Former gymnastic champion Zhang Shangwu will bid farewell to poverty tomorrow when he flies to Nanjing in Jiangsu province to start work with one of the country's richest men.
The move will mark a remarkable turnaround in the life of the athlete who, in recent years, has been forced to steal and beg to make ends meet. His story came to light earlier this month when he was recognised in the streets of Beijing.
The 28-year-old, who won two gold medals in the rings and team events at the 2001 World University Games, told the South China Morning Post that he would become a personal fitness instructor for Chen Guangbiao, a Jiangsu-based recycling tycoon and flamboyant philanthropist, as well as training staff at Chen's Jiangsu Huangpu Recycling Resources Company.
'Chen called me on July 24 and offered me the job at his group,' Zhang said. 'He said I would also have the chance to learn about large-scale machines and project management.'
In the years following his gymnastic retirement in 2005, like many athletes on the mainland, Zhang found it difficult to find jobs because of his poor education and skills. He had previously sustained an Achilles tendon injury and this rendered him unfit for labouring work.
He had to sell his two gold medals in order to eat. Then in 2007 he was arrested for stealing in Beijing. After his release from prison in April he started begging, performing gymnastic stunts, in Shijiazhuang, Tianjin and Beijing, to get money to treat his sick grandfather.
But his luck changed when he was recognised by a fan and his story was picked up by dozens of media outlets across the country.
On Monday evening, Chen posted a video on his microblog on qq.com, in which he said he felt disturbed when he read of Zhang's plight in a Beijing newspaper.
'It was only through his own efforts that he won gold medals and as a champion brought honour to our country,' Chen said on the blog. 'But now he is poor. I think everyone who is an entrepreneur or who has the ability to help should make a stand.'
Chen then rang Zhang in Hebei and encouraged him, saying everyone made mistakes in their lives. He offered him a job and said his grandfather could come with him. He would be treated in Chen's elder citizen's centre and all medical bills would be paid.
'In my eyes Chen is an invincible mogul,' Zhang said.