When Kuen Tang was paralyzed in a car crash at age 23, she thought her life was over. Since then, she has managed to ski, skydive and scuba dive.
And last month, she even wheeled the Great Wall of China.
“All my friends that went with me were like, ‘Are you sure?'” Tang laughs.
“‘This is not what someone in a wheelchair should do.'”
The now-38-year-old, who has quadriplegia, dreamed up the idea last year after a visit to China. She says during her 11-day stay, she did not see one person in a wheelchair outside.
“People (in China) are without wheelchairs,” she told Global News in 2015. “Basically, they sit on cardboard and propel themselves down the road. And there are no jobs for anybody with disabilities. There’s no hope.”
Tang, who is employed and completed a university degree after her paralysis, hoped to inspire change in China. She dreamed of more accessible buildings and better rehabilitation like we have in Canada.
For one year, she trained by inching her chair up local hills and working out in the University of Alberta’s Steadward Centre for Personal & Physical Achievement. She also had to recover from surgery.
When she finally arrived in Beijing in late September, she found out the (Great) Wall would be even harder than she expected.
“We had to park about two kilometres away from the place (where) we buy tickets. And it’s all uphill climb.”
Including the ramps and stairs, Tang estimates she wheeled or was carried about three kilometres just to get up on the wall.
On top of China’s heat and humidity, the wall itself presented the challenge of a steep incline with uneven, rocky surfaces. Tang summoned all her strength and then some, stopping several times.
“I just looked at the top of the gun tower where I have to go… and I just pushed.”
“I was screaming at myself.”
In the end, surrounded by family and friends, Tang managed to wheel 500 metres.
She also inspired many. When she announced her goal in 2015, some people with disabilities in China emailed her, telling her she couldn’t do it.
“Now they’re asking, ‘How did you do it? What did you do to train yourself to get out? How can I do it at home?'”
“That almost brought tears to my eyes, to see that finally there’s hope.”
Tang marked the 30th anniversary of Rick Hansen’s Man In Motion World Tour with her Great Wall adventure. Hansen emailed Global News this statement:
Congratulations on an amazing accomplishment. To wheel on the Great Wall of China is a significant accomplishment for you personally. What I’m most impressed with and honoured by is your commitment to undertake this objective to pay tribute to me and people with disabilities everywhere.
Your solidarity towards our common dream, which is a world without barriers and to liberate the amazing potential of people with disabilities is truly commendable. You’ve demonstrated great ability and the Great Wall that was once a barrier is now a symbol of possibilities.
We’ve come a long way but the journey isn’t over. If we all come together and work towards this global movement of a barrier-free world, we will get there faster.
Congratulations and let’s continue to move forward together!
All the best,