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A Champion Weightlifter and Mother


Told by Zeng Jianyun | Written by Margaret Nie

English Translated by Christina Ren | Proofread by Liqing Pan


My name is Zeng Jianyun, a girl from Yongzhou, Hunan Province.


When I was about 10 years old, at Grade 5or 6, a sports school of Hunan, my hometown, came to recruit young athletes candidates. Probably because I was so naughty and loved to climb walls, trees and even cranes, I was chosen. Although she did not disclose what training I will receive, I was quite happy as I will have to do no more homework or exams. But my parents warned me, “Think carefully. It is really tough to be an athlete.”   


At that time, I had no idea what “tough” means, and only thought it was good to be away from home, and homework, and would never be disallowed to watch TV. That was my primary motivation. I was relatively naughty back then, especially compared with my brother, who  had good grades. I remember there were two walls at home for posting things, one posted my brother’s awards and one posted mine. His award was all-over the wall, but there was nothing on my wall. So you can tell that being an athlete was also a better choice over studying for me.


Later I got arranged to practice weightlifting. After a little over one year at the sports school, I joined the Hunan Province Team. There I stayed for three years. At that time, a coach from Tianjin came to “pick” talents. I was in the lightweight class, while the Tianjin Team lacks athletes of this class. Because of this opportunity, around October 2003,  a best friend of mine and myself were chosen to join the Tianjin Team, just about 20 years ago.  


After I joined the Tianjin Team I once had very good performance. I earned myself top1, or at least top-3 places in almost all the national adolescent and youth games. But in the adult level competitions, affected by injury caused by the lumbar disc herniation since I was fifteen, my performance slipped, and did not get significant breakthrough.



The mentor – like a coach, father, and friend


In 2008, my coached changed again. This second coach made a great impact on me. I recall that he said to me “You need to learn something!” But I had no idea what to start with. Then he said “Well, come and try write with me.”


I responded “OK, I’ll write with you.”


Then, following the preference of my coach, I started to practice calligraphy and writing everyday. Apart from weightlifting trainings, he also taught me some life principles, and asked us to cherish the way of living as an athlete, because living in the sports team is quite easy, needing to worry about nothing but eating and sleeping and training. Even the most trivial fuss could be dealt with by our coach.


To me, my coach was just like my parent. When we are outside, I was his trainee, who should obey all his arrangements; however privately I was willing to share many personal things with him. He was very patient, probably because he also has a daughter, and we were the first female athletes he trains. He was quite tolerant to us, but we heard he used to be rather strict with the male athletes.


When there were no training arrangements in the weekend, he would take us to the supermarket and do the grocery shopping. I was the youngest among the seven girls in the team, so I was given the nickname of “little bean”. His wife was also very kind to us and every weekend she would come to make dumplings and cook delicious meals for us. In my teenage, they were just like our parents. Even after I got married and had kid, she still would prepare me kid’s clothes and beddings etc, which made me feel so blessed.


After he became my coach in 2008, my performance stayed average and I only got 5th place in the national championship contest. I didn’t see a promising future at that time, and start to think about retiring. My coach caught my thoughts, yet he had always encouraged me not to give up.


The National Team with excellent athletes


In 2010, I got a chance and joined the National Team, but after finding the athletes there so outstanding, I felt quite self-contemptuous – I felt I was nothing compared to all these top performers in my same class.


I stayed at the National Team for about a year and half, but I start to want to quit soon after I got there. The purpose I joined the team was to be able to participate in some international games, such as the World University Games and the World Championship or such, but the spot promised to me in those games were taken by others and I ended up not being able to participate in any of those international games.


It was quite a blow for me – what was the point of staying there then? I thought about returning to the Tianjin Team. My coach tried very hard to talk my out of this idea, as there were still many future opportunities if I stay.  I was 22 years old then and already had a boyfriend, so I did not wanted to train any more. Nor did I see a career future, as I did not see myself having any outstanding performance. My coach finally said “Alright, but after the London Olympics.”


I was counting days during the one and half year at the National Team. I trained very hard every day, but still cannot be as good as others.


In 2011, my father passed away. That was huge blow to me. When he was sick, I comforted him by saying I was going to participate in international games, but actually I did not really go to international games of much influence. I felt so angry and upset at myself, yet could do nothing about it. The two coaches in Tianjin, one chief coach and the other my direct coach, took turns to encourage me. They posed an essential question to me, “If you quite, then what do you do?”


Marriage and having a daughter while at a loss


If I don’t do weightlifting, then what do I do? What could I do?


All these years as an athlete, I know nothing but weightlifting. I was quite lost and doesn’t know what I was capable of d. I told my boyfriend about this and he said, “Once you’re retired, let’s get married.”


A quick introduction of my boyfriend – he was also a weightlifting athlete. But we did not know each other from the training.  Actually he was a more senior trainee of my coach. As mentioned above, my coach used to coach the males, but later on coached the females, of which I was  among the first cohort. My boyfriend often comes back to visit my coach at his spare time and during important holidays, and that’s how we met each other and got acquainted.


After the National Games in 2013, I finally quit the training and started a yoga studio with a senior teammate. My boyfriend then wanted to get married and talked to me frankly, “We have been together for years. How about we getting married?” I thought this guy was quite reliable so it doesn’t take long before I say Yes! In 2014 we got married and had our first child the next year. Everything seemed rather natural…


Inner conflict of having the second child


My life so far has been just smooth. In a blink of an eye, my kid is already three, and she can go to kindergarten.   


Then I thought it was about the time I return to workplace and be excused from the baby caring duty, which is more exhausting than work. Long-time-stay at home also bring occasional conflicts with family, particularly with parents-in-law. The two generations have distinctive parenting methods, and thus there are always frictions. Actually, all these years after marriage, I barely had any conflicts with them aside from parenting issues. Now that the kid could go to kindergarten, I felt as free as a bird. I figure that I no longer have to think about family matters and can devote myself to the yoga studio I love.


But not long after I had this thought, here comes my second child… When I just learned about my pregnancy, I was rather tangled. And it feels like getting kicked back into the rock bottom after just risen to the top. Ever after getting married, my focus changed to family; although I never stopped being involved in the yoga business, I did not have much external contact. Staying at home, I also accumulate negative moods, and sometimes when I lose my temper would complained to my husband, “Why does it have to be Me who sacrifice? Why is it Me who has to stay at home?”


My husband is busy with his start-up, and therefore can’t be very considerate to me at times. He insists on having the baby, even though I was not much willing to. Due to the unstable pregnancy hormone, the first month of my pregnancy I was rather hesitating. Besides, my morning sickness was strong, same as the first pregnancy, and I could not even tolerate the smell of rice. That made me vomit a lot and was quite suffering. The second child was also unexpected so I was just resistant, which made it even worse.


Fortunately, the continuous propaganda from my husband on the positives of having two kids eventually worked. Three months into pregnancy, I had a much more stable condition, and I turned to accept the reality of having a second baby. At the time of eight-month-pregnancy, I closed my yoga studio; and in 2018, my second child was born.


Work and study during the pandemic


At the end of 2019, the Nation implemented the policy that would assign jobs to formal national athletes like myself post their athletic career. So I felt I was pretty lucky… There were about two or three hundreds athletes waiting to be assigned a job, and I was ranked just over the first hundred. Per the policy, we could select our job according to our athletic achievement, and most were assigned to schools to be PE teacher.


Same with me, I was assigned the job of PE teacher at a vocational high school. However not long after I joined that school, there comes the year 2020 and the pandemic. Right after  registration with the school I started to work-from-home. With limited formal teaching experience, I was uneasy – training was my thing, but not teaching. Being a teacher without much knowledge of teaching, I was quite lost.  


Just as I had the thought to study, I came across Dushu365. I applied for a program sponsored by them and the Champion Foundation(CF), got admitted. I felt fabulous, as if I’ve found a home I really belong to. I started to learn about physical and mental development of the young, which complements my current job. Then I participated in more activities organized by the CF, which enriched myself greatly. Post-pandemic, people could easily get anxious, and such learning activities compensate for my lack of knowledge as a result of athletic career. Meanwhile, my career as a teacher is gradually getting on track.


Meeting the champion foundation was just like finding a belonging home.


Coach or Mom


As a mother of two kids, I sometimes have bad temper when they were naughty. But as I read those parenting books, I start to realize that kids think differently from adults, and come to think in their shoes and understand the reasons behind their behavior.


For example, tutoring kids’ study is a headache to many parents. There was a time when I pick up mistakes in my daughter’s homework and she reacted quite defensively, making me really annoyed. I forced myself not to spank; and waited until she finished and said, “Dear, come and talk to mom, why did you behave like that just now? Why didn’t you listen to mom no matter what I said?” Then I would analyze the situation together with her…  


And she responded, “Mom, I’m just a bit tired.”


I told her, “If tired, you could tell mom and have a break first. But it is not good to behave like that, which makes me misunderstand you…”


Such communication worked very well. It enhanced much my relationship with my children.


As a mother of two, my state of mind changed from resistant to peaceful even enjoyable. It was them who changed me. Sometimes when I see them fight for a moment, then reconcile and kiss and hug each other with fun and harmony, I felt thankful that they are have companion. My husband would also start to make fun of me, saying “You should really thank my persistence; if not because of that, our junior would never had even come to our family. Now look how lovely they are…”   


Indeed, it is rather joyful to see them together, and that feeling is called happiness.



Surmount the low moments of life


Life is just like that – sometimes you think you couldn’t’ get over with this one, but after living through it, you find that juts a little bit more persistence, and you are able to carry on again.  


What is the goal of life? Perhaps just like weightlifting, during the 16 years as an athlete, many times I felt I couldn’t do it anymore, but I will keep gritting my teeth and pushing through, however when it becomes truly unbearable, I may have to let go and accept that it's time to give up.


The game that left me the most impression was possibly the last one in my athlete career. At that time, my performance had plunged to an all-time bottom, even my coach back in Hunan Province was disappointed to see my slashed condition. But that moment I felt I could not give up, and no matter what I had to lift it up – I was doing the “Clean and jerk”, and in the middle of that, I actually already struggled to get further up. But I said to myself, “No, this is my last game. I have to get up with it.”  


Yes, with just a grit of teeth, I made it.




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