Triathlon changed my view of life – 张惠莉:“铁人三项改变了我对人生的看法” – English

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Triathlon is not just a hobby to Zhang Huili. Just as we need to eat and sleep each day, it’s a way of life for her. She doesn’t feel that she is doing anything special. In her words “I’m just living my life, I’m not doing anything to brag about.”

When I asked to interview her, she was quite surprised, “but I’m so ordinary.”

In some ways Huili is indeed ordinary, with her plain features and average figure -she’s no doll-face or standout beauty. On the street, she’s just a ‘plain Jane’ who wouldn’t turn many heads. Like innumerable other girls in Shanghai, Huili lives with her parents, and they haven’t left Shanghai since she turned eight. She had been working at a state-owned financial affairs department for seven years until the end of last year. She even once thought she’d retire there. This year she resigned and began a position as a customer service representative at a German machinery company. Even though it’s an equally conventional job, for her there are still challenges. For example, adjusting to the different work patterns of a foreign company, using only English in emails, learning technical knowledge etc. However, she enjoys these challenges and feels excited to be able to learn new things.

We had our interview at a very quiet little coffee-place. It was already 7 when she arrived, because she works at Waigaoqiao, and her company doesn’t have a shuttle bus, so every day, she spends almost four hours on the road. She says ‘it’s actually a very good thing, and I don’t find it difficult, it’s like every day is longer, I don’t have to do anything else while I’m on the subway for these four hours, the only thing I can do is just read. If I spent that time at home, I might just waste it all surfing the web.”

The first time I saw Zhang Huili, I wouldn’t have thought that such a seemingly ordinary girl would have such an extraordinary hobby as triathlon. What’s more, she looks very thin, not particularly athletic. For her, triathlon is a hobby, but more than that, it’s part of her life, like eating and sleeping everyday. And so, she doesn’t think it’s anything special. In her own words, she says: “I’m just living another ordinary day, doing something that I love, and is quite unremarkable.”

Q: When did you start triathlon as a hobby?

A: At first, I would like to explain what is a triathlon. A triathlon consists of three events, which are swimming, cycling on public roads and long-distance running on public roads, requiring people to accomplish all the race in one go. It is classified as the following: Olympic standard distance: 1.5km-swimming, 40km-cycling, 10km-running; extra-long distance(ironman): 3.8km-swimming, 180km-cycling, 42.195km-marathon, and other distanced races. Normally, we call Olympic standard race as “xiaotie (small iron)”. Extra-long distance is called “datie(large iron)”. Those who accomplished the title “datie” are regarded as true ironman.

I started from swimming at first. In 2002, I joined a swimming club and spent five years progressing from a green hand to a master of four kinds of swimming style. Later on, I joined a running club by chances. At the very beginning, I spent 40 minutes for running 5 kilometers, and later I’ve participated in full marathon for two times, running 42.195 kilometers in total. At that time, I had no idea about the triathlon, and just enjoyed running as my hobby and my favorite sport. Until last year, I was influenced by one of my friends, and started liking cycling, which motivated me to join the Shanghai triathlon club. To tell the truth, actually I wasn’t meant to join in the triathlon, it just made all my hobbies in one together.

Q:You have mentioned that you really like running, what is so attractive about running to you?

A:Before, I liked to join in the fun, and really liked to participate in something that people work in together such as: Latin dance, belly dance, badminton, ping pong, billiards, ice skating, and playing with cards. I was always curious about anything I didn’t know, which made me to try anything. Also being with other people did not made me feel lonely. I don’t even remember when it did started to change, but it started to changed out slowly, and I started to prefer more of calming down and feeling something. Slowly, I started to like the sports that has no limitation of time and  location such as running, swimming and cycling.

People normally feel that the running is dull, but I think running provides a lot of experiences, and I enjoy the feeling of being isolated while I run, and also it makes me feel the freedom, just by wearing my running shoes, I can go to run to any places. I do not like to run on the running machine in the gym, it just makes me cramped and gives me pressure. What I like the most is to run on the road at middle of the night, the pedestrians and the cars are fewer during that time. You’ll discover that the usual sceneries have completely changed. When I’m running, all I can hear is my own footsteps and my heartbeat. I need to concentrate, and my brain is focused on coordinating my muscles forward. It’s like a dialogue with yourself. Apart from that, there’s nothing to think about, the head is empty. After the end of the race, that’s when the troubles start again.

Q: Do you often take part in triathlons?

A: I’ve only taken part in triathlon twice, both in Weihai. The running and cycling track surrounding the sea and route under the ocean make one of the most gorgeous races. But due to the rise and fall on the mountain road, it is also one of the most difficult one as well. Both the two experiences is  Olympic standard. It such a pity that I couldn’t finish the race within the allotted three and a half hours because the lack of hard practice before the competition, so that the only thing I could do is to make myself feel better by saying “I didn’t do it for the achievement. It’s fine to make progress and enjoy the process. I joined in marathon a lot. What I like most is to attend marathon races held by various cities. It feels good to step on the ground and feel the earth in different cities. I haven’t signed up for swimming races. What I enjoy most is swimming in Qiandao Lake with peers every summer, surrounding by green mountains and clear water and feeling insignificance of myself and the greatness of nature.

Q: Has there ever been any danger or troubles when taking part in races?

A: Any one who has experienced swimming in the open waters understands the danger of swimming in the sea. Though there would be lifeboat every certain distance, you still get scared when swimming in the sea without protection, since humans are all afraid of death. Besides, there’s no place to practice swimming in the wildness. It’s still hard to get rid of the fear even if I like it very much.

It’s said that the triathlon in Weihai is the most beautiful but the hardest. Because you don’t want to be choked by the salty sea water and is billows. The race used to be in the late September last year, but shifted to June this year. The temperature of the water is low, only fifteen degree Celsius. It takes thirty to forty minutes at least to swim 1.5 km, which is hard for a body to endure. This time, a fellow racer, an old man, lent me a rubber swimsuit, saying it had watertight insulation. I wore it, but because it was too big for me, the cold water still got in. The first two hundred meters, I was freezing and couldn’t breeze properly. As soon as my head went under the cold water, I unconsciously wanted to get it out and breathe, there was basically no way I could swim normally with my head underwater, I swallowed my saliva countless numbers of time, but all I could do was keep my head up, and move forward. I told myself to go slowly, that the body would adapt to the temperature. I cannot describe this feeling, I felt like my heart and lungs were shrinking up, I felt like I was dying. Only after about three two hundred meters did I gradually adapt, and become able to swim normally.

Q: I think your family are ordinary Shanghai parents – do they understand this hobby of yours?

A: They didn’t understand at first, and I didn’t dare tell them about it. I only told them after I joined a competition, saying, you see I’ve survived, and I’m doing very well – as long as you train regularly, there’s nothing scary about triathlon. I even tell them that many retired aunties and uncles take part in the competition, and they all do very well, there’s no problem at all.

Q: And now?

A: This year, I joined a competition in Weihai, and told them in advance. They neither supported it, nor opposed it. Before, they used to try and influence me, now they let me do my own thing, which I think is an improvement.

Q: How many people in China are engaged in triathlon then?

A: Not really yet, nothing like overseas. Each time I join a comptition, there’s only thirty or forty people from Shanghai joining, and some of those are foreigners too.

Q: Among these few people, are there many men and few women?

A: Very few women – this Weihai competition I joined, in the 20-35 category, only 10 women registered, and 4 went to the end of it.

Q: So if the numbers are so small, what’s bringing these people together?

A: Many people still misunderstand triathlon, for instance they believe it’s not something that ordinary people can do, or it requires a lot of financial investment, for instance to buy special gear, etc. But that’s not how it is, some special gear can help you more likely to finish the competition, but it’s not essential, all you need is confidence, train systematically, and everyone can finish the race.

Another thing is that everybody now seems to be very busy, busy learning, busy with romance, busy taking care of their family, busy eating and drinking… Many people think they don’t have enough time, and exercise is a waste of time. But as long as you’re willing to, there’s always a way to squeeze out some time. Sport will make your body healthier, more tonic, more resilient, with more energy to do the other things that you enjoy. In sport, especially triathlon, there is no shortcut, training is the only way. I you want to take part at an Olympic standard, three months before the competition, you must run twice a week, once five km, once ten km; swim twice a week for one hour; and ride twice a week for 40km or more; only then can you finish the race. I don’t train very hard, so my results are not very good.

Q; Do you take part in amateur races? Or professional?

A; Yes, the races I join are amateur group competition. There are also professional groups. There are less people joining the triathlon make people inspire, even the common people can join the race with professionals by chance.

Q; Have you ever dreamed of joining the triathlon race overseas?

A; Yes. my friends nearby go to races in Cheju island in South Korea, Taiwan, and Hawaii. They make me envious. I would like to work hard, and get a chance to participate in triathlon races overseas.

Q; Could you give us some tips for exercising with? And could you also give us the introduction for lack of physical strength?

A; To choose the exercises that fit you or that you like, like that, you gradually have a persistence to drive them. You can choose running, jogging, swimming, cycling, doing Yoga, and exercises using a ball. Choose 1 or 2 exercises, and take an hour for each exercises, persisting every week. Then you will discover effects, and notice that your body is getting healthy.

Q: Do you think you might considered part of a ‘small minority’?

A: That’s possible, most people around me find me strange, to make things difficult for myself. It’s so tiring to do my job every day, and I still have energy to do sport!

Q: So what do you say to these people?

A: Everyone has a different life and different aspirations, there’s no need to pressure anyone. But if I have the chance, I like to talk about my experience with friends and people around me, hoping everyone could live a healthier life.

Q: What kind of impact has triathlon had over your life?

A: Triathlon has made me stronger, not just physically stronger, but also mentally stronger. With a healthy body, you can go further, you can do more things.

I’ve never been a solitary person, from a young age, my parents have looked after me very well. Previously, I worked for a state-owned enterprise for seven years. My parents also helped me organise this. Although it was very relaxed, I still wanted to find more interesting work, but every time, my parents prevented me, they thought that the ideal position for their little girl was a peaceful and comfortable one. Of course, I know they only think about my own good, but I have my own way of seeing things. Now, they realise that triathlon is a very hard thing to do, and if I can master this, I can make my own decisions.

Every time there is a competition, there will be many enthusiastic spectators cheering you on, and there will even be contestants with physical disabilities – a 70 year old man said he would go on participating even if he should fall down on the track, you’ll see all sorts of moving things like this. Everybody says that Chinese triathlons are the most interesting. In foreign competitions, most participants are professionally equipped, but in Chinese contests, there are some participants whose economic circumstances are not so good, and in the triathlon, will have all sorts of equipment. A friend once saw an old man who thought that two or three hundred yuan was a lot of money for a bicycle helmet, but the regulations impose one, so he carved his own helmet in foam, and painted it a bright colour, and apparently it looked very good. You will find out that people’s imagination and creativity is infinite, it is very cute and very interesting.

For me, triathlon has changed the way I think about people. As I took part in the competition, the people I saw, the things I experienced, they changed my attitude to life, the way I see things. They can make you think that many of the troubles you encounter at work or in life are trivial, don’t deserve you to fuss over them, there are many more interesting and important things in life waiting for you. At the moment when you go beyond our limits, you feel that there is no difficulty you can’t overcome, your heart spontaneously gives birth to a spirit of confidence and progress, there is nothing like this kind of satisfaction at work, no matter how difficult the problem you’re working on.

Q: When we started the interview, you said you were a very ordinary person – how do you define ordinary then?

A: I haven’t done anything extraordinary, and I’m not particularly successful by usual world standards. For instance, having a little family of my own, having a desirable career, etc. I’m just an ordinary person, looking at the world according to the way of life she prefers.

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Source : China 30s

About julien.leyre

French-Australian writer, educator, sinophile. Any question? Contact [email protected]