Mon, Mar 20, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Taiwan's own `Forrest Gump' turns his focus from the South Pole to the Sahara

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

Kevin Lin shows the bronze medal that he won in the 250km super-marathon that crossed the South Pole, after arriving at Taoyuan International Airport in this file photo from Feb. 5. With that achievement, Lin has placed No. 1 overall in the world's four extreme super-marathon competitions.

PHOTO: CHU PEI-HSIUNG, TAIPEI TIMES

It was Jan. 29, at the South Pole. The temperature was minus 34 degrees Celsius and the wind was blowing at 100kph, with driving snow. A 250km super-marathon crossing the South Pole had been interrupted by the snowstorm, and Taiwanese marathon runner Kevin Lin (林義傑) had come down with a bad cold.

The race had begun two days before, and contestants had already run 110km. Lin was too tired and sick to guess when the race would resume, or whether the runners would be able to finish the event.

But by the end of the race on Jan. 31, Lin had won the bronze medal. With that medal, Lin placed first overall in four super-marathon competitions held in far-flung locations: Antarctica, the Sahara desert, Chile's Atacama desert and the Gobi desert.

Last year, Lin came in second in the Sahara race. In 2004, he won the seven-day, six-night Atacama ultra-marathon, which crosses the desert known as the driest place on earth. He was the only local runner to be invited to compete in the Atacama race. Lin finished third in the Gobi March in 2003 and 12th in the Sahara Race in 2002, after getting lost.

On March 1, a month after his athletic triumph at the bottom of the earth, the 27-year-old Lin was awarded the Order of the Brilliant Star, fourth class, by President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), who dubbed Lin "Taiwan's Forrest Gump."

From punishment to passion

Like that fictional character, Lin's life story -- though still less than three decades long -- is full of dramatic twists and turns. Ironically, Lin's world-beating achievements grew out childhood punishment.

Coming from a family of five in Taipei, Lin was labeled a "troublemaker" when he was in elementary school. His teachers ran out of ideas for how to punish him, so they told him to run around the school's track.

But in that punishment, a passion for running took root. At the age of 16, he won his first official race, a victory that fixed his ambition to become an athlete. But his parents opposed the idea, thinking he wouldn't earn fortune or fame in a running career. That disapproval made him decide to run away from home.

Later, he entered Hsi-hu Business School (now the Shu De Home Economics and Commercial High School), which is famous for its track and field teams.

A helpful coach

Lin ran away from home again when his parents refused to support his enrollment in a "cram school" after he failed to pass the college entrance examination. He borrowed NT$50,000 from his coach, who wrote him a letter asking him not to tell his wife that he had agreed to loan him the money.

With one year of diligent study at the "cram school," Lin got his wish, and entered the Taipei Physical Education College, where he majored in sports management.

But Lin's parents threw up another obstacle by refusing to support his college education. Even if they had wanted to support him, they wouldn't have been able to help much: Lin's father had given his pension to Lin's older sister so that she could open her own business, and lost it all when the business went belly-up and she declared bankruptcy.

Heartbroken by his parents' opposition, Lin nevertheless continued on, working odd jobs to put himself through college. He worked at gas stations, sushi bars and pizza parlors, and even drove a taxi -- earning NT$300 to NT$700 a day. At that time, Lin slept just three to four hours a day. In addition to the tuition and living expenses, he gave his parents NT$10,000 a month -- despite their lack of support for his dreams.

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