Like many Special Olympics teams, the 12 athletes Li Xiuming coaches have varying ability levels. In the beginning, there were a number of challenges for Li Xiuming. She struggled to communicate with her skaters and many would look at her and not respond as she gave instructions. Some athletes struggled with the fundamentals, some had not been thought how to tie their skates on their own. Over time, Li Xiuming worked with each athlete to improve their individual performance and develop the coach-athlete relationship. Now, some of the athletes even call her “sis” because their bond is so close.
Over the years, as her athletes have grown taller and their skate sizes have increased, their ability levels have improved as well.
In speed skating, success comes down to inches. An athlete must train to skate with their body in the optimal position for the entirety of the race as well as ensuring that their arms swing at the correct angles. Every position must be worked on in extreme detail in order to help the athletes improve. Li Xiuming and her team spent a lot of time working on the starting line. Some skaters had difficulty holding their starting position, while others accidentally started before the gun went off. Other skaters needed assistance with their reactions. Some would wait for the other skaters in the race to start instead of reacting to the gun. It is these small changes that Li Xiuming introduced that helped her team to improve.
One athlete, Wang Jiali, skated with her hips too high when she began training. Li Xiuming worked with Wang Jiali on her hip position, reaction time and agility using a set of drills where Wang Jiali would attempt to avoid obstacles her coach placed on the ice as she skated. At first, Wang Jiali would slip over the obstacles, but with the help of her Li Xiuming and a lot of repetition she now navigates around them gracefully. Wang Jiali skated in the 222m and the 500m races at the World Winter Games 2017 in Austria winning bronze medals in both races.
Two other athletes who Li Xiuming coaches also participated in the World Winter Games in Austria. Huang Yujie won gold in the 777m race and bronze in the 333m race. Li Xiang won bronze in the 222m race.
Li Xiuming learned the dedication and perseverance it takes to be a Special Olympics short track speed skating coach as a skater herself. She is from Qitaihe City in Heilongjiang Province in China, home to many speed skating champions. She started skating at age ten and has been a professional short track speed skater for nine years. Despite the many awards she has won, including National Master Sportsman and National Youth Champion, Li Xiuming jokes that she gets more nervous watching her athletes compete than she does before her own competitions.
All of the achievements that Li Xiuming earned as a skater don’t compare to how she feels watching the Special Olympics athletes who she coaches succeed. She uses her experience as a professional athlete to help her athletes gain the self-confidence they need to perform well. As she watches her athletes improve, it brings her more joy than she thought was possible.