Early life and career
Xu Lijia was born nearly deaf in one ear and nearly blind in one eye. She started swimming at age four and attended a sports school in the Changning District of Shanghai. When she was ten Xu was chosen by coach Zhang Jing to train for sailing.
Just a year after she started sailing, Xu Lijia won the 1998 Chinese National Championships held in Hong Kong.
In 1999, when she was twelve, Xu Lijia narrowly escaped death in a sudden storm while training on the open sea off the coast of Fujian Province with her coach and teammates. Wind speeds reached 20 meters per second (45 mph), resulting in 17-meter (56 ft) high waves, capsizing their boats. They were stranded at sea for more than two hours before managing to return to the base.
During a routine physical examination before the 2004 Summer Olympics, doctors found a giant-cell tumor of bone near Xu Lijia’s left knee. She initially hoped to postpone the tumor-removal surgery until after the Olympics, but doctors warned that the tumor could spread within months which would necessitate amputation of the leg. Xu underwent the surgery and missed the Athens Olympics.