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Li Xiang

UPDATE: Check out how Li Xiang performed at the World Games.

Li Xiang has been changing attitudes about people with intellectual disabilities all his life. In China, people with intellectual disabilities can face stigma from the moment of diagnosis. For decades, even the words for people with disabilities included a slur: ascanfei ren, literally: “disabled garbage people.”

The parents of Li Xiang know this all too well. Their baby’s diagnosis of Down syndrome came like a bolt of lightning. "When I got the news, it was like everything collapsed," recalls his mother. But soon they began to change their expectations—as did his coach and others—when they saw Li work hard to master and succeed in sports.

It wasn’t easy. Li had trouble with coordination and balance. He was also very sensitive to failure. But he kept trying and picking himself up again—and again. Li’s coach says, “sports are of enormous help” to him and motivate him to improve his skills. At age 11, Li was one of the youngest competitors at the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games. He won a gold, two silver and two bronze medals in artistic gymnastics. In 2017, at age 13, he was again among the youngest competitors at World Games—taking on a completely new skill and challenge: speed skating.

These days, Li is a 15-year-old World Games veteran, who’s been in intense training for the 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi. He’s aiming to beat his 2015 multi-medal performance in artistic gymnastics—and he’s confident that he will succeed!