by Xinhua writers Lu Yifan, Du Gang
URUMQI, Jan. 21 (Xinhua) -- Shepherd, marathoner, cyclist and skier, Torsongan Bullik has many identities and his new goal is to become a Winter Olympic athlete.
Having spent his childhood as a shepherd in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, the 26-year-old was on the over-20-member Chinese national cross-country skiing training team.
For over the past three years, he said he has been working hard to perfect his skiing skills, even though he knew that only four of them would be selected to compete in the Olympic stadium.
On Friday, Torsongan Bullik told Xinhua he failed to make the final list, but he will work as a technician in Chongli district in north China's Hebei Province during the Beijing Winter Olympics.
"Although I was not selected, I am pretty satisfied with my performance as I have been constantly challenging myself to be better," he said.
Torsongan Bullik was born into a family of herders in the pastoral areas of Wenquan County, in Xinjiang's Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture of Bortala.
At the age of 10, he spent more than a month herding cattle and sheep all alone in the mountainous area. He said he can still recall his fear of being secluded in the mountains as a child. "I will study hard and never have to herd cattle anymore," he told his father after the experience.
In 2009, he became interested in running as a freshman in junior high school, and his athletic talent was spotted by Abdusalam Semet, who later became his long-distance running coach.
Their daily practice routine was intense at the time, requiring runners to finish two sets of 5,000 meters, 3,000 meters and 2,000 meters, with intervals of three to fives minutes.
"Many of the students gave up during the process, but Torsongan Bullik would always finish. I remember him vomiting from strenuous exercise, but he always pushed himself to the limit," the coach said.
The athlete began cycling after he watched the Cycling Tour of Sayram Lake, a national road bicycle race for amateur cyclists, which has been hosted by his hometown of Wenquan County for more than 10 years.
Before each competition, he would rush from the pastoral area in which he lived to cheer for the athletes along the racing track.
"The dashing cyclists, their flashy costumes and helmets fascinated me. I feel that cycling was really cool," he recalled.
In 2012, he received a handsome gift from his father -- a mountain bike that cost about 5,000 yuan (about 788 U.S. dollars).
"The folks said I doted upon my son too much, because 5,000 yuan was enough to buy many little lambs. I believed in him. He knew exactly what he was doing," his father recalled.
Torsongan Bullik loved the bicycle so much that he rode it tirelessly. Two years later, he entered into the competition, this time as an athlete who was ready to compete against the contestants he had once envied.
His first race, however, did not go well. He fell as he was riding across a steep slope and suffered serious injuries to his back.
In 2015, he was admitted to Xinjiang University. During his college years, he traveled around for cycling competitions and marathons, winning many awards and accolades. More importantly, he won himself an opportunity to pursue his Olympic dream.
On Oct. 18, 2018, Torsongan Bullik was the first to cross the finish line of a high-altitude cycling race held in southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region.
The race was televised live and he caught the attention of authorities from the General Administration of Sport of China.
At that time, the administration had begun selecting athletes from different sports in preparation for the Beijing Winter Olympics. They invited him to join the national training team of cross-country skiing, a sporting event also known as "snow marathon."
The invitation marked a turning point for Torsongan Bullik's career, but challenges remained.
"It's been tough," he said. "When I started skiing on the snow-blanketed slopes, I had to adjust myself to not fall first, then I could focus on techniques and speed, while my teammates had already been practicing for more than half a year."
He said skiing skills and maintaining balance are the key factors to getting good scores consistently -- a prerequisite feat for him to pass through rounds of qualification trials to get to the Olympic stadium.
Although he possessed the essential requirements for skiers, including cardiopulmonary function and endurance, he lacked strong upper body and core strength. So he trained with his teammates by day and worked out alone in the gym by night to make up for these shortcomings.
And his efforts paid off. On Feb. 20, 2019, he won first place in a test competition within his team. "Persistence is the key to victory, and the champion is always someone who is prepared for it," he wrote on his WeChat account.
Late last year, he returned to his hometown on two occasions to train at a newly opened professional ski resort. There, he ran into some young fans, who reminded him of when he himself had stood beside the racing track to cheer for athletes as a child.
"As long as you have a dream and believe in yourself, anything is possible," he told the kids.
Torsongan Bullik is on his way to Hebei Province, where he will work as a technician to assist the operations of the Beijing Winter Olympics.
"I will continue with my efforts. As long as I don't give up, I still have a chance to compete at the 2026 Winter Olympics," he said.