Basketball-playing granny becomes Internet darling

CHINA - Every day for the past 20 years, Zhu Shumei has played basketball on a university campus in Jinhua, eastern China.

What makes her unique is that she's 76 years old and her daily exercise routine doesn't just consist of a bit of basketball fun.

She also runs 10 400m laps and climbs a pole for strength training.

Finding her a bit of an oddity, one Zhejiang Normal University student decided to approach her for her story.

The resulting tale of a hard life and an accompanying fierce determination to stay positive through her love for the game inspired him to pen down her story, and it has since shot her into becoming an instant Weibo darling.

The story and pictures of "basketball grandma" have been going viral on China's microblogging community, where they show the little old hunched woman effortlessly shooting hoops, swinging from bars and various other exercises that would put a young man to shame.

Despite her cheery countenance, Zhu has not had an easy life. According to reports, she worked hard at a university library to look after her two sons and a mentally disabled daughter.

When she was 54, her husband left her, leaving her to take care of the children. Although her two sons have left home, she still struggles to look after herself and her daughter on a measely month government pension, having lost her job after the divorce.

She has no home of her own, and every quarter she gets 1,113 yuan (S$217) in government pension, and a monthly 200 yuan (S$39) in living allowance from her eldest son. To survive, her monthly expenses come up to no more than 437 yuan (S$85). 

A tale of three basketballs

A tale of three basketballs

"When I first met her, she laughed and came up to me holding up her basketball," said Song Huating, the female undergraduate who documented her story.

Although she is religiously dedicated to honing her basketball skills now, she took up the game late in life.

"When I was studying in junior high school, I loved watching the boys play basketball. But at that time, who would play basketball with a girl?" she told Song.

She said her "basketball age" is now about 20 years, having begun playing the game after her husband left her for another woman.

At that time, she was still doing odd jobs at the university library, a job that she lost not long after. But during that time, she suddenly remembered her love for basketball when she was a child, and began watching the university lads play the sport on the university court.

At first she was content to just watch, but soon she saved up a bit of money to buy a basketball and set up a one woman team. Her first basketball, a simple rubber ball bought at a local stationery store, was stolen one day when she left it at the edge of the basketball court for an unguarded moment.

"At that time, I felt really mad. That basketball was my lifeline," she said.

After a long time, she saved up to buy another basketball which cost her 300 yuan (S$58). This basketball went on to accompany her through the most "glorious days" of her basketball days, when she became such a crack shot at the sport that she impressed the other male students at the court.

The basketball became a regular fixture under her arm, as she went about her daily workout - first to the parallel bars, then the climbing pole, then to cast at least a hundred shots at the hoop.

Help

Help

Sadly, that basketball exploded one hot summer day, due to its poor workmanship and quality. That experience made her scrimp and save to buy her proudest possession today - a 500 yuan (S$97) real leather basketball.

Following her back home later on, Song's discovery of Zhu's frustrating life inspired her to take pictures of the old lady as a form of "assistance" to her, to bring attention to her plight and hopefully gain her some community support.

Zhu lives in a unused wing of the Zhejiang Normal University, where the school administrators kindly allow her to avoid paying rent as they know she has almost no income.

At the end of the interview, Zhu showed Song letters from the government Social Insurance Administration, stating that with a payment of 37,000 yuan, an elderly citizen may receive more than 1,000 yuan a month in pension. But Zhu said she's unable to come up with this money.

"My heart is not good, but thankfully my eyes are a little better. But if I get sick, I really don't know what to do. Please help me think of a plan if you can," she said to Song before she bid her farewell.

Her story has since gone viral on Weibo, along with a video clip showing Zhu showing off her skills on the court. The video attracted more than 700,000 hits in its first 12 hours online, soon getting Zhu the help that she needs.

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