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[Tommy Chen] Racing Against Impossibility

Tommy Chen opened the speech by saying “If you follow my daily regimen for three years, I guarantee you will be able to compete in the 700km Yukon Arctic Ultra race in Canada.” The audience’s laughter indicates “Not likely!” The crowd’s immediate inner thoughts are the very ones that Tommy overcomes each and every day.

Tommy’s road to the race in an arctic marathon was long and full of challenges.

In 2008, his dream began at Gamania, where he teamed up with CEO Albert Liu and Kevin Lin to win third place in the 650km arctic ultramarathon. However, he was stopped right before another match in 2011 with a diagnosis of throat cancer. The doctor asked: do you want to live or compete? The next day, Tommy underwent surgery. One month later, he left for the match overseas under the doctor’s permission. Things took an unexpected turn on the race course and his wound tore open. He looked at the blood, and at the mountain in front him, then he thought to himself “Should I give up?” He answered with each step forward, and finished the match. Even if his place was about 100th to the last, he would not give up any match ever.  

The 2013 Yukon Arctic Ultra taught Tommy about “facing his fears”. He dragged a 40kg sled in the arctic with all of his supplements. “There was no place to stay, no partners by my side, and of course no one but myself in an emergency”, reminisced Tommy. Unfortunately by the 10th day, Tommy accidentally stepped through ice. He screamed uncontrollably in despair until he thought of his parents; he then started to calm down and think of a solution. Forced to set up camp on the glacier 80km from the finish line, he cried for being kept from finishing the race. He opened up the camp to look at the impossible weather. “I couldn’t see anything, not even my own hands.”, he calmly recalled the incredible scenario. However, his prayers were answered, and the storm came to a miraculous stop. Tommy saw the arctic light about his head, and then, he completed the race. He became the first Asian racer to finish the race in 11 years, and the youngest participant the reach the finish line at 27 years old.

After the physical pain, Tommy wanted to overcome his mental blocks.

He had always ranked high in the races he competed in, but he was never a champion. In the beginning, he complained. He complained about funding troubles, about no support, about everything he could. Gradually, he realized that the only thing left to do is the stop complaining and start making changes. So he went to Australia to receive training and become better.

Hard work pays off immediately. Tommy Chen became the champion in the 2015 273km Grand Canyon Ultramarathon in USA. He joked about how journalists skipped him in pre-race interviews to speak with another Guinness Record holding competitor. It was until after he overcame the competitor and reached the finish line by 20 minutes earlier that the world started to see him. After loosing 7 toe nails, Tommy brought glory back to Asia.

Which of all the races mattered most to Tommy? At the second stop in the Gobi Desert in the 2016 4 Deserts Race Series, Tommy’s parents waited for him at the finish line for the first time in his race career. He have never wanted to win as much as that race, so that he could make his parents proud. Unfortunately, Tommy had a heat stroke in the race, and rejoined after receiving help from a Swiss racer. Right before he was to pass a Romanian contestant, he went back to the Swiss contestant (despite many foul words from the Swiss contestant who tried to push Tommy to the finish line). He didn’t want to abandon the Swiss contestant. Tommy thought only winning together with the person who saved him would be a true win.

Tommy Chen said “It’s not all rainbows and sunshine. 99% of the time it’s painful, but the last 1% of excitement and achievement is enough to balance the pain.” He indicated that after all these races, “impossible” become merely an impression, not a fact. Beginning preparation means you are one step closer to “overcoming the impossible”. It’s a simple idea, that could be used in the races or in life. Tommy uses his personal experience to encourage everyone to find their own value, and demonstrated irreplaceable potential.

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