Chinese sailing champion Xu Lijia delivered an inspirational speech to Pao School students during her visit to the Secondary Division Monday, bringing the audience to its feet on several occasions as she recounted her arduous path to Olympic greatness. Xu won a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics, despite having just 50% of her hearing and little vision out of her left eye.
Pao School invited Xu to speak because she embodies the school’s core values. Her dedication to her studies – in particular, her tireless efforts to learn English – and athleticism tie in with the school’s mission of developing the whole person in students. She also shows integrity in her endeavours and compassion for others. Her character traits set a sterling example for Pao students.
‘Success doesn’t happen from individual efforts alone,’ Xu told students. ‘It depends on cooperation. My teammates and I push each other to improve our performance in sailing competitions. The support of our parents is also important’.
Xu began her career in the water as a swimmer, but switched to sailing at the age of 10. Her strong performance at a training camp led to her being selected as one of three girls to be on the Shanghai Sailing Team. ‘Compared to swimming, sailing is much more interesting,’ she said. ‘We are dealing with nature, the uncertainty of the currents and waves’.
Pao School co-founder Philip Sohmen agrees that sailing is one of the most invigorating sports: ‘The more I tried, the more I enjoyed it,’ he told students. ‘When you get into competition, it’s about being able to react very quickly to a changing situation. You need to be physically fit, mentally fit and be prepared for any kind of situation to happen. It takes a true champion to win in sailing’.
Xu showcased that spirit of a champion as she urged students to meet setbacks in life with steely resolve. She recounted how she broke her hand in January 2012, six months before the London Olympics. Just two days after the operation, she was back in the gym training. While her hand frequently bled, and she was in pain, she continued to train for the Olympics, and slowly, her injury healed. At the London Olympics, she captured a gold medal and was later named sailor of the year for 2012.
Xu’s unflagging efforts to improve her English are another example of her determination to make the most of life. She told students how she recited the passages in her English textbooks relentlessly to improve her pronunciation. ‘You don’t have to be in the Western world to become fluent in English,’ she said. ‘You can become very good at it if you put in the time – study hard, speak English as much as possible, and you will improve a lot’.
During the Q&A session that followed Xu’s lecture, one student asked her if she had ever considered giving up sailing to live the life of an ordinary working professional. ‘I have thought of giving up before, but my love of sailing and my dream of winning a gold medal give me the drive to go on,’ Xu said. ‘Sweetness follows bitterness’.
Following her lecture and the Q&A session, Xu Lijia was interviewed by Year 12 student Anita Zheng. During their discussion, Xu offered additional insight on the value of learning English. ‘English can help you develop an international perspective, understand the customs of various countries and make friends in different countries,’ she told Anita.
As they concluded their conversation, Xu congratulated Pao School on its 10th anniversary. ‘I wish Pao School the very best for the future,’ she said. ‘I hope the school is able to send more and more globally-minded leaders out into the world’.