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Racing to trace his roots

Racing to trace his roots

By Simon Penn

For Peter Jong, RacingThePlanet is giving him the chance to discover his cultural roots.

Peter has lived all his life in Australia after being born there when his mother fled from her native East Timor in 1975.

Last year he set himself the challenge of running three marathons in three months, which he achieved.

“I thought it would take me at least a few years to get over that buzz but on the way home from South Africa I thought ‘hang on, this is just the start’,” he says.

“I’d heard about the 4 Deserts and thought ‘perhaps this is the thing I’m looking for’.”

When he heard the fifth event would be in Australia – and that no-one had ever done five in a year - he added that to the wish list.

“Slow and steady, that’s the game plan for all of them … It’s making it to the start line and the finish line of each one,” he says.

Peter was lucky to make it to the start line let alone the finish line on both events this year.

For Atacama the Chilean earthquake almost stopped him making it in time, while in Australia he missed his flight.

“If you don’t get to the start line you don’t have that second or third chance, or however many it takes you out there (on the course),” he says.

“There have been plenty of times on both events where I thought it was all over – sometimes it feels easier to just die than to keep walking, that was how it felt in Atacama.

“At Atacama I tried to race and I did up until day three when I got heat exhaustion and couldn’t eat for three days. But I learnt from it.”

Adding to the impetus to finish five RacingThePlanet events in a year is that he is raising money for charity. “There’s too much on the line to give up on the whole thing,” he says.

Friends of Ermera is a charity run out of Melbourne to pay for people from the East Timorese town of Ermera to be trained as teachers.

 “If I was only doing one desert I probably would have pulled out by now, but the fact that I have to do all five means I can’t pull out of anything,” he says.

The East Timorese connection is important to Peter who is keen to re-discover his cultural identity.

“I’ve never been back there, never had a chance to go back there, but now, a little bit later I was keen to find out where my roots are,” he says.

And he may have his chance very soon. “Because of the desert racing they invited me to go next month and work with the national running squad there, I suppose my involvement would be more motivation to represent Timor at an international level,” he says.

“It’s amazing that if you find the right tool for leverage you can help people in so many amazing ways.”

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