Ami Sano, 20, was born in Aichi, Japan, without any arms and only one partially formed left foot with three toes which she uses to get by in her everyday life. Despite her handicaps, she is determined to lead a normal life, refusing to look down on her handicapped body as an obstacle. Her joyful disposition is truly an inspiration.

Ami Sano

She has a passion for cheerleading and writing. Currently  an office clerk and motivational speaker, she was a cheerleader at Toyokawa High School in Aichi Prefecture, Japan. She works part-time also as an assistant at a local FM radio station and speaks at lectures.

Sano published her memoir titled “Teashi-no-nai Cheerleader” (Cheerleader Without Limbs) in the autumn of 2009 and released a poetry book titled “Akiramenaide” (Don’t Give Up) in autumn last year.

Currently  taking voice training lessons twice a week, she hopes to use her voice in a job as a professional narrator or MC in the future.

“I want to climb the staircase of adulthood, step by step,” a smiling Sano said. Her mother, Hatsumi, said, “We had some difficult times, but I believe those experiences helped my daughter become a person with a kind heart. Twenty years sounds long, but it went by in a flash.”

Sano really teaches us lessons about really living.  She has just released an album with a music video for her single ‘Aruki Tsuzukeyou’. Watch the music video and be inspired to live your life to its full potential!

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It was a cold day in December. A little boy about 10-year-old was standing before a shoe store on Broadway, barefooted, peering through the window, and shivering with cold.

Boy peering through the window

A lady approached the boy and said, “My little fellow, why are you looking so earnestly in that window?”

‘I was asking God to give me a pair of shoes,’was the boy’s reply.

The lady took him by the hand, went into the store, and asked the clerk to get half a dozen pairs of socks for the boy. She then asked if he could give her a basin of water and a towel. He quickly brought them to her.

She took the little fellow to the back part of the store and, removing her gloves, knelt down, washed his little feet, and dried them with the towel.

By this time, the clerk had returned with the socks.. Placing a pair upon the boy’s feet, she purchased him a pair of shoes.

She tied up the remaining pairs of socks and gave them to him. She patted him on the head and said, ‘No doubt, you will be more comfortable now.’

As she turned to go, the astonished kid caught her by the hand, and looking up into her face, with tears in his eyes, asked her,   ‘Are you God’s wife?’

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“What I have learned from all of the difficulties in my own life is that human beings have very thick skin. I call that skin, spirit, our Highest Most Powerful self. Spirit is the key to everything we desire. It is our weather-proofing, our Teflon, our line of credit that assures if we just keep putting one foot in front of the other, one day; there will be a miraculous payoff.” — Iyanla Vanzant

Iyanla Vanzant

Iyanla Vanzant was born in Brooklyn New York as Ronda Eva Harris. She is an inspirational speaker, New Thought spiritual life counsellor, award-winning author of five New York Times best-sellers, lawyer, ordained minister and television personality (used to be a frequent guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show) currently residing in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, United States.

In the year 2000, she was named one of the 100 Most Influential Black Americans by Ebony magazine which said that “Her books, lectures and television appearances have made her a multimedia high priestess of healthy relationships.” Her books include Acts of Faith, One Day My Soul Just Opened Up, Value in the Valley,  Faith in the Valley, and In the Meantime.

She is an honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and facilitates workshops nationally with a mission to assist in the empowerment of men and women.

Iyanla Vanzant - A great inspirational speaker

Praised by Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley as “an inspiration to all women,” her stories of personal struggle and victory as a battered wife and teenage welfare mother have touched millions. In building a life of transformation on the foundation of her troubled past, she has become a standard bearer for the power of forgiveness and love to heal. She has been awarded an “Oni” by the International Congress of Black Women as one of the nation’s unsung heroes.

Mother on Reinvention

In 1998, she served as the national spokesperson of Literacy Volunteers of America. In 1999, she was listed among the 100 Most Influential African Americans by Ebony magazine, and her debut spoken word album hit the Billboard Gospel Chart at Number 1. She has been awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters degree from the City University of New York and an honorary doctor of divinity degree from the Theological Seminary in Atlanta, Georgia.

Iyanla Vanzant once stood in the bedroom of her then recently deceased daughter with a pink, pearl-handled pistol in one hand and prescription pills in the other; mulling over the decision as to the “best” way to finally end the pain.

Nevertheless, Iyanla Vanzant is still alive and has a testimony to share.

From leaving The Oprah Winfrey Show to the cancellation of her own television program; the downward spiral didn’t crater with the death of her daughter at the age of 31 to a rare form of colon cancer — on Christmas Day, no less.

Iyanla remarked, “watching them put my daughter in a box and throw dirt on her let me know I could deal with anything.” The reality though was that things were to get far worse for far longer before they would get better. There was still an unexpected divorce (by way of email), loss of her house and tremendous trouble with the IRS still on the way. The fact that neither the pink, pearl-handled pistol nor the prescription pills won out is nothing short of amazing.

Iyanla Vanzant

It’s one thing to read the book of Job; it’s another to live it.

In her new book, Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through, Vanzant displays the scars of her life with an authoritative honesty, in the hopes of helping someone who might travel a path similar to hers, hurting unceasingly and hoping for help seemingly never on its way.

Broken Pieces

Iyanla Vanzant is alive and well; today her testimony might bring tears to your eyes while also forcing you to question the depth and resolve of your own faith and relationship with the Lord. At the same time, she offers neither an excuse nor appeal for pity on her behalf.

Iyanla in her book, tells the truth about the moments of her life leading up until now, from the death of her mother, being raped by her uncle and the pathologies set in motion by both.

She has literally touched the lives of countless people. Below are some of the feedbacks that people have left on her YouTube videos:

My God… so enlightening. It is so important to be clear in life on “who? you are”. If not, people will tell YOU who YOU are and you? will find yourself going down a path of someone’s else’s vision and not your own….I needed this…

So very powerful as always! Thank you for continuing to offer transparency and what seems like unfiltered insight? into life. Much? appreciated!

I cried from 0:11!!! OMGOODNESS!! Let me testify!!! I AM? ETERNALLY GRATEFUL? FOR THE LIFE LINE Iyanla carries!!!

Powerful… and?? I still heal! Thank you.

An amazing woman! Thank? you for being you!?

You have been my Spiritual God Mother every since I read, “One Day My Soul Just Opened Up”. Your spirit? has followed me since then. Thank you Great Mother. Eye love you.

Real? talk!!! Thank you for simply being real, human, honest.

Thank? you for your strength,it out shines so much pain in the world and within all.

Watch and listen to Iyanla’s messages in the five-part YouTube videos and be touched, be inspired, and hopefully be changed!

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Every day, when night falls, Yao Qifeng, a 10-year-old girl pirouettes and twirls under a dim streetlight on a square in front of Daci Temple in Chengdu, Southwest China’s Sichuan province. She practices attentively basic ballet skills – backward bend, slips, spin and coordination – oblivious to the passers-by who stop to watch her, open-mouthed.

Yao Qifeng

“The streetlights are my stage lights and the passers-by, my audience,” says the 10-year-old, showing not a trace of shyness.

Since April 2009, Yao Qifeng has been making the daily, post-dinner trip to the square to practice her ballet moves, accompanied by her father.

“Dancing is her passion,” says her father Yao Yongzhong.

“My daughter has been following (ballet) performers on television from the age of 4,” the father says.

The 55-year-old father seems abashed while watching his daughter’s movements. “The more she gets obsessive about it, the more I feel ashamed,” he said.

Living on about 1,000 yuan per month, comprising the unemployed father’s subsistence allowance and the mother’s meager wages as a supermarket assistant, the family crowds into a 20-square-meter dark, dank, rented room crammed with old furniture and can hardly afford the expense of learning ballet. However, it doesn’t stop Yao from pursuing her dream.

Yao Qifeng studies at a desk at home in Chengdu, capital of Southwest China's Sichuan province, Oct 13, 2010.

For Yao, the one bed that occupies a third of their room is more than just a place where she and her parents sleep, it is also her “stage”.

Asked why she is so fond of dancing, Yao says: “I think all dancers are beautiful, and I have always dreamed of being one of them.”

Yao became fascinated with ballet dancing three years ago. Her father borrowed a DVD from a friend and bought dancing discs from vendors’ stands. For Yao, television was her enlightening teacher.

She would often go to the Chengdu Arts’ Center, peering through the windows to watch the ballet lessons.

Yao Qifeng watches her peers practicing ballet in an art center in Chengdu, capital of Southwest China's Sichuan province, Oct 13, 2010.

“I was full of envy when I saw them dancing, wearing ballet dresses and learning skills from professional teachers. Moreover, they were with piano accompaniment.” She said.

“I never told my parents because one term cost more than 400 yuan – too expensive for my family,” Yao recalls.

But her parents could read her thoughts. Finally, in 2008, after scraping together every penny they had saved, they sent Yao to her long cherished dance class at the Chengdu Arts’ Center.

Yao Qifeng mends her ballet slipper in Chengdu, capital of Southwest China's Sichuan province, Oct 13, 2010.

“I was too shy to enter the dance room at first, because there were so many people there. But once I started dancing, I forgot everything else,” Yao says.

She dared not dream of a ballet dress, but chanced upon a pair of ballet shoes discarded by a classmate, and has cherished them ever since.

“It wouldn’t matter even if I have to dance barefoot, as long as I can dance,” the girl says.

In just one term, Yao made it to the fourth grade, something that takes most dancers three terms of training.

“She is gifted but she also loves ballet from her heart and works harder than all the others,” Wang Qian, headmaster of Yao’s training school, says. “We could see that she really cherished the opportunity to learn.”

Once the term ended, Yao told her parents she could practice by herself and do without the training.

“Obviously she was worried about the fees,” her father says.

It was her mother who discovered the open ground which, Yao says, is “just like a dance room.” A discarded carpet, which Yao senior picked up outside a shop, completes the picture.

To protect his daughter from injury, the father has brought home a disposed nylon carpet and unfolds it under the street lamp every evening to let the girl perform on an open stage.

“Taking the lamp as a spotlight and passers-by as the audience, I hope she likes it,” said the father.

Yao’s story, highlighted recently by the Chengdu-based West China City Newspaper, has touched millions of Chinese readers via the Internet. Many organizations, as well as individuals, have responded with offers of help.

Thanks to the Soong Ching Ling Foundation (CSCLF), a charity organization, Yao has returned to her dance classes.

“We were moved by her diligence after reading her story,” Tu Huajun from the organization says. “It would be a pity if she has to give up her dream or waste her talents, so we have decided to fund her training with 5,000 yuan (US$751) every year.”

The Ballet Girl Yao Qifeng & CSCLF leaders

Executive Vice Chairman Chang Rongjun giving presents of e-book,e-dictionary and other stationery to Qifeng, encouraging her to study hard .

“She is sensible and self-disciplined, and she spends most of her time studying rather than playing like her peers,” says Hou Mingyu, a neighbor who has known Yao for nearly five years. “She is mature beyond her years.”

Having a wide range of interests, Yao also takes classes in drawing, singing and calligraphy, and has been excelling in these as well.

“It’s like she never tires and has a strong determination to do well in all that she is learning,” headmaster Wang says. “She’s such a vivacious girl.”

Yao has decided to apply to the People’s Liberation Army’s Institute of Arts in Beijing in 2011, where she can study for free.

“I want to learn all kinds of dances, and become a great dancer like Yang Liping or Hou Honglan,” says the confident youngster, without batting an eyelid.

Yang Liping

Hou Honglan

Yang is choreographer and star performer of the acclaimed Dynamic Yunnan show and Hou is often referred to as China’s “princess of ballet.”

I hope that this little girl will truly blossom into a ballet star. That would be a truly uplifting story!

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Rudyard Kipling’s iconic poem, “If”, gives us a standard to measure our lives by. Meditate on it today and asking yourself the question, “How does my life look?”

Rudyard Kipling

The poem touched home for me in many ways. I believe this poem very much represents a counterbalance in life, speaking of the real strengths and virtues of life much of which often gets forgotten amidst the rush for modern comforts and achievements.

If by Rudyard Kipling

If by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;

If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with triumph and disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,

And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breath a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch;

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run -

Yours is the earth and everything that’s in it,

And – which is more – you’ll be a man my son!

“If” is a poem written in 1895 by British Nobel laureate Rudyard Kipling. It was first published in the “Brother Square Toes” chapter of Rewards and Fairies, Kipling’s 1910 collection of short stories and poems. Its status is confirmed by the widespread popularity it still enjoys today.

It is often voted Britain’s favourite poem. The poem’s line, “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters just the same” is written on the wall of the centre court players’ entrance at the British tennis tournament, Wimbledon, and the entire poem was read in a promotional video for the Wimbledon 2008 gentleman’s final by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

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Lady Antebellum’s peformance of the hit song “Hello World” last night at the 2010 CMA awards has received a lot of praise and inspired people so much to the point that searching for the song’s lyrics today has shot through the roof.

Lady Antebellum

“Hello World” is a song that has a hopeful message and displays an appreciation for the little things. Hope and happiness are melded into one between the lines of this very amazing musical composition. A lot of people feel that the song, with its positive vibes, is the medium to a state of more comfort, more satisfaction and more gratitude.

Lady Antebellum’s songwriter David Lee says that the song went through a lot of revisions and editing before it was finally released as a part of the group’s album. All that trouble is worth the effort, though, for today, people have realized that saying thank you for the little things is a necessary step to being happy.

“The idea for this song is an old one. It was originally called, ‘Hello Heart.’ I started it when I was 27 years old,” explains songwriter David Lee. “I wrote a chorus and pretty much most of the song a different way. And then I put it down, turned away from it, and didn’t think of it again for at least 10 years.”

“I got with Tony Lane, and we sat down and talked about it one day. We tried to write it, tried to come up with some ideas and finally came up with the chorus. But the rhymes weren’t jelling. Then we got Tom Douglas in on it.”

“Tom’s great,” said Lee. “He actually had the idea to change this song to ‘Hello World,’ because we couldn’t get the rhyme right. ‘Hello Heart’ didn’t have the feel. Tom got a hold of it and started messing around with it on his piano. Then he called me and said, ‘Hey, what about, ‘Hello World?” He also had an idea to change the first verse.”

“If Tom Douglas and Tony Lane hadn’t helped me, this song wouldn’t be what it is, that’s for sure,” said Lee.

This touching and inspiring song makes a lot of people sad yet brings them strength from within. It makes them forget the bad stuff in life and makes them feel like they can do anything that they put their mind to. And apparently the song has also brought tears to many. Sit back and enjoy….and check out the lyrics too.

The Hello World Lyrics

Traffic crawls, cell phone calls

Talk video screams at me

Through my tinted window I see

A little girl, rust red minivan

She’s got chocolate on her face

Got little hands, and she waves at me

Ya, she smiles at me

Hello world

How’ve you been?

Good to see you, my old friend

Sometimes I feel cold as steel

Broken like I’m never gonna heal

I see a light, a little hope

In a little girl

Hello world

Every day I drive by

A little white church

It’s got these little white crosses

Like angels in the yard

Maybe I should stop on in

Say a prayer

Maybe talk to God

Like he is here

Oh I know he is there

Ya, I know he’s there

Hello world

How’ve you been?

Good to see you, my old friend

Sometimes I feel as cold as steel

And broken like I’m never going to heal

I see a light

A little grace, a little faith unfurled

Hello world

Sometimes I forget what living’s for

And I heave my life through my front door

And I’ll be there

Oh I’m home again

I see my wife, little boy, little girl

Hello world

Hello world

All the empty disappears

I remember why I’m here

Just surrender and believe

I fall down on my knees

Oh hello world

Hello world

Hello world

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I first read the poem “The Touch Of The Master’s Hand” many many years ago and the poem has remained a favorite of mine since. This timeless piece of poetry is one of the most beautiful and inspiring poems that I have ever read.

The Touch Of The Master's Hand

The Touch Of The Master’s Hand by Myra Brooks Welch

‘Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer

Thought it scarcely worth his while

To waste much time on the old violin,

But held it up with a smile.

“What am I bidden, good folks,” he cried,

“Who’ll start the bidding for me?”

“A dollar, a dollar. Then two! Only two?

Two dollars, and who’ll make it three?”

“Three dollars, once; three dollars, twice;

Going for three…” But no,

From the room, far back, a grey-haired man

Came forward and picked up the bow;

Then wiping the dust from the old violin,

And tightening the loosened strings,

He played a melody pure and sweet,

As a caroling angel sings.

The music ceased, and the auctioneer,

With a voice that was quiet and low,

Said: “What am I bid for the old violin?”

And he held it up with the bow.

“A thousand dollars, and who’ll make it two?

Two thousand! And who’ll make it three?

Three thousand, once; three thousand, twice,

And going and gone,” said he.

The people cheered, but some of them cried,

“We do not quite understand.

What changed its worth?” Swift came the reply:

“The touch of the Master’s hand.”

And many a man with life out of tune,

And battered and scarred with sin,

Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd

Much like the old violin.

A “mess of pottage,” a glass of wine,

A game — and he travels on.

He is “going” once, and “going” twice,

He’s “going” and almost “gone.”

But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd

Never can quite understand

The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought

By the touch of the Master’s hand.

“The Master’s Hand” was written by Myra Brooks Welch. She was called “The poet with the singing soul.” She came from a very musical family. As a young woman, Myra’s special love was playing the organ.

In 1921, she heard a speaker address a group of students. She said she became filled with light, and “Touch of the Master’s Hand” wrote itself in 30 minutes! She sent it anonymously to her church news bulletin. She felt it was a gift from God, and didn’t need her name on it. It’s popularity spread like magic. Finally, several years later, the poem was read at a religious international convention – “author unknown.” A young man stood up and said, “I know the author, and it’s time the world did too. It was written by my mother, Myra Welch.”

Then her name, as well her other beautiful works of poetry became known worldwide. All of her poetry told of the rejoicing she had in God’s love.

What the world did not see, was the woman who created these masterpieces: Myra in her wheelchair, battered and scarred from severe arthritis, which had taken away her ability to make music. Instead, her musical soul spoke through her poetry.

She took one pencil in each of her badly deformed hands. Using the eraser end, she would slowly type the words, the joy of them outweighing the pain of her efforts. Her words, a joyous expression of the wonders of life, as seen by a singing soul that was touched by the Master’s Hand.

As a friend turned to leave her home, Myra patted the arm of her wheelchair and said, “And I thank God for this!” Imagine being grateful for a wheelchair! But her talent lay undiscovered prior to her wheelchair days. Rather than becoming bitter, she chose to let her handicap make her better, and a wonderful new door opened for her.

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A musician who lost both arms in a childhood accident and plays the piano with his toes has won the first series of “China’s Got Talent,” performing his version of James Blunt’s wistful love song “You’re Beautiful” to a packed audience at the Shanghai Stadium. He thrilled the judges and live audience with his performance and was accorded a standing ovation after his performance.

All three judges on the show Sunday praised 23-year-old Liu Wei for his determination, urging him to keep on pursuing his dreams, and the Beijing native said he would try, quipping, “At least I have a pair of perfect legs.”

For winning the Chinese version of the show that helped make Britain’s Susan Boyle a superstar, Liu is reportedly set to receive a contract with Fremantle Media and Sony Music Entertainment.

At the award ceremony, Liu was invited by Taiwan singer Jolin Tsai to be a guest performer on her world tour, which gives him the chance to perform in Las Vegas for three months.

Asian superstar Jolin Tsai

The award ceremony also featured winners and finalists from the popular “Got Talent” series in Britain and the United States, including British singer Paul Potts and dance group Diversity.

At age 18, he decided to pursue a career in music, using his feet to play the piano, much as he uses them to navigate on the computer, eat, dress and brush his teeth.

Armless pianist Liu Wei

“China’s Got Talent,” a weekly program shown on local channel Dragon TV, has helped draw attention to the hopes and challenges of disabled and otherwise disadvantaged Chinese.

The program is part of British music mogul Simon Cowell’s “Got Talent” franchise, which now has versions broadcasting in more than 30 countries. Simon Cowell, best known as the former acerbic judge on “American Idol,” developed the TV format of “Got Talent” in Britain, the United States and Europe. He has become one of the most powerful entrepreneurs in reality TV. The British version of the show catapulted the dowdy Scottish singer Susan Boyle to international stardom last year.

Liu Wei defeated 7-year-old standup comedian Zhang Fengxi at the final on Sunday at the Shanghai Stadium, the Shanghai Daily reported. Cai Xiuqing, 23, a college student from Shantou in Guangdong province, won third place for singing “Boundless Oceans Vast Skies,” a hit for Hong Kong rock back Beyond.

The show’s director, Jin Lei, told the newspaper that the success of the show ensured it would continue next year.

“China has so much untapped grassroots talent, and we believe the show will maintain its nationwide vitality and popularity for three or five years,” said Jin.

Gong xi ni (which means congratulations to you in Chinese), Liu Wei! You have touched the lives of countless people worldwide and you are a true inspiration to the entire world!

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Every now and then a story comes along that’s so extraordinary it takes your breath away. TV talent shows have a habit of finding a contestant that makes everybody sit up and take notice. Heartening tales of overcoming adversity are typical fodder on “Got Talent” and other reality shows, but the shocking saga of “China’s Got Talent” contestant Liu Wei makes this season’s batch of “America’s Got Talent” sob stories look like the pampered brats on VH1′s “You’re Cut Off.” And this is a true sob story–seriously, if you watch the video below and don’t get at least a little bit misty-eyed, you clearly have no soul.

Liu, now 23 years old, lost both of his arms in a freak accident when he was 10, after he touched an electrified wire while playing hide-and-seek. Both limbs were amputated and although initially he was distraught about his condition, he soon realized he had a choice to make.

Liu Wei

“For people like me, there were only two options. One was to abandon all dreams, which would lead to a quick, hopeless death. The other was to struggle without arms to live an outstanding life,” Liu explained to the judges on “China’s Got Talent.” Thankfully, Liu chose the latter option.

However, these tragic circumstances did not stop Liu from pursuing his dream of becoming a pianist–teaching himself how to play with his feet at age 18, after one piano teacher told him he would never succeed. And it turns out, Liu has more talent in one of his pinky toes than most four-limbed piano players have in both of their hands.

Of course, contestants overcoming adversity is a frequent subtext of talent showcases, but Wei’s accomplishment is extraordinary. He told judges that teaching himself to play piano with his feet was “hard” and that he endured cramps and abrasions, but he also says his mother inspired him and he wanted to make his parents proud.

“Whatever other people do with their hands, I do with my feet. It’s just that,” says Liu. “Nobody ever decreed that to play the piano you must use your hands.”

Liu Wei performing with his toes

Watch Liu’s perfect performance of “Mariage D’amour” below, and make sure to have some tissues nearby:

Liu’s performance on the August 8 2010 show wowed the audience and judges and blew away the competition as he gave an impeccable performance of the classical piece Mariage D’Amour on the piano with his toes. The stunned audience, many in tears, rose to a standing ovation at the conclusion of his performance. The judges bowed in respect to his achievement.

Apparently he taught himself how to play the piano in secret when he decided at the age of 18 that it was what he wanted to do, after his teacher said it would be impossible to play with toes.

This really puts into perspective life’s problems, doesn’t it?

Note: Liu Wei subsequently won the China’s Got Talent on October 10. Please read this new post on Liu Wei’s triumph.

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I came across this story of Esther Phiri when surfing the internet and found it to be an inspiration.  This is no Hollywood Million Dollar Baby but a real life African Million Dollar Baby! It inspires you to put massive efforts to realize your dreams and your potential. You can read Esther’s story at ESPN. Most of the photos in this blog article are taken from ESPN’s website.

Esther Phiri’s life is a rags-to-riches tale reminiscent of the Hollywood film “Million Dollar Baby”, but transported to a country where the average life expectancy is 38 — the second lowest in the world, according to the CIA World Factbook.

Esther Phiri in action

Impoverished by her father’s death from malaria when she was girl, Phiri left school after the sixth grade and was pregnant at 16. To feed herself and her daughter, Eunice, she sold potatoes, chickens and vegetables in a public market on the crowded streets. She bought the food wholesale in the early morning, then cooked and re-sold it for a modest profit. She lived in a nearby compound — a shantytown — in a shabby, two-room building that rented for $30 a month.

Today she is a currently Women’s International Boxing Association Light Welterweight World Champion and a household name in Zambia. She lives in a house given to her by her country’s former president Levy Mwanawasa and owns a small property empire bought with her prize money. She is raising her daughter and the four children of a sister who died of complications from childbirth.

Esther Phiri Women's International Boxing Association (WIBA) welterweight champion

Phiri, 23, took up boxing as part of an HIV-awareness sport program run by an international NGO in 2003. She was the only girl on the program. Phiri began training with Anthony Mwamba. Phiri also had to endure people heckling her and telling her she was wasting her time. A woman boxer? In Zambia? She wasn’t Hilary Swank and this wasn’t some Clint Eastwood movie. Get real. “People used to laugh at me,” Phiri says. “They would say, ‘She’s mad. She’s mad!’ And they said I was just following the men to the gym.”

Mwamba’s nickname is Preacherman, and he says his plan when starting Exodus Stables was to preach the Gospel to boxers. He leads his boxers in prayer each day and brings in Pastor Azili Chirowa for a longer session once a week. Phiri, Chirowa and Mwamba are Pentecostals, and the prayer sessions are lively. Phiri, the hard-hitting champ, helps lead one prayer session by singing hymns, dancing among her fellow boxers, chanting and speaking in tongues. “Boxing is not all about the punching,” Chirowa says. “It needs some spiritual encouragement and strength, as well. The nature of the sport is that of drinking and sex. But the Bible encourages focus.”

Esther Phiri in training with Anthony Mwamba

Mwamba said: “At first when Esther came onto the scene everyone was saying, ‘No, no, he’s just spoiling her or maybe he’s sleeping with Esther.’ That’s what people were saying including the officials. But to me, I always had the vision, they didn’t know it, but I saw a champion the first time I saw Esther.”

Despite the rumors, the pair continued to train together and soon they were vindicated when Phiri won the Women’s International Boxing Federation’s Intercontinental Junior Lightweight title in 2006.

Today, despite having all the wealth and trappings of an international sports star, Phiri still lives in the community where she grew up and remains friends with the people she knew when she was selling vegetables in the market.

Esther Phiri in the market where she once sold vegetables

AIDS has decimated her homeland, virtually wiping out a generation and lowering life expectancy to less than 40 years. Half the country is unemployed and nearly 90 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Yet against all odds, Phiri not only has muscled her way out of that economic statistic — she owns a farm, an apartment building and two houses, one of which she received as a gift from an impressed government — she has inspired women in a country where they rarely enjoy any power at all.

Esther Phiri at her house given to her by her country's former president Levy Mwanawasa

Her face shines down on Lusaka residents from billboards sprinkled around the city by her sponsor, National Milling, the country’s No. 1 producer and distributor of Zambia’s food staple, cornmeal. Phiri endorses the product in return for a $3,000 monthly retainer, a fortune by Zambian standards, plus guaranteed purses for her fights.

Using athletes to sell products is about as old as sports themselves, but a Zambian company sponsoring any athlete, let alone a woman, on this scale is rare, if not unprecedented. Phiri, however, has given National Milling very favorable publicity, and the arrangement has been successful enough that Barclays has signed up as a major sponsor as well.

Phiri’s boxing trunks bear both the name Exodus Stables and “John 10:9,” the Scripture that reads, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.”

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