He Licheng’s mother first put her into gymnastics when she was just three years old, “when she was younger she didn’t eat very much. If you don’t eat enough it’s easy to be dehydrated or get sick. I wanted to send her to do gymnastics so she could make her body stronger.”
Even at a young age, Licheng stood out from the other gymnasts. Her coach, Wang Su Hua told the interviewer, “she had very strong physical abilities, and she showed a lot of talent, during training she never complained about being tired or feeling sore.”
Licheng had positive memories going to the gym when she was young, “I thought to go to the gym was very fun, it was like going to the amusement park,” she recalled.
But disaster struck during the summer of 2009 when Licheng and her mom were walking out of a grocery store, a careless delivery truck driver hit Licheng, who was only five at the time. “I ran over to her and saw she had blood all over her body,” her mom recalled. Licheng was transported to the hospital where she received eighteen stitches. After this incident, Licheng’s mom didn’t want to see her injured again and considered taking Licheng out of gymnastics. “I feel like my kid was suffering so much. I didn’t want her to do gymnastics.”
After Licheng’s recovery, she was adamant about returning to gymnastics. She even hid from her family and walked to the gym to continue her practice. After seeing Licheng so happy doing gymnastics, her mother finally gave in and allowed her to continue. When Licheng was six, she represented her city, Bengbu, at Anhui Provincial Games and won gold on floor and silver on beam. Her stellar results allowed her to be selected for the Anhui Provincial team. She was the youngest and shortest gymnast on her team.
After training on the provincial team for a while, her physical abilities began to slowly deteriorate. Her Coach, Li Chaogang critically told the reporter “she used to be able to do ten cast to handstands, now she only can do three or four; she used to run four hundred meters in a minute and sixteen seconds, now she can only make it in a minute and thirty-five seconds, this is obviously a regression.” He added, “her coordination is not as good as other kids, it takes longer for her to learn skills.”
He Licheng also spoke critically of herself, “I learn elements by observing how others do it, then I’ll repeat it many times, just like a stupid bird trying to learn how to fly.”
During the summer of 2012, Licheng was plagued by injuries. She severely injured her back while training bars and caused her lots of pain during training. Because of the injury, she had a hard time during competition and didn’t place high. In addition to physical pain, Licheng’s psyche was shaken. “During that time I worked so hard but I didn’t get any return. I was a little discouraged, I didn’t want to continue this journey,” Licheng recounted.
During this difficult time, she received lots of encouragement from Olympic Champion, Deng Linlin who took on a big sister role. “There is always a time where you will find yourself in a hole, but you have to keep walking forwards and slowly you will rise, continue to encourage yourself,” she said to Licheng.
Licheng restarted her journey and worked hard to fill the deficit between herself and others. Licheng’s mom told her to take breaks, but Licheng was determined not to stop. “She had blood in the palm of her hands that started dripping down her fingers. I told her that she should take the day off to rest, but instead, she replied ‘if my hands are injured I can still practice using my legs,’ I felt sad watching her walk into the gym.”
Licheng’s hard work began to pay off. At the 2014 Anhui Province Games she finished first on bars and beam and continued her success at the 2014 National Youth Games by finishing fifth all around. Every time Licheng goes away for competitions, she asks her teachers and classmates for help with schoolwork.
“She always wants to do her best,” her teacher said. “She has very strong self-discipline. During math, Chinese, and foreign language midterms she always finishes in the top three.”
Licheng told the reporter her idol was Deng Linlin. “She works really hard and gets good results. I only work a little bit, so I felt like I need to work harder,” she modestly told the reporter. “I hope after I train hard I can represent China on the world stage to make the country proud, and to help add more luster to Chinese gymnastics.”