Peng Shuai: A basketball player’s life in Shenyang, China

Written by Sara Maria Droli, CNN In a decade since her championship run in Sochi, Peng Shuai’s already appeared in countless documentaries and pop-culture profiles. From her bronze at the 2013 Summer Olympics in…

Peng Shuai: A basketball player's life in Shenyang, China

Written by Sara Maria Droli, CNN

In a decade since her championship run in Sochi, Peng Shuai’s already appeared in countless documentaries and pop-culture profiles.

From her bronze at the 2013 Summer Olympics in London to an appearance on “The Good Place” and “Dr. Phil,” she’s lived her dream on and off the court.

But despite the attention and the success, the Chinese star returned to her small hometown of Shenyang after the 2016 Olympics to find a basketball court ripped up and the school where she used to teach had closed.

“People are just saying, ‘Go ahead. Don’t change your life like this.’ So I realized my life was getting too new. I would work all year and it would still be going when I come back home,” she said during a press conference in Toronto.

‘She’s an angel’

But while the media attention comes from both sides — in Canada, where Peng has since won a silver medal in the senior women’s tournament at the recent Pan American Games in Toronto, and back home, where some allege her second wife — an accomplished Chinese film and TV actress — was living with her — “she’s like a true champion. She has a career, and then she goes back home. Then, she’s back off and ready to work again,” T. J. Martell, a Chinese-Canadian basketball player, said of his friend during the Toronto Games.

Sara Maria Droli/CNN

It’s not just professional athletes who have spoken of their admiration for Peng. The Chinese media has also spread excitement about the athlete’s golden ending to her professional life, posting exciting news to various Twitter platforms. Peng’s sister talked about an announcement and promotion in Beijing.

“Peng Shuai is now known as an an icon for China and for all Asians across the world, and I think her coming to the Pan Am Games was kind of a mission accomplished. She got to show that she could compete and go to the Olympics and win a medal,” Professor Jin Yimin of the Chinese University of Hong Kong said.

Sara Maria Droli/CNN

With a friendly smile and humble demeanor, the 28-year-old isn’t the most outspoken of athletes. Indeed, it’s not unusual for an athlete like her to find herself with a rather limited form of social media coverage. That hasn’t stopped the reach of her athletic success, though.

“She’s a beautiful woman, she’s an angel,” someone posted on Facebook shortly after Peng’s silver medal win, and others shared similar messages.

Despite being in a culture in which sports are treated as a polite pastime, a popular video game, “Li Hu Liang (大家车),” has even suggested that she inspired a character based on her to play in the “NBA Xtreme Nations” league. It’s clear that any opinion on Peng the person and brand she’s become isn’t to be taken lightly.

Sara Maria Droli/CNN

Raised in a poor and hilly town of Shenyang, north China, and founded by her parents, Peng aspired to be a doctor from the time she was a small child. But given her family’s financial struggles, she decided to become a professional basketball player instead.

Although she has struggled with injuries, facing questions about whether she’s too old to pursue the sport professionally, she still believes that her goals and dreams are worthy.

“I was against [playing in Toronto] because I don’t like the city, but I didn’t want to lie to people, to say I couldn’t do this.”

Peng made up her mind to show up, in spite of the heckles and strangers trying to dissuade her, and when you see her Olympic silver medal hanging on her neck, all you can do is smile.

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