BEIJING • A primary school teacher from one of China's poorest mountain regions, Mr Lyu Shaowu never imagined he would one day come face to face with his idol, international football star Cristiano Ronaldo, not to mention receive a gift from the Real Madrid striker.
His dream recently came true, thanks to his commitment to promoting physical education (PE) as a way to inspire underprivileged children, despite a lack of funding and resources, in Gansu province's Longxi county.
As one of 100 outstanding PE teachers honoured at the Active Schools Innovation Award event in Beijing, Mr Lyu received his award and a pair of Ronaldo's football boots from the Portuguese star, who attended the ceremony organised by his sponsor Nike to encourage Mr Lyu and his peers to continue promoting sports participation among rural children.
"The work you do is very important," Ronaldo said after shaking hands with Mr Lyu, who said "it was a big surprise and probably the best moment in my life so far".
"I feel like all the hard work teaching sports with poor facilities has paid off," said Mr Lyu.
The Active Schools programme is part of a long-term partnership between Nike and the Chinese Ministry of Education to encourage more than two million children to embrace sports participation as an education tool by providing facilities, tailor-made PE curricula and training for teachers.
Mr Lyu's dedication in teaching more than 30 pupils football on a rugged wasteland at the mountain- surrounded village school over the past three years has drawn attention to his little-known but invaluable work.
Hired by Hekou Primary School as a Chinese literature teacher in 2010, Mr Lyu, an avid football fan, realised he could channel his passion for the sport to his pupils after a right-knee injury prevented him from playing in 2014. He has since worked part-time as the school's only PE teacher, giving seven football classes and two after-school training sessions a week.
Facing a lack of decent facilities, Mr Lyu cleaned up an overgrown area behind the classrooms for use as a training ground and used his own money to buy footballs and equipment.
In the mountain village where a well-rounded education remains a remote concept, he aims to teach the children something they cannot learn in a classroom.
"I know how desperately these kids need something positive in their lives," said Mr Lyu, who lost his father and grandfather in an accident when he was five.
"Poverty, bereavement or dropping out... all these make children here vulnerable to depression and lacking in confidence at an early age. Playing football gives them confidence and allows them to forget life's adversities, at least for a while."
After gaining the support of the headmaster and parents, Mr Lyu took the team to compete at the Longxi pupils' tournament this year, where they finished third among 12 teams.
The genuine happiness displayed on his pupils' smiling faces during the event brought a sense of satisfaction that was second to none, he said.
Now included in the Active Schools programme support network, Mr Lyu will benefit from a Nike-developed PE curriculum, allowing him to offer his pupils more scientific and effective training.
The China Education and Development Foundation, with support from Nike, will also pay for a new football pitch for his school with funds raised from the auction of 49 pairs of Ronaldo's boots.
"To train on a pitch built with help from the biggest star in the world... these kids from our rural county will be the most blessed young fans in the country," Mr Lyu said.
CHINA DAILY/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK