Chinese fisherman makes ultra marathon history

By Wu Jin
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, December 10, 2014
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The story of Forrest Gump seems to be playing out in real life in a fishing village in Zhejiang Province. Chen Penbin, a young Chinese man from the village, has now completed ultra marathons on all seven continents and won a gold medal in the Antarctic Ice Marathon.

This 36-year-old with only a primary school education is the protagonist in the real-life legend of his transformation from a fisherman to an extreme marathon athlete.

Chen is among the less than 100 athletes worldwide who have completed ultra marathons on seven continents. After November’s competition in the Antarctic, the fisherman-turned-runner became the only athlete to have run over 100 kilometers in each of these seven ultra marathons.

Before taking a flight to Antarctica, Chen bought a silver necklace in Chile with a dangling pendant shaped like a little globe.

"When I was fishing, I had tunnel-vision about the rest of the world. But now I have run all over the world," Chen said. "I like this pendant, just like I like the life experiences I’ve had."

Chen was born on an isolated island where villagers’ only connection with the external world was the town on the opposite bank. Even though the distance between the town and the island was quite short, the ferry between the two banks was only able to reach the island when the tides began to rise.

For generations, fishing was the only choice for the villagers there, and the unique geographic conditions bound the fishermen firmly to their boats.

"Wherever you study and whatever grade you are in, you have to go back to the island to be a fisherman," said Chen.

Understanding his inescapable destiny, Chen joined his brother in the fishing boat when he was 13. An offshore trip usually takes seven to 12 days to complete, and the fishermen on the boats often get little sleep.

"There are four rounds of tides in a day, and the fishermen have to ceaselessly pull and spread the nets to catch fish," Chen recalled. "There is only a two-hour interval between each round of the heavy manual labor, and that is very short for a man who needs sound sleep."

Unpredictable conditions at sea and malfunctioning on-board machines are fatal to fishermen. Chen and his brother almost found themselves facing death when the motor of their boat stalled while they were in the middle of the sea. Chen fought hard for hours against the furious waves to drag his brother, who can’t swim, to the shore.

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