22-year-old Fang Jianze, who had been told by doctors that he would not be able to live to 18, recently got his scuba diving certification, becoming the first certified scuba diver in China with progressive muscular dystrophy (PMD). Credit: Courtesy CGTN.com.

“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”

— T.E. Lawrence

For some men, truly, nothing is written — they create their own destiny.

Fang Jianze might be one of these men.

As a child, he recounts that he was afraid of being viewed differently and afraid of being laughed at, as he heavily relied on his family members who escorted him to school, helped him to the restroom and carried him back home.

He said he was like a “pet” protected by his owners, when he recalled those moments.

He still remembers that day in junior high school — the city was holding the Asian Para Games, and one of his teachers out of good intention called on other students in the class to pay special attention and give special care to those with disabilities.

He knew the teacher was talking about him and at that moment, he was shocked and felt he was torn.

“I always think I’m the same as others. The only difference is I’m sick. My mom never said I was a disabled, and she never defined me like that,” Fang said.

Fang, who was told by doctors he would not be able to live to 18, recently got his scuba diving certification, becoming the first certified scuba diver in China with progressive muscular dystrophy (PMD), Yang Xuemin of CGTN.com reported.

Now age 22, he has also been a skydiver, making free-fall jumps from as high as 4,000 meters (over 13,000 feet).  

Fang developed PMD when he was three years old. The genetic disease causes weakness or loss of muscle functions, affecting his moves. When he was five, he realized that he was different from other kids who could jump and run.

“I had a badminton racket at home and I wanted to play with it, but I was too weak to lift it. It was so frustrating,” Fang said.

He and his family members never gave up hope, believing that the future would be better. His mother encouraged him to continue to higher education no matter how hard it was. And for Fang, college was a chance to change his life, CGTN.com reported.

“Staying alive is not life. The life that I want is that I can go out totally by myself, and I can go to any places in Guangzhou. I want to go to many places like my Cantonese ancestors who left their footsteps all over China and even all over the world. I admire their courage,” Fang said.

The real change began the second year after he entered the college. One day, his best friend asked him: “Do you have any wishes for the year?”

He spoke out the most desirable thing from the bottom of his heart: being independent in the college without help of his family members, just as normal as other students, CGTN.com reported.

“I told him my struggles and concerns, but he didn’t laugh at me. He said ‘if that’s your wish, you should do it right now; think how you can do it now’,” Fang said.

Soon after the conversation, Fang, with the help of his friends, traveled the city with a rented electric wheelchair. Though there were obstacles on the road, it’s not as horrible as he thought: No one stared at him, and people offered him help when he needed.

“A real strong man isn’t scared of exposing his weaknesses. Only those who try to cover up weaknesses are cowards,” Fang said.

From then on, he actively prepared for his independent life. He refitted the bathroom in his dormitory with the help of his uncle and bought washers and dryers as he couldn’t reach the clothes hanger, CGTN.com reported.

‘A real strong man isn’t scared of exposing his weaknesses. Only those who try to cover up weaknesses are cowards’

Fang Jianze

He also listed all places where barrier-free facilities are lacking and also the cheapest solutions for the school’s reference, which later reconstructed the places as he suggested.

The success prompted him to expand the move to the city, where over 20 barrier-free facilities have been made available for elderly, wheelchair users and families with toddlers.

Since he took his first step and tasted the smell of freedom, he couldn’t stop.

Inspired by the movies, he made his first attempt at skydiving. He contacted a club, which initially hesitated to train him, but finally took him on after an on-site confirmation of his health condition. With the guidance of his coach, he successfully jumped from 4,000 meters, CGTN.com reported.

While he rocketed through the clouds before the parachute opened, Fang felt excitement he had never experienced before. “I never knew one could be so free.”

While skydiving was a major achievement, he decided to take the Handicapped Scuba Diving Association test.

“I wanted to explore the ocean, to see much more of the beautiful world,” Fang said.

He rode a tricycle five kilometers a day to develop the strength in his muscles and he rode more than 680 kilometers before he began the scuba diving course in May this year.

While his back and neck are too stiff to keep proper balance in the water, during a process of trial and error, he eventually developed a set of specialized swimming skills, CGTN.com reported.

After three months of practice, he completed his first ocean dive for the first time in August.

“I dived four meters on the first day and saw a lot of small fishes, shrimps and sea cucumbers. It’s wonderful,” Fang said.

On the second day, he went eight meters deeper into the ocean and finished the most difficult part of the scuba diving course: mask clearing underwater.

Since no mask seal is impenetrable underwater, clearing the mask is an essential skill to efficiently get the water out without surfacing. Unskilled divers usually panic and inhale water into their noses when they are underwater, CGTN.com reported.

Fang got the HAS certificate on August 19, becoming the first scuba diver with PMD in China.

And his journey is not over — he hopes to get a master’s degree in psychology.

With 30% to 40% of people with PMD suffering varying degrees of depression, he hopes his knowledge and experience can be helpful to them.

Fang Jianze’s next journey is to get a master’s degree in psychology, so that he can help others with depression. Credit: CCTV.