The West

Tian Beckett. Picture: Michael O'Brien/The West Australian

Plucked from a Chinese orphanage at age seven to start a new life in WA, Tian Beckett is using the hardships she endured in her early years to push her to become a cycling champion.

Tian, 18, who has clear memories of living on the streets as a small child, shared her story with students at her former school, Methodist Ladies' College, to mark International Women's Day.

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"Life for a young girl in China can be difficult at the best of times and even worse if you have been orphaned," she said.

"I can vividly recall collecting cardboard boxes and bottles for money so as to eat. I can also recall helping some adults build mud shelters."

Later, when she was about five years old and living in an orphanage, she looked after abandoned babies and had yard cleaning duties.

"I volunteered to clear snow during the sub-zero winters," she said. "I enjoyed the hard work, though - it took my mind off the negatives."

Tian said most people adopting a child overseas requested babies or toddlers, but her parents, Kim and Steve, had asked for an older girl because they knew she would have fewer life chances.

If she had not been adopted, she would probably be working long hours in a factory now.

She said she felt an "instant connection" when she met her parents for the first time.

"To be given unconditional love is the most wonderful thing in the world," she said.

She grasped the "second chance" she had been given and set herself to learn English, discovered she excelled at several sports and was identified as a talented cyclist when she was 11.

At one stage she was swimming laps before school every day and attending athletics training after school, followed by a two-hour cycling session.

Now competing at senior elite levels in cycling, she won a gold medal in the under-19 team sprint at the junior track world championships in Glasgow last year.

"Even now it's hard to believe that same kid who built the mud huts in freezing conditions in Xinjiang is actually me on top of the podium, on top of the world," she said. Born a member of the Uighur ethnic minority in China, Tian credits her harsh early life for helping her develop the mental toughness needed to excel in her chosen sport.

As well as being an ambassador for the Bikes 4 Life charity, which donates bicycles to disadvantaged people in developing countries, Tian also hopes to help disabled cyclists by working as a tandem bike pilot.

The West Australian

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