If there were a medal for the best-dressed competitor of The Last Desert 2012, it would surely go to Japan’s Koichi Takeishi. The 49-year old decided to take on the entire race dressed as a penguin. You may have spotted him on the event website, his plumage evident against the white snow—and comically next to actual penguins a tenth of his size.
The experienced ultramarathoner explains that his primary aim was to bring smiles to his fellow racers and respect to the penguin colonies. “The image of Antarctica is always of penguins,” he explains. “So we wanted to be friendly to them.”
He adds that finishing the entire race dressed as a large bird only added to his sense of victory: “If I just wore it for a short time, I might have been taken as a crazy guy,” he points out. “But as I did complete The Last Desert in a penguin suit for the entire time, I am now a really crazy guy, which is very honorable.”
The humor and upbeat spirit that emits from Koichi is telling of the amazing cast of Japanese competitors who came to Antarctica this year. Many put in spectacular performances, with Hidechika Kabasawa taking fourth place (complete with his own amusing penguin hat) and Kumi Murakami exhibiting her astonishing spirit and strength by completing the course at the age of 63.
At the heart of the group is Sandy Kondo. Sandy has been working as a volunteer since the Sahara Race 2008 and is an integral part of the organisation—she has volunteered on seven races thus far—and is the hub connecting the Japanese competitors.
Sandy says there is a thriving community of RacingThePlanet fans back in Japan. “Many competitors share their thoughts and experiences on their own blogs, Facebook and Twitter,” she explains. “Some have their own gatherings and I join them.”
She says that, like Koichi Takeishi, they all have a habit of uplifting the people around them. “Each one of them has many unique experiences and they are very inspiring,” she says. “I really appreciate being in contact with all of them as I receive so much energy from them.”
By Clare Morin