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The Korean Contingent Show the Way

By Simon Penn

Korean competitors have a proud history in RacingThePlanet events and the Sahara Race 2010 is proving no different. Sixteen Koreans took to the start line, and sixteen Koreans are still out in the desert going strongly.

So what makes Koreans such strong ultra-running competitors? Dongchae Shin is a 51-year-old Presbyterian Church pastor from Seoul, South Korea, who was sitting in 114th position at the start of stage five, and he has a good idea what makes his countrymen and women tick.

"There are many Korean people who are into extreme challenges," he says. "We're eager to challenge ourselves - I believe it makes your life better.

"We just don't want to give up. We believe that achieving things in life gives you more power."

Dongchae says endurance events like RacingThePlanet are not well known at home just yet, but their popularity is definitely on the increase.

"Ten years ago marathons were really popular, but now they are less so," he says. "There's a growing market for new kinds of challenges and adventure sports. Athletes who go abroad are very good role models for our people.

"(Korea) is an excellent training ground with a lot of nature - we have hills and mountains too. It's not super hot though, not like in Sahara."

The bond between Korean competitors is strong, he says, which is another reason for their fortitude. "We often walk together, but even if we dont, we still share our meals, massages and stories from the day," he says.

Dongchae's personal story is far from typical, and he credits his Christian faith and role as a pastor, along with previous occupations and experience with giving him the strength and motivation to tackle challenges such as the Sahara Race.

"My background is that I was in a naval academy 20 years ago and came to Egypt in 1991," he recounts. "I was very fit, and I still am, and the mental capacity I gained during those times I still have.

"In regards to my profession, a pastor of the Prebyterian Church, I'm looking for challenges in life to serve the Lord and show something new to my congregation. Jesus wants me to do something new. My aim is to look for new challenges in the next 10 years.

"I don't have a Bible with me, but I do pray. I also carry a praising book with me - competitors read it with me. 'The Road Not Taken' is one of my favourite ones, and very suitable for this event!" 

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