I have dreamed of," said Peng, who competed in the 400m individual medley and the 1,500m freestyle in Chengdu.

"When things got too much to bear, my coach and my family just told me to have a break. So I took a vacation and thought it all through. Afterward, I was even more dedicated."

The Chengdu games have been another turning point for Peng. After making it through several qualifying rounds, she was called up to the Chinese swim team for the games. Initially, the coaches did not know about her hearing impairment.

"I remember the first day that she joined the team. None of us even knew she could not hear clearly. Her performance was very impressive during training," said coach Lin Yi.

"Then she told us that she could not hear properly. We were all impressed by not only her performance but also her wonderful sporting spirit.

"It's not just inspiring for other student-athletes, it also inspires all of us coaches. She has overcome some many difficulties to compete at this level."

Lin told China Daily that the coaches have adapted their methods to ensure Peng clearly understands their instructions.

Training plans, for instance, are written down for her. During competitions, she cannot hear the starting buzzer, so instead she uses a light next to the pool as her signal to start. This means there is usually a delay of between 0.2 and 0.5 seconds in Peng's dive off the blocks.

"This is a big disadvantage for her as a swimmer. So to close the gap, she needs to train extra hard. I would say most of our swimmers are hardworking, but the effort that Peng puts in to get here go way beyond the norm," Lin added.

Apart from pushing her limits in competition, Peng also approached the Chengdu games as a chance to meet new friends. She said that through swimming she has become a much more outgoing person, and she has cherished every moment at the games.

"I really enjoyed the atmosphere at the games. I met many athletes from across the world, and I traded a lot of pins with them. There's also a cultural fair at the athletes' village, and I spent some really fun times there with my fellow athletes," said Peng.

The 19-year-old plans to continue swimming after graduating, and hopes to charge forward as far as possible — in and out of the pool.

"I think the World University Games have made her much more confident. Her birthday was July 29, and the team celebrated it together with her. I'm so happy to see she's competing here and making new friends at the games," said coach Lin.

"I hope more people can pay more attention to student-athletes like her. There are a lot more inspiring stories like her around. We are all learning from her, and I wish her all the best."