Wednesday, September 10, 2008

From shadow to rainbow, South Korean shooter Kim Im-yeon finds hope in shooting

With her son's photo dangling on the right arm of her wheelchair, the shooter from South Korea was smiling all the time -- when she was running for International Paralympic Committee membership, competing on shooting ranges, and mounting the podium for silver medal after the women's 50-meter three positions on Tuesday.

However, when asked about her past experience, 41-year-old Kim Im-yeon chocked.

"I, I thought of committing suicide in the past," she bleated bitterly.


Holder of four world records in air rifle events, the five-time Paralympian became disabled at the age of four when she contracted polio.

Since then, she had been lying in bed all day, with a nanny bringing food to her.

But the memory of carefree days was transient.

When she reached the school age, Kim found the first conundrum she faced was to sit up.

"My parents fixed handles everywhere in the room," she said.

This method proved effective and some time later, she could sit like others.

Then here came the next problem: many normal schools closed their gates to her.

"People suggested that I attend schools especially for the disabled, but my parents refused." Kim said that to date, she was still grateful to her parents' such decision.

Fortunately, they managed to find one. Every day, her mom carried her on the back, trudging in the rain or under the scorching sun. Talking about this experience, the shooter had tears welling in her eyes.

Yet the devotion of her parents didn't bring an end to Kim's suffering.

"There were always kids surrounding and pointing at me, laughing at my disability," she recalled.

This hurt the girl a lot, hence she always shut herself in the bedroom after school and shed tears.

Her depression reached the climax in one day, when the autistic climbed to top of a building next to her school, one of her legs already strode over the guardrail.

"After several attempts to jump down, I found myself not brave enough," she said, "and if I did jump, my parents would be heartbroken."

The strong-willed girl thus made a decision: "I will work hard so that they would not look down upon me anymore!"

Soon she developed a hobby in painting, and some of her pictures won domestic prizes. Encouragement from teachers and acception of classmates gradually boosted her confidence.


Shooting entered her life when Kim was 12 years old and went to a shooting range by chance.

"I was fascinated by the sound of gunshot. It was so beautiful," she recalled.

In retrospect, Kim said, "I would do shooting even if I were born again."

Her first Paralympic tour was in 1992, when the debutant reaped two gold and one bronze.

To date, she had grabbed four Paralympic gold medals, but Kim noted that what the sport brought her was more than that.

"In shooting, you have a target, and you are always craving for better scores," she said, adding that it made her life focused.

During trips for competitions, Kim made lots of friends, with whom she could share her happiness and sorrow.

What's more, shooting brought her love as unexpected.

Four years ago in Athens, she failed to clinch any medal in her first discipline and seized the silver in the second. When the ambitious shooter was apparently depressed, a man came over to comfort her, whom she just knew three months ago as coach of the weightlifting team of South Korea and five years younger than her.

"He said he had been in love with me for quite some time and kissed me," the pretty lady with a ponytail flushed but with happiness written on her face.

One month later, the got married.

Last year, she had a child, whose photo she carried with her wherever she went and would show to others in pride. In the picture, the boy under a blue cap laughed.

Now Kim is a pursuing her doctorate in the Sports University of South Korea. She is the only disabled athlete who gained the chance.


Kim said she had two goals for the Beijing tour -- to dedicate her son a medal and to run for membership of the International Paralympic Committee.

On Tuesday, she had her first wish materialized.

In the qualification round of women's 50-meter sport rifle three position event, the Sydney champion and Athens runner-up chalked in just 571 points in the qualification to rank third.

Although she managed to collect the highest final round score of 100 points, her difference from the first-placing finalist, 8 points, was too huge to eliminate.

However, Kim said, "I'm satisfied."

Talking about her second wish, the lady traced it to 2006, when she had a chance to work at the Far East and South Pacific Games and saw poor service for athletes.

Then she thought, "Why not uniting to fight for our own rights?"

In Kim's view, Europe is developed in sports and holds the sway. But Asian countries need their representative as well.

She then contacted athletes from 43 Asian countries via e-mail.

During the Beijing Paralympics, whenever the crusader didn't have competitions, she would hang around in the athlete village, meeting people so as to get more votes.

"I am their voice, and I want to tell them that I will do my very best to represent them."

If possible, Kim said she also wanted to meet Chinese shooter Du Li, but reason for this was personal.

"She could always score 10.9 in the final, but I just have that score during training," she said admiringly, "I want to train with her, and learn how to conquer nervousness."

The shooter has a gift for everybody she met -- a pin with her own image. On the pin, a beaming cartoon girl reached out her right hand with thumb up, while her eyes were in the shape of a rainbow.

"I must cherish myself," she smiled, appearing much younger than her age, "there are always obstacles in life, but if you never stop trying, a more beautiful tomorrow will be awaiting."

Source: Xinhua

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