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The Taiwan Effect by Clare Morin

It is the end of the grueling second stage of the Sahara Race 2011, and the desert sky stretches into infinity above the Sandy Horizon campsite.

 

Sitting on soft sand outside a tent, we find a group of eminent Taiwanese competitors, and decide to ask them about their experiences thus far.

 

The Taiwanese are making a big impact on this year’s Sahara Race. They are the country with the second largest number of competitors in the field, including the 17-person Chio-Tian Folks Drums & Arts Troupe, which is drawing a lot of support from fellow racers for their impressive team spirit, and iconic mascot (which, as our event photos page will show you, is being faithfully hoisted over the desert sands).

 

Among the group of friends sitting here is David Szu, who runs sales and marketing for Porsche in Taiwan. Szu is taking part in this, his first 4 Deserts race, because of his good friend, the endurance star Kevin Lin who sits beside him.   

 

A few months ago, Lin persuaded Szu to take on the Sahara. Szu had run in triathlons and done the Hong Kong Trailwalker, but this was his first endurance event. So, in order to get some training in, he headed first to Iran and then to Xi’an in China to join Kevin Lin in his quest to run the Silk Road.

 

Szu says his employers were happy to give him the time off work. “Porsche is adventurous,” he says. “They like the extremes, adventure, exciting sports expeditions. Porsche supported this event by letting me have time off.”

 

Now that he’s here, he admits he feels a little underprepared. “I would have packed my bags differently and worn different shoes amongst other things,” he admits. But for Szu, the race is a chance to connect with friends and support a worthy cause.

 

“Running is already part of my life, I don't need to race distances to prove anything,” he says. “This time I am running with friends and supporting a good cause with this group, and showing how running can improve your life.”

 

The cause refers to the Chio-Tian Troupe, which is undertaking this race to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of China. He points to Huang Chi-Li, also sitting in this group, who is the main sponsor for the troupe.

 

Huang is also good friends with Lin and Szu, and joined them for 200,000 kilometers in Xi’an on Lin’s Silk Road project. He says he thought the Sahara Race sounded like a great event and an opportunity “to demonstrate the Taiwanese spirit to the world” – so he organized getting the troupe here.

 

He also decided to come along, not as part of the troupe, but to compete in the race to support them. “But I underestimated how difficult it was going to be,” he says. “I keep telling these guys, I’m 42 and not 24!”

 

But just how is the Chio-Tian Troupe faring thus far? And how heavy is that mascot?

 

Lee Ching-Yen is the team captain of the Chio-Tian Troupe. He completed the Sahara Race last year with an excellent result, and is now leading a group of less experienced ultramarathoners. Which of course has its own host of challenges.  

 

He offers some inside news on the troupe’s progress – the Prince mascot allegedly weighs between seven and ten kilograms, and each team-member wears it for 10 minutes before passing it on to another member.

 

The troupe are faring well; by the end of Day 2, two of the team had dropped out, but so far the rest are hanging in and showing dedication to their cause. 

 

A sense of national pride really emanates from the group. It’s not about winning, they keep saying, it’s about representing their home and being role models to youngsters back home in Taiwan. “It is rare to see an event that recognizes our flag,” says David Szu. “So we are really proud to be here.”

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