With the flame gradually extinguished, the closing ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games neared its end. For Ma Yifei, a 16-year-old visually impaired girl, the violin performance of the Beijing 2022 theme song, Snowflake, is her best present for Paralympians across the globe.
When playing the piece, Ma thought of athletes with disabilities who had worked so hard to hone their skills to the top level.
"I felt very empowered. I'm also a person with disabilities and want to do something for them with my music," she said.
Four days before the closing ceremony, Ma received a call and knew that she would be performing in Beijing. While she only had a few days to rehearse, behind her performance was a girl's pursuit of her dreams for more than a decade.
Ma is a sophomore in Ningxia Special Education High School in China's Ningxia Hui autonomous region, who lost her eyesight at the age of two through illness.
Ma became interested in music when she was young. She started to learn to play the piano at five and violin at nine, experiencing the "colorful" music through sound, temperature, atmosphere, and emotion.
"Sadness or joy, each piece is different," she said, adding that although Snowflake is related to winter, she can feel "warmth, hope and light."
Ma's mother Ha Chunyan, a former music teacher in primary school, helped her memorize the music score before playing.
"She could not see the keys and always played the wrong notes. It took a few thousand times for her to play a piece correctly," said Ha, adding her daughter was persistent in chasing her dreams. "Despite being a small child, she sat there for three or four hours when practicing the piano."
Learning the violin was tougher for the visually impaired girl. Ma had problems pulling a straight bow, so she needed to feel the teacher's hands, arms and back to learn the movements, and listen to the strings over and over again to feel the muscles herself.
"After three years of learning, she still could not make any sound except squeaky noises," said Ha, who advised her daughter to give up, but Ma said, "As I've been practicing so long, it's hard to give up. I believe it will get better if I persist."
In 2018, she had the chance to follow Sheng Yuan and Cao Yuhan, famous musicians from the Central Conservatory of Music of China, to study music and start her long schooling journey from Yinchuan to Beijing. Her parents took turns accompanying her to Beijing every week. Despite the financial burden on this family, Ha feels that it is all worth it for the sake of her daughter's dream.
"We would leave on Friday night and arrive in Beijing the next morning and then return on Sunday night after two days of lessons. She would go to school on Monday morning, and we would go to work," Ha said.
They were always in a hurry to catch the train and often had bread and instant noodles for dinner, "but my daughter did not seem to be tired, smiling all the way."
Having spent her entire schooling at Ningxia Special Education School, Ma received a lot of love and care from the community.
"We received a lot of donations. There were also volunteers describing movies for us."
Ma expressed her excitement about participating in the closing ceremony of the Beijing Winter Paralympics. "Without my previous persistence, I wouldn't be able to stand on the stage today."
As for her dream of being enrolled in her ideal university and continuing to study music, she said, "I want to pass on the warmth I feel to more people with music."