Sat, Jul 17, 2004 - Page 16 News List

Delivering Taiwan's spirit by foot

Kevin Lin doesn't look like an athlete, but he can run for seven straight days across deserts to win international ultramarathons

By Yu Sen-lun  /  STAFF REPORTER

Time: April 10, 2002. Place: in the middle of the Sahara. "I saw a huge sand dune in front of me, about the height of a 10-story building. I just got to the foot of the dune and I couldn't see my own shadow, so I couldn't tell the direction. A whirlwind brought up sand that flew straight into my ears and I couldn't hear a thing. ... This was the biggest sandstorm of the past 25 years. A few years ago, a big sandstorm killed some marathon champions, so I wondered `Will it happen to me?' God no!"

On that day, Kevin Lin (林義傑), Taiwan's most famous long-distance runner, was lost in sand for an hour, sapped of his last energy in a deadly storm. But he still managed to finish the race.

Another ordeal took place just last Sunday, when Lin was in Chile's Atacama Desert stuck in a 5km2 gravel desert, running alone in 50℃. He'd finished the last of his water and was lost. Then he fainted and fell flat onto the hard ground.

But he got up and found the strength and determination to beat 99 of the world's top runners in the The Atacama Crossing ultramarathon, a grueling seven-day and six-night race covering 270km.

His victory made Lin the first Taiwanese and first Asian runner to win an ultramarathon race.

"I can't let Taiwan lose face, especially when everybody has seen the Taiwanese flag on my rucksack," Lin said a couple weeks ago in the comfort of a Taipei Starbucks before departing for Chile.

To the surprise of some, but not Lin, he kept his promise.

Top of the charts

Lin is now Asia's No.1 ultramarathon runner and ranks in the top 3 in the world. In his first ultramarathon race, the one in the Sahara in 2002, he placed 12th and the following year in the Gobi Desert he came in third, behind Charlie Engle and Ed Wang, both from the US.

Seeing Lin in person one gains an even stronger admiration for his strength and determination. The 27-year-old is only 163cm tall and weighs a slight 55kg, hardly the typical athlete's figure. It's difficult to imagine him enduring the dehydration, fatigue, drastic changes in climate and terrain in races as cruel as ultramarathons.

"In an ultramarathon race, you have to sign a deposition in case of death. Because it is natural that you face life-threatening situations in these hazardous environments," Lin said.

"Can you believe that for my first Sahara competition I was so poor that I even had to borrow the US$2,600 registration fee to join the race?"

The Sahara race was started with the encouragement of Lin's godfather Clive Saffery, the CEO of Coca-Cola for the greater-China region, who is also an avid runner. "What do you want to accomplish in your life to feel no regret?" Lin asked Saffery, who replied: "Of course it's the challenge of crossing the Sahara."

And that's how Lin began joining ultramarathon races.

"I can't say what exactly motivated me to take on these challenges. Maybe it has to do with my upbringing."

Born a small and skinny boy, Lin's nickname was Ah-bi-ah, meaning "little duck" in Taiwanese. Lin's parents were both laborers, his father coming from a farming family in Yunlin County. Since childhood, Lin said his family was mocked by neighbors who said their family would not have a good future.

"My father wanted me to be the first in the family to go to university. But I've loved running since I was small and I didn't study business as father wished" he said.

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