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Little Miss Marathon

Zhang Huimin

Zhang Huimin

The French l’Equipe magazine of 15 December 2006 ran an alarming article about a 7-year Chinese girl whose father coaches her and makes her run 4 hours each morning before school. The nymph like Zhang Huimin whose marathon record is 4 hours18minutes and 33 seconds rises at 2:30 am daily to begin her rigid marathon training imposed by her father which finishes at the school gates at 7:10am. Her case was apparently alerted by to the local press, by the father of a school mate, which ran an apparently heroic article on this little girl. It was then taken up by national tv and denounced as a case of child abuse.

Zhang’s weekends are not consecrated to rest either, on Saturdays she has to run the complete marathon distance, and try to better her record! On Sundays her father goes shopping to purchase a range of enriching concoctions which are fed to the little Zhang in large quantities, this excursion clocks another 60 km (there and back) to the weekly quota. Apart from running, Zhang also performs her daily martial arts ritual with her father. Her father has been contacted by a sports school structure for his daughter to join, but he has refused on the grounds that he believes he is the best trainer in the world for her.

What is also shocking is to see the shoes that Zhang trains in, they have no proper soles, resembling tennis shoes from the 60s. The question is how long can her tiny growing body be subject to such daily abuse? The repetition of shock impact on her skeletal frame will sooner or later take the toll, never mind the consequences on her tendons, ligaments and cardio-vascular system. One can only hope that she will injure herself soon, so that she is forced to stop running and prevent serious damage to her body.

Just like Olive in the film “Little Miss Sunshine” there are many parents that allow their own ambitions for their children to become a dangerous obsession. In terms of sports, we all know that children have boundless energy and will often persevere despite fatigue. So that they may apparently like little Zhang be happy to run 4 hours a day. Parents should remember that their children will do best if they discover the motivation and pleasure built from their own talents without being pushed to the limits precociously. Children should be given the opportunity of having fun and trying out a range of different sporting activities when they are young to find out for themselves what they prefer and are best at. Different sporting experiences will ensure exercising a range of muscle groups, motor coordination, and build team spirit. This will help to make up a better all-round sportsperson, prevent injuries, and be beneficial when the child has decided later on which sport he/she would like to concentrate on. My own daughter who is now 13 never wanted to run because she shied away from mine and my husband’s fanaticism with athletics. However, she has turned to it quite spontaneously 18 months ago and is doing really well without any pushing from us thank you very much. Of course I want her to win, but at the same time I want to protect her from all the pressures that also brings with it. And, I certainly won’t let her waste her talent by running any marathons for a good many years!

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