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From Foster Homes To Multi-Sport Athlete

How One Teen Unlocked Her Inner Athlete

Backcountry partners with the National Ability Center (NAC) around our shared mission of breaking down barriers to the outdoors. Based in Park City, Utah, the NAC empowers individuals of all abilities from across the globe through outdoor recreation. To support their work, we feature stories about adaptive athletes and serve as an outfitter of NAC athletes and guides.

Ping Ping likes to go fast—with a mono ski she unleashes the feeling we all strive for in pursuit: freedom. “When I first started skiing,” Ping Ping says, “I told my mom I felt like an athlete and I knew I wanted to try every sport I could, because I’m an athlete.” 

But the feeling of speed and the freedom of movement wasn’t always available to Ping Ping. Born with spina bifida and abandoned in an alley at three weeks old in northern China, Ping Ping was moved between foster homes and orphanages. 

Just 15 days before her 14th birthday—the age when children are aged out of the system and unable to find a permanent family home—Ping Ping was adopted and moved to her new home in Utah. And so began her personal journey of discovering the athlete and outdoorswoman she is today.

Almost immediately upon arriving in Utah, Ping Ping asked her mother, Kathy, when she would get to ride a horse. That simple question kicked off everything when Kathy discovered the National Ability Center (NAC). 

Since taking the reins with a horse named Tod, Ping Ping has had the opportunity—and confidence—to try lots of new sports, including skiing, rock climbing, mountain biking, and more through the NAC X-treme Adventure Camp.

The X-treme Adventure Camp is a week-long overnight camp for teens with physical and visual disabilities, and it was here that Ping Ping—now 16 years old—was finally able to meet other girls her age using wheelchairs in adventure sports.

The NAC provided Ping Ping not only the opportunity to turn her disability into an ability through support and encouragement from counselors and other teens using wheelchairs, but the NAC showed her that with the right equipment, she could do anything.

“Before the [NAC], I didn’t know that I could do so many things. I never knew I could climb a 40-foot wall to get onto the Challenge Course.”

Now with a host of outdoor experiences in her toolkit, Ping Ping reflects, “I had this experience where all of the kids in my foster home went skiing and I had to sit on the sidelines because there was no adaptive equipment. I told myself someday, somehow, I’m going to do what I want.”

Like all athletes, Ping Ping continues to push herself to grow and improve. During one of her 75-minute sessions with her instructor Courtney, Ping Ping had a goal of mountain biking 10 miles. 

With encouragement, Ping Ping pedaled hard and fast towards her goal, hitting 8.5 miles in 90-minutes. Though she didn’t make her 10-mile goal, her tenacity and spirit to go farther will fuel her for her next attempt. “We were so tired, but I couldn’t believe we almost made my goal,” she says.

“I told myself someday, somehow, I’m going to do what I want.”

With her newfound confidence, Ping Ping hopes to join the NAC’s high-performance ski competition team and compete in mountain biking and paddleboarding. 

It’s through relationships with peers and counselors and the desire to help people achieve outdoor goals that the NAC changes lives, and Ping Ping is no different. “Before the [NAC], I didn’t know that I could do so many things. I never knew I could climb a 40-foot wall to get onto the Challenge Course,” she says.  

Whether it’s in the saddle with her favorite horse Tod, bombing the ski hill, or pulling back her archery bow, Ping Ping’s experience with the NAC X-treme Adventure Camp has shown her exactly who she is: an athlete.