It’s Fu’s special day today and I’m kickstarting celebrations with this post!
This is a story about him… A story that is unlike anything you’ve heard before. (unless you’ve heard this story before, obviously…)
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve retold this story, but I never tire of retelling it. I actually feel a surge of pride when telling the story! (like now haha) I also feel like it’s my sacred duty to share it, since I am the only one who knows the full story!
It was back in 2006, when Fu was at the height of his craze with sports. He just finished training with the mountaineering club on an expedition, completed marathons, biathlons, all these on top of being on the physically-demanding dragonboat team – 2 water, 2 land trainings every week, plus self-organized runs and gym sessions every other day. Basically exercising every single day of the week la. Siao!
Yet it wasn’t enough.
He was bored.
He craved a bigger challenge.
That was when he got the mad idea of becoming an Ironman.
The (second) Ironman is an extreme triathlon that consists of a 3.8km swim, 180.2km cycle, 42.2km run.
Those numbers are probably meaningless to you, so let me break them down for you using pictures.
In case there was any ambiguity, all 3 items are done BACK TO BACK, CONTINUOUSLY. Not over 3 separate days ok.
Anyone who finishes the race (within set time limits of course) is given the title of an Ironman, although I think Insaneman is far more apt.
But yes, Fu had his eyes set on this race, so insane as it was, I gave him my support. YOLO (You only live once) and all that, right?
So in late 2006, he signed up for the Feb 2007 race in Langkawi.
Can I just add that it was bloody freakin’ expensive?!! A few hundred USD for entry fees alone, and close to 2k for the bike, bike case and miscellaneous gear and equipment. We haven’t even included our airfares and accommodation! Granted, most of it was paid for by Fu’s dad… (but still! so much money!!)
Before we knew it, D-Day was here…
…and we realized all over again how crazy this whole idea was.
While he did train swimming, cycling and running separately, he never actually did a full practice run before. This triathlon was in fact his first triathlon!
It was all or nothing at all! He was just gonna try to complete it, or die trying.
And die trying he did.
First, the swim.
The swim was quite good as it was early in the morning and the temperature was comfortable. He finished with decent timing, despite being one of the few people to use breaststroke – Most people use freestyle because it’s faster and more efficient than breaststroke.
Oh, the reason the photo is so tiny is because it was taken by official race photographers but we were too cheapskate to shell out money for the (very expensive!) photos, so we simply saved the preview thumbnails haha!
Cycling was pure torture though.
As if battling the blazing hot Langkawi sun in one of the hottest months wasn’t enough, they decided to throw in a route that was rife with slopes so steep that Fu could only laugh in disbelief at the mini Mount Everest before him before dismounting and painstakingly rolling his bike up the slope.
I had a map of the route and was basically waiting at different points along the route, hoping to chance a glance or take perhaps take a quick picture of him. There was no way I could know where he was at any point so I could only wait.
On one of his laps, he saw me, made a quick water stop (to drink, not pee) and told me that he fell off his bike earlier. You can see his bleeding leg in the picture above. His bike frame was also bent slightly out of shape :O
The picture above was taken at about 4pm. The next time I saw him was about 8pm.
I made my way to the finishing line, and waited for him to arrive.
While waiting, other participants ran by, and some of them spotted their family and either held hands with their girlfriend/wife or carried their toddler with their wife by their side and ran hand in hand together across the finishing line.
SO ROMANTIC!!! I also want!!!
I sneakily inched my way to the front of the crowd so that when Fu runs by, it will be easier for me to join him!
Finally, I spotted him entering the grounds at the far end and my heart pounded with anticipation. The long, long day was finally coming to an exciting close!
As he ran closer and closer, I prepared to catch his attention. When he was finally close enough, I smiled widely at him, while reaching out my hand and he…
ZOOMED RIGHT PAST ME.
What the … … …!!!
I felt like I was slapped across the face! So embarrassing!!!
After getting over the initial shock, I quickly snapped back my outstretched hand and hid my face while slinking to the back of the crowd. I stomped over to the finishing line all the while preparing choice phrases in my head. He’s SO gonna get it!
However, as I neared the finishing line, I saw that a few race officials were talking to him before seating him in a wheelchair and wheeling him off.
Wait… what was going on???
I quickly followed in their trail but saw that they disappeared into a huge tent ahead.
I ran towards the entrance of the tent but was stopped by an official, saying that it was off-limits to non-participants.
I had no choice but to wait outside, but it was torturous having to stand there, clueless and helpless.
Participants who have completed the race were milling about, some eating ice-cream (I particularly remember the ice-cream because the weather was crazy humid and I desperately wanted one too), laughing and chatting with one another.
But WHERE WAS FU???
The stupid guard was all that stood between me and him.
By some stroke of luck, the official stepped away for a while and I grabbed the chance.
I furtively glanced left and right before sneaking stealthily into the tent. This must be what a secret agent feels like infiltrating the enemy base!!!
The sight that greeted me was many, many makeshift beds sprawled out over the entire expanse of the tent.
I quickly scanned the area, not unlike a spy trying to read the surroundings and fit in, and found Fu! SCORE!!!
But after the exhilaration faded, it hit me… He was lying on one of the beds with his eyes closed and was hooked up to an IV drip.
My body reacted before my mind could as I flew across the room and flung myself next to him, gingerly reaching out for him as I gently whispered his name.
… Did that sound dramatic enough? Pretty sure I did something similar. At least in my mind’s eye lol.
He was lost to the world as he remained unmoving despite my calls D:
I found out from an official (suddenly it’s so normal to them that I’m in the tent and they didn’t even ask what I was doing there. Then why didn’t they allow me in earlier?!!) that Fu was severely dehydrated and exhausted. But they said wasn’t serious and he should be fine after a bit of rest.
An official soon came over carrying a metal can of sorts that had a long, thin metal sprout. It reminded me of the equipment used to dispense pesticides during mosquito control haha.
He sprayed ice-cold water over Fu’s thighs to cool his body and Fu immediately protested. His eyes remained closed but he shifted his legs out of harm’s way while blindly swatting at the offending threat. I suppose in his mind he was also voicing his displeasure, but to the rest of us, it was nothing more than a jumble of unintelligible sounds.
After resting for a bit more, he finally opened his eyes! At last!!!
I spoke to him, but it was clear something was very wrong.
His eyes were unfocused and he was unresponsive. It seemed like all intelligence and knowledge were sucked out of him and he was left with merely the basic functions to survive. He was like an empty shell that could do nothing more than sit there and breathe!
For the first time that night, I grew seriously worried. I mean, what if this is permanent and he never ever recovers?!
But his mumbling of “toilet” broke through my thoughts lol. Never mind that he doesn’t even know who the heck I am and that I rank below “toilet” on the list of things to remember. I should be so lucky I don’t have to clean up any er, mess. I slowly led him to the toilet and I can only thank my lucky stars that he followed me without putting up a fight.
At the entrance to the toilet, I stopped him in his steps and thought I should remind him on how to go about his business. I made sure to reiterate that he needs to wash his hands after he was done too. God knows how much civilized knowledge he retained in his state… *shudders*
He nodded like a little boy listening to his mama’s instructions and headed in. After a while, I heard him washing his hands and heaved a sigh of relief.
I spoke to the officials and we concluded that we couldn’t possibly stay there all night, so I decided to bring him back to the hotel to rest.
He obediently followed me and got into the taxi, and at that moment I really felt like some child kidnapper because his mental capabilities at that point was nothing more than that of an infant’s. If I told him to eat dirt or dance naked on the streets, he probably would. LOL.
When we got back, I removed his contact lenses, bathed him (I had to partly tear his clothing away from his skin because it was adhering to all the cuts and abrasions suffered throughout the day, ouuuuch!) and tucked him into bed.
For the record, I think it speaks volumes about your relationship and the trust he has in you when someone sits quietly and allows you to plunge your fingers into his eyeball to pinch out a tiny, flimsy piece of plastic.
It was well past midnight by the time I got into bed. After that long and trying day I had, I felt like an Ironwoman myself.
In the middle of the night, I was rudely awakened by someone shaking my shoulders.
I groggily opened my eyes and saw Fu’s concerned face hovering over mine.
“What happened? Is the race over???”
Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to present to you…
The Ironman who doesn’t remember finishing the race.
I’m not kidding. He has no recollection of crossing the finishing line, nor details of what happened after.
When I told him the race is over and that he finished it within the time limit, his first reaction was “Huh?! Don’t bluff.”
Hello mister, WHY would I lie to you? I can’t wait to get you out of my face so that I can get back to sleep!
Even when I showed him the finisher’s medal, he was still suspicious and reluctant in accepting it =_=
It wasn’t till the next day when he saw his name on the finishers’ sheet was he more accepting of the fact.
Basically what he remembers is this:
He remembered everything up till some point during the marathon, but the memory was hazy, as if it was all a dream. Therefore when he woke me up, he thought he was merely dreaming about participating in the race and that the race hasn’t actually started!
He also vaguely recalls isolated events like being doused with icy cold water and having his contact lenses removed by someone.
Apart from that, nothing else. Nothing!
Here is what we concluded…
Partway during the marathon, his body could no longer keep up the with physical demands required, but his mind was far stronger than his body was and thus he kept pushing himself to continue running.
In face of extreme conditions, his body shut down functions it deemed not critical to survival in order to preserve whatever little resources it had left. This included shutting down the brain’s ability in converting short-term memories into long-term memories. This might be the reason why he has no memories after a certain point.
However, he remembered certain incidents after this shut-down because it was traumatic and threatening to his being.
Isn’t the human mind an amazing thing?
Well, to be honest we’re totally winging it here with the deductions because we didn’t actually seek any professional medical opinion on this, but it sounds very logical and believable right?!
(Oh, and I can only hope there was no permanent damage to his brain during this incident that will come back to haunt us later…)
We were trying to deduce the reasons behind his tenacity and concluded that he stuck with it till the very end and refused to give up because he told roughly the entire world that he was taking part in the Ironman race. I suppose his pride would rather see him dead than a failure. That, and that his dad might skin him alive anyway for spending so much money for naught lol.
Jokes aside, there is no denying that this incident demonstrated a few things.
Fu took close to 15.5 hours to finish the race. That means he exercised for 15.5 hours nonstop. Some people have trouble even staying awake for 15 hours straight, much less exercise continuously for 15 hours!
And pushing your body far beyond its limits to the point of short-term memory loss? I’m pretty sure there is no parallel for that.
This is why Fu is, and will likely remain the strongest man I know. Physically, and far more importantly, mentally.
Happy birthday, my Ironman! ;D
Impossible is nothing. – Ironman (the triathon)