Sports -- bet you can't do just one

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Sports -- bet you can't do just one

Koreans are becoming increasingly fitness conscious, as demonstrated by the nationwide boom in gyms and health clubs. Many enthusiasts are going beyond the treadmill-walking norm and experimenting with snowboarding, mountain biking and swing dancing, just to name a few.

This has given rise to a new group of people who are devoting practically all of their free time to athletic activities, enjoying numerous sports year round. Here are five young athletes who are expanding their horizons, as well as enriching their bodies and minds, by getting involved in a variety of physically challenging pastimes.

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Baek Hyo-jung

25, graduate student in genetics, Seoul National University

Mountain biking + swimming + mountain climbing = The serious sports enthusiast

Baek Hyo-jung is a sports fanatic who enjoys mountain biking, mountain climbing and swimming. With the exception of swimming, which she took up because of poor health in elementary school, she has chosen her sports out of sheer passion for each activity. As a forestry major in college, mountain climbing was not only a hobby for her -- it was part of her curriculum.

Ms. Baek chose her sports because they are closely related to nature and can be enjoyed year-round. One thing that differentiates her from other women athletes is that while most women pursue sports for fitness and weight-loss, Ms. Baek is more interested in self-fulfillment. A healthy body is simply a bonus.

She is not slim, but takes pride in her firm figure and low body-fat percentage.

Mountain biking is her favorite activity. She got into the sport when she took a month-long European biking tour. When she began, it was difficult to keep up with the men because of her limited strength.

Things have certainly changed: Ms. Baek is now part of the Suwon A-10 team and she recently won a gold medal during a winter competition.

Mountain biking is commonly thought to be effective only for the lower-body muscles, but Ms. Baek insists that it is good for the entire body since upper-body muscles are used going up and down hills. For over a year now, she has been mountain biking three times a week, for a minimum of an hour, and jogging five kilometers daily, as well.

Mountain biking is viewed as an unusual hobby for Korean women, and many of Ms. Baek's friends don't understand why she devotes so much time and effort to the sport. But Ms. Baek believes that, for her endurance, self-fulfillment and health, she has found a friend for life in mountain biking.

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Son Young-jin

29, computer programmer

Swing dance + tango + inline skating = The socialite

Son Young-jin's life was changed by a college swing dance class. He loved the unfamiliar music, and it was great to break free from the desk-bound classroom environment. After class was over, Mr. Son joined an online club called "Sweetie Swing" and sashayed into the world of swing dancing.

Many people are attracted to swing dance for its freedom of expression after the basic steps are mastered. Swing often leads to other dance styles, such as the tango and salsa. Mr. Son is currently under the spell of the Argentinean tango, for its elegant upright posture and the rapid steps.

Swing dancing, with its many jumps and steps, is a physically demanding sport ?effective for people wanting to lose some weight. Mr. Son has lost 15 pounds since he started to swing. On the other hand, the tango, with its poised masculine style, give Mr. Son a sense of relaxation after a strenuous workout.

Mr. Son's evenings are devoted to dance: swing on Tuesdays and Fridays, tango on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Three months ago, he started inline skating, to balance his indoor and outdoor activities. On Saturdays and Sundays, Mr. Son skates the roads in and around Olympic Park. With swing, tango and inline skating, he gets a serious workout.

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Choi Han-jung

38, visual director

Military survival games + motorbiking + off-road touring = Cool under pressure

As a visual director, Choi Han-jung says he sees and reinterprets everything in the visible world through his designer's eyes. This may be one reason why the sports he enjoys all have an element of visual satisfaction. An eight-year survival games veteran, Mr. Choi is a central member of Korea's top survival team, A-top.

It has been six years since he began another sport that is closely related to military survival games -- off-road touring. His love for the sport began in 1997, when he joined a four-wheel drive club called Four Wings and refurbished his beloved Korando.

Driving through swamps and rocky valleys has helped him develop a cool decisiveness and considerable physical and mental stamina.

In 1999, he purchased a custom-made motorbike, a Honda Steed 600. He is currently a member of an outdoors club called Balkandong.

Since he was a youth, Mr. Choi has been interested in different types of activities. His determination to win every game he has taken part in, from baduk (go) to computer games, has led to the fervor he now holds for his favorite sports.

He is becoming increasingly interested in re-enactment games and is also building his military paraphernalia collection. While most military gamers start with a yearning for guns and gunfights, Mr. Choi says that he concentrates on teamwork, speed, accuracy and fair play to take the game to the next level. These beliefs have had an impact on Mr. Choi's personal life, and he says he has become a stronger, more organized person as a result.

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Han Sung-pil

Six years of trekking in Southeast Asia, four years of snowboarding experience, one year of skiing, three years of wakeboarding, six months of canoeing, five months of mountain biking, four months of windsurfing, three months of skateboarding and three months of water skiing.

This is Han Sung-pil's sports resume. Take one look at his small but firm frame and you'll see what sports have done for him.

Mr. Han is a travel fanatic who has been to 21 countries. He picks up new sports wherever he goes. Since he was a photography major in college and often works in the field, he has developed a "documentary point of view" which has encouraged his interest in a wide variety of activities. He says that enjoying sports has helped him understand the cultures and societies of the places he has visited.

Mr. Han takes his camera wherever he goes. He recently mountain biked through northern Thailand to visit remote hill tribe villages.

Although he enjoys participating in a variety of activities, he notes a disadvantage: not being able to develop an expertise in one particular sport.

Mr. Han is currently focused on trekking and snowboarding. Trekking requires a lot of time and money, as well as a degree of experience and know-how.

Mr. Han says he usually budgets 600,000-800,000 won ($500-675) for a trip. For snowboarding, he buys a season ticket for 300,000-400,000 won.

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Lee Joon-suh

27, pop music marketer,

Warner Music Korea Snowboarding + tennis = Sports for life

Lee Joon-suh has been playing tennis for five years and has been snowboarding for three. Bold and adventurous, he says he tries every sport he encounters. He says that getting to know unfamiliar sports is often more satisfying than getting to know unfamiliar people.

As much as he loves sports, he doesn't let his activities interfere with his daily life. He makes it a rule to snowboard just twice every three weeks during the winter and to play tennis once a week during the rest of the year.

"When you're enjoying two or more sports at a time, it's important to consider the long run," Mr. Lee says. "If you start a sport too quickly and without enough preparation, it becomes difficult to maintain a steady regimen. It's important to go slow, and to visualize no more than a 1 percent increase in your physical and mental strength every time you do the sport."

When snowboarding, Mr. Lee says he feels an inexplicable joy discovering new limits and sets new goals each time he goes up the slopes.

Mr. Lee says it's more satisfying to develop deep relationships with existing friends through sports than trying to cultivate new friendships. He refrains from social drinking and instead focuses on playing tennis with close friends.

And he doesn't waste time with substandard gear. "You should buy good equipment at the outset, rather than cheap equipment as a beginner with plans to upgrade as your skills improve," he advises. "Otherwise, you may never attain the skill level you want if you don't have good equipment from the very beginning."


by Lee Sun-jae

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