Following the jaunty melody from his portable radio on the rubber track, Tian Longbing, a 52-year-old blind athlete, groped to pick up the discus nearby for his next throw.
Using music to gauge direction, discuses flew out of his hand and into the center of the pitch again and again. For over two decades, Tian has spent his days like this.
As a member of the provincial track and field team for the disabled in central China's Hubei Province, Tian will compete in China's National Games for persons with disabilities for the eighth time this month.
"I have never thought about retiring. As long as I can throw, I will continue to stand on the pitch," said Tian.
Though Tian has been blind for 28 years, he still remembers how a sports arena looks. "There is an oval green lawn in the middle and a red plastic track around it. I will never forget it for the rest of my life," Tian said.
For him, the sports arena is the starting point of his dream and the stage of his life.
In 1969, Tian was born in the mountains of Hubei's Enshi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture. With a strong passion for sports since childhood, Tian joined the prefecture's wrestling team at 13. And in 1989, when a provincial wrestling team was established, Tian represented Hubei and brought back a gold medal in the national wrestling and judo invitational tournament in Tianjin.
But while Tian was looking towards a bright future, something unexpected happened. During a basketball training session in 1989, his right eye was accidentally poked by a defender as he jumped up to shoot. During subsequent treatment, both his eyes became cross-infected and caused him to go blind.
For a long time, Tian refused to accept the fact that he could no longer see anything and shut himself in. "I was really upset. I kept bumping into obstacles and getting bruised all over. As a blind man, I didn't know what could I do, and I felt my life was over," he added.
Tian's passion for life was reignited when he came into contact with disabled sports by chance. In 1995, the disabled persons' federation in Enshi invited Tian to represent the prefecture in the provincial games. Tian then started to learn judo, whose techniques were similar to wrestling.
"Training after losing my sight was much harder than before, but I felt as if my eyes could see the world again. Sports is the light of my life," said Tian, who won the silver medal in judo for China at the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney.
As Tian grew older, judo became increasingly demanding for him, but he did not want to terminate his sports career. After thorough analysis, Tian switched to throw the discus, javelin and shot put.
"I knew little about these events. I had only seen people compete, but I had never learned how to do it myself. Moreover, the three events require different skills, so it was hard to get started," Tian recalled.
With no eyesight, Tian could only use his hands to feel the movement of his coach over and over again. After every training day, he would go over every technical detail in his mind, and even picked up branches on the roadside to practise throwing. "I thought so much about training that I dreamed about it at night," he said.
After thousands of practises and with the guidance of his coach, Tian gradually achieved his highest level. "My body often ached after training, but as I love it, I can overcome any difficulties," said Tian.
Over the past two decades, Tian has bagged many medals in international tournaments, including the IBSA World Games, the World Para Athletics Championships and the Far East and South Pacific Games for the Disabled.
At the age of 52, Tian's ambition for sports has not diminished. To prepare for the National Games for the disabled, Tian has been staying at his training base in Huangshi city, more than 600 kilometers away from his home, since August 2020. He has to consolidate his strength by snatching, pulling and pushing barbells of over 40 kilograms every day.
"Many people think that I live a hard life, and I have the opportunity to work in easier and higher-paying jobs, but I don't want them. My ideal stage is on the field. I still want to stand on the podium this year," Tian added.
Sports shines a light on Tian's blind world, and he is also willing to be a fire to bring light and heat to others.
Along with Tian, there are also five disabled athletes who train in Huangshi. They are either deaf, physically disabled or suffering from cerebral palsy. Tian, as a sports veteran, always encourages them to stride forward with unremitting enthusiasm.
Zheng Han, 32, is a wheelchair user. She began to learn the discus in 2019. In her daily training, Tian always helps push her wheelchair and carry heavy equipment. "Tian is a brother to me. He is willing to offer a hand, and shares a lot of his advice. He is a real role model, as he keeps to his training program at such an advanced age," said Zheng.
"I have accepted the reality of blindness for long. My only regret is that I failed to have our national anthem played in international competitions," said Tian. "By sticking to the stadium, I want to encourage younger athletes to train harder, and perhaps one day they can realize the common dream of every athlete, which is to raise the national flag and play the national anthem."
Produced by Xinhua Global Service