Her chances of playing alongside Zhu Ting may have faded, however Fan Wenyan’s passion for volleyball is helping the young student realize plenty of other dreams in life.

Thanks to the game she loves, the 18-year-old was awarded a sports scholarship by Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University, where her skills on the court are proving a perfect complement to life off it.

Fan was born in Qidong, a small city in east China’s Jiangsu province. She fell in love with volleyball in third grade at Haifu Primary School, before her talent caught the eye of coach Gao Feng of Nantong Sports School.

She spent six years at Tianjiabing Middle School and Nantong Middle School, where an injury abruptly halted her progress in her second year. Because of her unorthodox spiking technique, her kneecap was so worn out that she could no longer jump.

Fan’s family urged her to give up volleyball and focus on her studies, however her love of the sport and attachment to her team meant she wasn’t going to give up so easily.

“It was a tough time. Others were playing on the court, but I was rehabilitating, squatting, finding the pain point to practice and strengthen. After a period of slow recovery, I was able to jump and play again. I was so happy,” said Fan.

By the summer vacation of that second-year at middle school, Fan had overcome her injuries. She watched on TV as the Chinese women’s volleyball team, coached by the legendary Lang Ping and captained by eventual MVP Zhu, won gold at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

Spurred on to try and emulate Zhu, Fan was offered the opportunity to try out for the Jiangsu team when she was in high school. However, her comparatively small 1.78-meter height was an issue for her professional prospects and left Fan with a tough decision to make.

“I felt that my development potential might be limited if I chose that career path, so I thought I’d keep studying since my grades were good,” she explained.

In her senior year at high school, Fan participated in a recruitment test for students specializing in volleyball organized by Tsinghua University.

“I was lucky enough to pass the test,” said Fan, who is two months into her new life on campus. “Tsinghua focuses on the comprehensive development of people, not just study. The vibe on campus is great, and there’s just so much to do.

“Tsinghua has a pretty strong sports atmosphere. We trained overtime for competitions in secondary school, and the coach was watching us closely. Now, sports training is more like a part of life. With two hours of beach volleyball training every afternoon, the players are more independent and have a flexible schedule.

“The coaches and seniors are very kind. They take good care of the new players, which helps me adapt to the new environment quickly and gives me a sense of belonging as a member of the Tsinghua volleyball team.”

Now Fan has transitioned from indoor to outdoor volleyball, with senior Ruan Ziwen her new idol.

“She is a godlike figure, she claimed two championships and one runner-up finish in the Chinese university championships, and was absent this year for the first time due to her PhD program,” Fan said.

“Right now, I like beach volleyball very much, and I hope to improve my skills. My goal is to achieve a good result for my school in the Universiade next year.”

Xinhua