By Tan Jingjing, Huang Heng
SAN DIEGO, Dec. 6 (Xinhua) — Hundreds of people gathered in a memorial in San Diego, California on Wednesday, to say farewell to former international Zhang Ouying, one of the “Steel Roses” who played during China’s glory days in women’s soccer.
Zhang succumbed to lung cancer on Saturday in San Diego at the age of 43, after fighting the illness for eight months at the medical center of the University of California, San Diego.
At the El Camino Memorial in San Diego, Zhang’s family members, friends, former soccer teammates and children she coached in youth club shed tears and paid respects in front of her casket.
“Ouying endured numerous surgeries and pain after she was diagnosed with cancer in March. She wanted to survive, and overcome the pain that has consumed her day by day. She showed no signs of giving up till her final breath,” Zhang’s mother Li Liju, told Xinhua.
“It was the spirit of the ‘Steel Roses’ that inspired her and gave her strength,” she said.
Zhang was a member of China’s runner-up team at the 1999 World Cup and a gold medalist at the 1998 Asian Games as well as the 1999 Asian Cup. She participated in three World Cups and two Olympic Games.
“The passing of madame Zhang Ouying is a loss for Chinese soccer. We are in deep sorrow after losing such a respectable figure in our sport,” the Chinese Football Association (CFA) said in an essay in memory of Zhang on Monday.
The CFA said they will always remember what Zhang has done for Chinese soccer and sent condolences to her family.
Fan Yunjie, one of Zhang’s teammates in the golden generation of the Chinese soccer team, has shared memories of Zhang in recent days. “Though she was the youngest in our team, she played the hardest. She was humorous and always told jokes, making all of us very cheerful,” Fan said, bursting into tears.
Fan said she planed to visit Zhang in the hospital last week, but got the sad news of Zhang’s passing on her way to the airport.
Zhang moved to the United States in 2006 after leaving the Chinese national soccer team. She played for San Diego Spirit team in the U.S. Women’s United Soccer Association, and later mentored kids and teenagers at the San Diego Soccer Club (SDSC).
As one of the largest soccer clubs in Southern California, SDSC includes 103 competitive teams and about 3,000 recreational players.
Among the 53 soccer coaches in this club, Zhang is the only Chinese woman, but language and cultural background never hampered her coaching.
“Coach O is so nice and caring, like my mom. She pushed us to do better,” said Rebecca Teixeira of Zhang’s team. “She often shared with us stories about her experience in the Chinese soccer team, and we were very inspired.”
The kids of SDSC made cards for Coach O, Zhang’s nickname, when they were informed of her illness. They paid visits to her at the medical center to encourage her in the fight against cancer.
Aaron Jaffe, SDSC director, told Xinhua that Zhang was “super humble” and “very dedicated” during her ten years in the club. After she was diagnosed with cancer, she was very concerned about her teams, and asked Jaffe to have other coaches to take care of the kids.
“Soccer is her career and her love for her entire life. She has lived every day to the fullest with great strength, care and giving,” said Zhang’s husband Edde Iott.