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Every year, the sports team could receive a large amount of dining subsidy. Therefore, their canteen always offered tasty food for a low price. If one pleased the chef, he could even receive one more dish for free.
The canteen used to offer free food, where individuals could choose a limited amount of meat, unlimited vegetables, and rice. Later on, in order to avoid food waste, the canteen began to charge for food, but the price was very low—only one-fifth of the usual price of outside restaurants. Moreover, athletes and coaches had a dining allowance every month, which was directly sent to their dining cards, most of them didn't need to pay extra dining fee. Therefore, even family men would prefer to have dinner here in the canteen.
Jiang and Li sat at the same table, face to face. The other coaches were all surprised to see this.
"Am I seeing things? Is Li, the newcomer, sitting with Aiguo Jiang?"
"This Dai Li must have something special. He has been here for only one day, how could he get along well with Jiang? You know Jiang is famous for his bad temper."
"I heard that Dai Li once displeased Coach Ma, that's why he is paired up with Jiang. I think Ma is trying to fix Li in this way. Unfortunately, it is not working as Ma expected."
While the other coaches were busy gossiping in a whisper, Li started a conversation with Jiang.
"Hey Jiang, I noticed that your muscle was stiff when I was massaging. I think it was due to muscle overload. Do you feel...how should I put it, uncomfortable, during training?" asked Li.
"Uncomfortable? Just say painful." Jiang was quite straightforward. He didn't want to hide anything. "I know that I'm in a bad condition."
Jiang put down his chopsticks. Sorrow flashed through his eyes. He calmed down, then said, "Last year, I went to the doctor. My doctor told me that because of my continuous training without sufficient rest, my muscle has already been overloaded. If I keep practicing like this, I will probably get injured."
"Did the doctor give you any advice?" asked Li.
"Yes, he said there were two ways to help me out. The first one was to reduce my workouts and let the muscle gradually repair itself; the second way was to stop training for at least three months to give myself a break," said Jiang.
"You didn't listen to him, did you?" asked Li.
"No I didn't. I can't reduce my workouts, nor can I take a break. There are fierce competitions everywhere on the team, and people are seeking chances to kick me out. I'm old now, if I slack off, I won't be able to stay. I don't want to retire. I can't retire!" Jiang said with firmness.
A 32-year-old athlete was about to retire. Li wouldn't feel anything was wrong if Jiang retired this year. But he also noticed that Jiang used "can't," which indicated that he must have had some reason not to do so.
Jiang continued, "This is my 14th year as an athlete, next year is going to be my 15th. According to the governmental stipulations, I could receive much more retirement subsidy if I work up to 15 years. Therefore, if I could stay here for one more year, my retirement subsidy would increase by thousands."
"Are you risking your life for money? Just in case you don't know, your body is now in such bad condition that you could get injured or disabled at anytime! Is it worth putting the rest of your life in darkness just for some money?" Li asked, becoming serious.
"Of course!" Jiang smiled. But in Li's eyes, that smile conveyed helplessness.
Jiang took out his wallet, pulled out a picture, and handed it to Li. It was a family picture. There were three people: Jiang, a women, and a one-year-old baby girl.
"Are they Mrs. Jiang and Ms. Jiang?" asked Li.
"Yes, you are right. My wife and my daughter." Talking about his daughter, hope raised from the bottom of Jiang's eyes. "My daughter is a poor baby. She was born with a cleft lip, and received her first surgery when she was only three-month old."
"She looks pretty now," said Li.
"She does look better. But that was only the first surgery. She needs many surgeries in the future to finish the repair. She will receive her second surgery when she is five, the third one when she is eleven, and the last one will be held when she reaches eighteen. The latter ones will cost more and more money if we want to make her look normal. I'm guessing the last surgery will cost me at least hundreds of thousands of yuan. You know, we athletes are not rich, and we don't have any other special skills to make lots of money. The retirement subsidy is my last hope."
Jiang paused, then let out a long sigh. "If my baby was a boy, I would only let him receive basic surgery, like sewing his mouth up. But she is a girl, and she will become a pretty woman in the future. I can't leave her with a cleft lip. I'm trying my best to give her a bright future."
"That's why you insist on training intensely every day? You wish to work for one more year so that you can have more money for your baby girl?"
Jiang nodded. "To be honest, everyday after I finish training, I can barely endure the pain. Often I can't even get up from bed. But thinking about my baby, I keep working hard. This year when I've been training, I can feel sharp pain in my right arm and shoulders. Luckily your massage helped me out, otherwise I couldn't even raise my chopsticks."
Li looked at Jiang, his heart full of respect. This father had been training intensely and working so hard to earn money for his daughter's surgery, even though it meant risking his life and suffering from pain everyday. And he had insisted on doing so for years. Who else could make such a sacrifice except for a parent?
"I don't know why Jiang looks cold, unfriendly and bad-tempered. The real him is a great father. He is worth respecting." Li took a deep breath, deciding he would help Jiang by any means.
"My muscle relaxation could help Jiang relieve his muscles to a large extent. Then, even if he begins intense training again, I can still comfort his muscles and repair it back to the best condition. I will reduce his symptoms and stop the muscle overload. This way, he may not get injured during his training. Hopefully he can stay for another year."
Thinking about this, Li told Jiang, "Jiang, if you think my massage is OK, I can do that for you every day!"
"Thank you!" Jiang only said two words, but that was enough to convey his gratefulness.
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