Once she was a tiny flying wonder, a world-class gymnast with a wealth of talent. But during a warm up at last summer's Goodwill Games in New York, Sang Lan landed on her head, crushing part of her spinal chord and paralyzing her body and her dreams.
"I dreamed that I was able to walk and to jump and to run and it was so beautiful in my dream," Lan said.
That dream keeps her coming back to the mats every day, where the smallest tasks take months to master. Lan pulled herself onto a mat and pulled off a major achievement. After months of work, she can finally sit up on her own.
Lan says her therapists and new friends in the United States have helped her work small miracles. But her mother is ready to go home, and in a few months, both will return to China.
"I would say it will not be too bad about the level of therapy I will receive in China, but in fact I have no idea," Lan said.
Lan won't be going all the way home to her village. First she'll stop at a brand-new hospital in Beijing. But doctors here are concerned that the therapy in China might not be as modern as the treatment she is receiving at New York University's Rusk Institute, a spinal injury rehabilitation center.
Her physician, Dr. Jung Ahn, doesn't believe Lan will ever be able to walk again. But that hasn't dampened Lan's hopes.
"Of course my goal is to be able to walk again and to run again," she said with a big smile.
Lan has already exceeded expectations, but her limitations will be the competition of a lifetime.
[In a regrettable postscript to Diana Olick's story, a "good Samaritan" victimized Sang Lan and her guardian on Tuesday. Sang Lan and the guardian were driving in Manhattan, when their minivan got a flat tire. According to police, a man walking by stopped to help them change the tire.
After he changed the tire, he stole the guardian's pocketbook from the front seat of the van and ran away. The thief got away with $400 in cash, a driver's license, and credit cards. Sang Lan and her guardian were returning from Chinese Lunar New Year festivities.]
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