Taiwan's Ultra Man
Going Beyond Extreme
If you ask people in Taiwan which of their present-day compatriots they regard as heroes, as individuals who have achieved greatness abroad, and as persons who have brought fame to Taiwan, almost certainly many of them will reply "Wang Chien-ming" or "Ang Lee." Some, however, will opt for Kevin Lin as their personal favorite.
If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere." In the case of Wang Chien-ming, "There" is Yankee Stadium in New York, home of the world’s most famous baseball club, the New York Yankees, where he has excelled as starting pitcher. Ang Lee’s "There" is Hollywood, the glamorous part of Los Angeles where dreams are made and where stars are born. Shooting several box-office hits and being the center of attention at the annual Academy Awards ceremony is about as successful as one can get in the film industry and probably even tops Wang’s achievement.
Kevin Lin’s "There" is more difficult to define. How about "Sahara Desert," the world's largest and arguably most inhospitable stretch of barren land? Think about a place that is the complete opposite of Hollywood or New York, and you get the kind of environment where Kevin is in his element. He is a true adventurer and a world-class athlete. In fact, if you will, he’s an athlete in a class almost his own, since only a handful others have ever tried to do what he’s been remarkably successful at: ultramarathons in the most challenging conditions imaginable.
Meeting this true hero of Taiwan for the first time, you might be surprised by his small stature and gentle features — he’s not at all the "Rambo" type. What he has in common with both Wang and Lee, to end this comparison, is his introverted, almost shy demeanor. But don’t be fooled. Lin is a man who clearly knows what he wants and who usually achieves the lofty goals he sets for himself.
Asked about how his love for running emerged, Lin recalls the time he used to skip school to do sports and the quarrels he had with his parents who, like most parents in Taiwan, didn’t see much value in spending time exercising, let alone pursuing a career in sports. His love for sports, however, prevailed. Being stubborn and determined, he continued to do his thing and it didn’t take long for him to find out that he excelled at it.
A "sports addict" who loves and engages in all kinds of sports, he chose to focus on long-distance running. He started participating in road runs and soon became really good at it. After clocking respectable times in conventional marathon
races he was looking for something more challenging.
After being introduced to the extreme sport of the ultramarathon — loosely defined as a run which is longer than a conventional marathon — Kevin entered various 100-kilometer and 24-hour races both in Taiwan and abroad, winning or finishing in the top group most of the time. He won the Taipei International Marathon 100km Men's Championship twice, in 2000 and 2002, and the Taipei International 24-Hour Ultramarathon once, in 2000.
More difficult challenges awaited. Going from "ultra" to "extreme ultra," Taiwan’s foremost distance runner continued his remarkable career by entering ultramarathons in locations posing challenges of the extreme kind. After finishing 12th in the Marathon Des Sables, a run in the Moroccan Sahara Desert, Kevin decided to take on Racing the Planet, a combination of four very demanding races in what the organizers call the "driest, hottest, windiest, and coldest places on earth."
Kevin Lin is a true adventurer and a world-class athlete in a class almost his own
Kevin not only finished all four of the races held from 2003 to 2006 — finishing is a great achievement in its own right — but he finished among the top three in all of them. In 2003 he came in third in the Gobi Desert Race in China, he won the Atacama Crossing in Chile in 2004, he was the runner-up in the Sahara Desert race a year later and, finally, he claimed third place in the Antarctica race in 2006, making him not only the overall winner of the four-race event but also a widely recognized and idolized sports hero in Taiwan.
Kevin then achieved something that many regard as his most difficult accomplishment yet. Together with two other endurance experts, Charlie Engle from the US and Ray Zahab from Canada, he crossed the Sahara Desert on foot.
It took the trio 111 days to complete the 6,900-km run from the Atlantic Coast of Senegal in the west to the Red Sea in Egypt in the east. For three months, the three athletes ran the equivalent of two marathons each day, fighting the harsh environment, fatigue, and injuries. The run was not about winning a competition, but to test the humanly possible and also to raise awareness of the serious drinking-water problem in Africa.
Kevin’s latest adventure was taking part in the 2008 Polar Challenge, a 4-week, 650-kilometer race across the Arctic ice close to the North Pole. Competing in this group race together with compatriots Jason Chen and Albert Liu, Kevin and his team finished third in the toughest polar race on Earth.
Now 32 and retired from professional sports, Kevin has set his sights on more pedestrian challenges, like running a counseling company where he puts his knowledge of sports psychology and his massive experience in dealing with tough challenges into practice in order to help people cope with difficult situations in life.
Though his active days of ultramarathon running are over, Kevin Lin is not ruling out going on more adventures in the future. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see this "ultra man" attempt something astonishingly challenging once again. But then it might prove difficult for him to find something even more challenging than what he has done already....
For more on Kevin Lin, visit www.kevin-life.com;
for more about the "Running the Sahara" project, visit www.runningthesahara.com.