Handicaps do not faze triatheletes

TRUE WINNERS::Kuo Hsiang-yun competes despite the lack of a full-length left arm, while Chen Tzu-ying has overcome Kawasaki disease heart problems to race

By Huang Po-lang and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Wed, Oct 24, 2012 - Page 5

Two competitors in the 2012 “Best Pal” cup for the National South Area Triathlon gained attention not because they won the competition, but because they participated despite serious physical challenges.

The competition was held on Saturday at the National Tainan Senior Marine Fishery Vocational School, with almost 700 participants from all over the country attending.

One of the spotlighted competitors — Kuo Hsiang-yun (郭翔芸), a fifth-grade student at the Tur Ya Kar Elementary and Junior High School in New Taipei City (新北市) — was born without a lower left arm.

However, Kuo is by nature optimistic and loves a challenge, and after being introduced to the triathlon event in third grade decided — despite setbacks at cycling and swimming, two of the major events in triathlons — that she would compete from then on.

To prove that “she could do it, too,” Kuo took to jogging on the tracks of the National Taipei University and practiced swimming one-handed.

Kuo said that swimming 200m one-handed was difficult, and she had to change styles often just to finish the 200m.

At first her parents were against the idea, and worried that she would not be able to shoulder the physical burden of the competition, but their opposition gradually turned into support after seeing how she influenced other children.

Her participation in the events has inspired not only her younger brother to enter the competitions alongside her, but also many of her classmates, Kuo’s parents said, adding that through her actions and positive take on the world she was moving others to join her.

Seeing her fighting spirit, it’s hard not to be moved, her parents said, adding that Kuo’s attitude also made them support the “sportsmanship” and “finish the race no matter what” spirit behind the events.

Kuo says the competitions are a lot of fun and that she had many friends who also participated inthe events, adding that her parents would turn competitions into family trips.

Meanwhile, the other participant that drew public attention is another fifth-grader, Chen Tzu-ying (陳姿穎).

Chen was diagnosed with coronary complications of Kawasaki disease. Friends invited her to join triathlons and she discovered that her physical condition improved as a result, making her eager to participate in more competitions.

Though coming down with gastroenteritis the week before the National South Area Triathlon caused her to be slightly slower than she had planned, Chen said that she was still excited to be able to finish all three events.

“The hard training that I’ve been through was worth it,” Chen said, adding that she hoped to join the police force when she grew up.

Saturday’s competition was won by Pan Tzu-yi (潘子易) in 21 minutes and 53 seconds.

The son of parents who were both track and field athletes as youngsters, Pan has participated in numerous triathlons, earning him the nickname of “the little triathlon prince.”

He had won a record of 11 consecutive championships before his streak was ended on Sept. 9 by rival Lee Chih-ting (李治廷).