I would like to share with all of you the journey of my heart – my first-time participation in the triathlon, IRONMAN 70.3, in Chungju, Korea

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Most people know that a triathlon involves swimming, cycling and running in immediate succession. IRONMAN 70.3 is an event over a total distance of 70.3 miles, which is equivalent to 113 km, more than double the 51.5-km distance for the same event in the Olympics. If a triathlete is able to complete the full course of swimming for a distance of 1.9 km, cycling for 90 km and running for 21.1 km within 8.5 hours, he/she will be awarded a medal. The less time it takes to finish the race, the better the performance is. Brilliant triathletes even earn a qualifying spot to the world championship race.

First-time amateur athletes usually prefer not to take part in athletic games in the summer when the temperature is so high that it aggravates the toughness of a race. However, due to my work obligations, I could only enter overseas competitions held in this hot season. I began to practise in mid-June, proactively preparing for the race. It was not until late July that I got the slightest confidence that I would be able to complete the whole triathlon. On the last day of July, when I began running after practising swimming, I accidentally took a misstep on a curb and sprained my ankle. I heard a sound from my sole, but instead of paying attention to it, I asked my teammates what had happened. Soon afterwards I felt extreme pain. After trying a few steps, I realised that I could not run any further. In order not to affect my teammates’ practice, I insisted that they should continue without me. I struggled step by step over a distance of 1 km to the car park and then drove away. It seemed such a long way off.

As it was a Sunday, I could only seek treatment from a nearby bonesetter. He told me that I possibly had a bone fracture and it might take more than two months for me to recover. At that moment, my heart sank as missing this opportunity meant that I might have to wait a whole year before I could re-enter the triathlon, and even worse, I perhaps had to give up my dream. In view of this, early next morning I sought advice from a doctor I am familiar with. According to his preliminary diagnosis, it might have been a tendon rupture, which was not very serious, though still an injury. Hopefully, with appropriate treatment, I could take part in the event which was only two weeks away. While I got a ray of hope from him, I was well aware that I could not insist on participating in the event simply on the basis of his words. Responsible for both myself and my family, again I consulted a family doctor and requested for an X-ray. I was diagnosed with a minor metatarsal fracture. Though not seriously hurt, I should refrain from vigorous physical activities until I made a full recovery. At that moment, I was at a complete loss. But then I thought of the Bible verses that I read during my quiet time on that day, which reminded me that I should wait for my recovery with faith in God. After that, I sought treatment from the doctor every day. After a couple of days, I could go jogging. This rekindled my confidence. However, jogging remained the only sport I was able to do, and my physical conditions were unstable.

Two days before the event, in the company of my wife and my son, I set off to Korea in the small hours of the night. After travelling for more than 10 hours, we finally arrived at the hotel at Chungju and were all very exhausted. I found my right foot swollen and painful. On the morning before the event, I went to the venue to report my attendance, take a look at the environment and make due preparations. It was not until after six in the evening that I returned to the hotel. Having spent the whole day preparing for adequate gear and making efforts to ensure that appropriate detailed arrangements were made, I was overwhelmed by fatigue. Neither a foot massage nor a hot bath that night could relieve the pain. I could not even run a short distance outside the hotel. Worried as I was, I could only keep calm, take a rest and remain composed in the face of all these odds. I got up at 3:00 am, took a hot bath with a view to alleviating my pain, and prayed to God with the faith that if it was His will, He would certainly heal me.

Early in the morning on the day of the event, I dashed towards the water and started swimming. It went so smoothly that I could finish swimming the whole distance of 1.9 km within the standard time for an individual. Unexpectedly, after I got out of water and ran for a few steps, I began to feel pain in my right foot again. Nevertheless, I intended to try my very best to safely finish off the cycling section first and continue to go the distance even though I could only walk.

At the last moment before the event, the organiser changed the original cycling route, of which most part was rather smooth, to a brand new one that somewhat resembled Bride’s Pool Road and Tai Po Road in Hong Kong. It was a shorter but tougher route. To minimise the lower-limb loading, I decided to adopt a safe and slow cycling strategy. I was cheered along the way by a large crowd of rural people, whose warm smiles and shouts of encouragement made me feel like I was at an Olympic venue. I really enjoyed the whole cycling stage of the race.

Having cycled for 84 km, I eventually made it to the end of the cycling route. While I could manage to dismount from the bike without any hiccups, as soon as I “landed”, I felt the pain again. I immediately prayed and helped myself in some “extraordinary” way. I then plucked up my courage again and continued with the remaining section. It was so amazing! I no longer felt any pain while running. With both tears and laughter, I praised the Lord. I was full of confidence that I would be able to carry through till the end.

The temperature along the running path was as high as 36 or 37 degrees Celsius, conditions hard to endure even for an uninjured athlete. I twice experienced mild cramping on my way to the finish line. I am particularly grateful to a Korean friend who stopped and sprayed water on me to lower my body temperature and said to me, “Hwaiting!”  (Korean word of support or encouragement). When it came to the last round, I saw a runner struggling. I handed my bottle of water to him and encouraged him by saying “Take it and you can make it!” In response, he said, “Love!” Although I did not know if he could manage to carry on, I believe that he had already conquered himself.

I was so glad that I had the opportunity to get acquainted with quite a few world-class professional athletes. Among them was Nick Baldwin, a humble young man from a small island south of South Africa. In the beginning, I thought he was an amateur. After learning that this was my first IRONMAN, he encouraged me with kind words and carried our luggage for us when we boarded and alighted from the coach. I did not realise that he was a professional triathlete of the first batch until our arrival at the venue. In an athletic outfit, he was so awe-inspiring. I bumped into him again at the hotel after the event. He came over to ask me how the race went. I shared with him my worry about failing to go the distance due to my foot injury. In response, he shook hands with me; and with assertive eye contact, he congratulated me on my perseverance.

Perhaps frustrations and difficulties in life bear no direct relation to competence and our efforts. However, there must be God’s goodwill and blessings embedded in them. From this experience, I learnt to be more humble, patient and faithful.