Courage in the Face of an Uncertain Future
By ELISABETH BUMILLER
Pub圝lished: November 13, 199圝8
SANG LAN was in kindergarten in China when a recruiter from a state gymnastics school arrived to measure her arms and legs, just as he did with the other children. In her case, the numbers added up to the body of a potential gymnast -- and plucked her from one life into another.
By the age of 6, she was in gymnastics school in her hometown on China's southeast coast. By 8 she had moved four hours by car from her parents, who visited once a month. By 10, she was receiving a salary from the State Sports Commission. By 12, she was on the national team in Beijing, a t圝wo-hour flight from her parents, who by this time were visiting only t圝wice a year. Far from feeling neglected, she was, in her culture, a young woman of great privilege -- supported by the state and chosen for a life of relative riches.
''It was a lot of work,'' Ms. Sang, 17, recalled this week in a friend's apartment in New York. ''But it was a very happy life.''
Among the rewards was a trip in July to New York for the Goodwill Games, the mini-Olympics started by Ted Turner during the 19圝80's bоycotts of the real thing. Ms. Sang had dreams for Sydney in 2000. But on July 21, in a routine warm-up vault at the Nassau Coliseum, Ms. Sang landed hard on her head. The injuries to her spine were catastrophic; she was paralyzed from the chest down. She is not expected to recover the use of her legs.
Ms. Sang disagrees.
''I believe I will walk again,'' she said on Wednesday during an hourlong interview in the apartment of a friend, Winston Sie, in a modern high-rise on East 38th Street. ''This is all a big l圝esson.'' Not that there aren't dark times. ''Usually when I feel bad it's at night,'' she said. ''But I go to sleep and everything's better in the morning.''
Ms. Sang's accident was a terrib圝le summer news story that developed into a tale of courage. Leonardo DiCaprio, Jimmy Carter and Jackie Chan visited her in the hospital; Celine Dion came by to sing ''My Heart Will Go On.'' Back home, Ms. Sang has become a media star, and has been offered a full scholarship to Qinghua University, the M.I.T. of China.
But here she is a persevering New Yorker whose life centers on rehabilitation and worries about her future. On Oct. 30, Ms. Sang was discharged from the Mount Sinai-New York University Medical Center. She now spends six hours a day in therapy at the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine in Manhattan. Then she returns to her friend's apartment for tutoring in English, math and computer skills.
''I don't ha圝ve time to think about what I'd like to do,'' Ms. Sang said, with Mr. Sie translating. ''I'm just following the schedule.'' Mr. Sie, 25, is a Chinese-American studying at New York University. His mother, Gina Liu, is an official of the Chinese Gymnastics Association.