Tibetan girls chase basketball dreams on "roof of the world"
For 17-year-old Tibetan girl Cigla, playing basketball at an elevation of more than 3,000 meters is as easy as her idol LeBron James nailing an iconic slam dunk.
Cigla is a freshman student at Nagqu No. 2 Senior High School in Lhasa, capital of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, which sits 3,650 meters above sea level. She now plays point guard for the school's 12-member female basketball team.
"Practice makes perfect. You get used to the elevation when you love the sport and train hard enough," said the budding basketball star, who has been passionate about the sport since taking it up three years ago.
Cigla wears wristbands, with the names of her idols LeBron James and Kobe Bryant written on them, when playing her favorite sport. With her outstanding speed, agility and accurate passes, she never fails to shine on the basketball court, even when she faces off against the boys.
Though more than two years away from graduating high school, Cigla already has a clear picture of her future -- entering a sports college to study basketball.
In the eyes of Cigla, who hails from a poor herder's family in northern Tibet's Nagqu City, studying in Lhasa, the region's most developed city, has made it much easier for her to realize her basketball dream.
With an average altitude of over 4,500 meters, Nagqu is among the most uninhabitable places in Tibet, known as the "roof of the world." Low-oxygen environments and extreme weather have long compromised the health of Nagqu students, hampering the development of primary education in the area.
In a bid to ensure equal access to quality education, the Tibet regional government has established several schools in Lhasa since the early 2000s to recruit Nagqu students, including Nagqu No. 2 Senior High School.
Like Cigla, many students at the school are from impoverished farmers' and herders' families.
"The students had barely played any sports before coming to our school due to limited sports facilities and frequent bad weather in Nagqu," said Bachug, the school's PE teacher and coach of the school basketball team.
In contrast, the school campus in Lhasa, with seven concrete basketball courts, a standard soccer field and a sports stadium, gives students opportunities to train their bodies and find the sport that appeals to them, he said.
Basketball has been a popular choice among the girls at the school. Currently, more than a quarter of the approximately 1,600 female students regularly practice the sport during PE classes or as extracurricular activities, according to Bachug.
Basketball contests between classes are also held regularly to attract more girls to participate in the sport.
Dawa Droma, a senior student also on the school's female basketball team, said her passion for the sport started from her first basketball game in her freshman year.
"I had never touched a basketball before that game but joined the class team anyway. When I scored and heard my classmates cheer for me, I couldn't feel more proud. That's how I fell in love with basketball and never looked back," she recalled.
Reflecting on the influence of basketball on her life, Dawa Droma said the sport has helped her get fit and build up confidence over the years.
"Meeting players from different schools has certainly made me a more outgoing person," she said.
Dawa Droma said she hoped to do well in the upcoming national college entrance examination to get into Beijing Sport University, her dream school, to carry on her connection with basketball.
"I will work harder to achieve it," she said, with determination in her eyes.