‘Marathon’ trainer produces winnersMore than 3 million moviegoers have seen the recent film “Marathon,” based on the true story of an autistic marathon runner. In the film, the character of a drunken, vulgar coach was incorporated to make the tale more interesting, although in reality this was far from the truth.
Im Nak-cheon, 38, a physical education teacher at Eunkwang School for the Handicapped in Incheon, is the actual trainer of Bae Hyeong-jin, the inspiration for the movie. Unlike the character in the film, Mr. Im has devoted his life to teaching students with autism or hearing disabilities to become athletes.
His first student was 27-year-old sprinter Chae Gyeong-wan. Mr. Chae won gold medals in the 100 meter (10.86 seconds) and 200 meter (21.26 seconds) races at the 20th World Games for the Deaf in Melbourne, Australia, in January.
In 1996, Mr. Im, then the national track and field coach, met Mr. Chae when he was learning sign language. Mr. Chae lost his hearing after suffering from a severe fever when he was three years old.
In high school, Mr. Chae trained with other athletes but had a hard time hearing the coach’s instructions. But the bigger problem was that he was unable to hear the starting gun and started slightly after his opponents. He often had false starts and sometimes finished the race alone when other athletes made false starts.
Mr. Im and Mr. Chae gradually solved problems by communicating with hand signals. Mr. Im told him that the loss of a fraction of a second at the start could not be made up and that he would have to run faster. Mr. Chae went through weight training to strengthen his abdominal and ankle muscles and slowly he started to improve.
Mr. Bae joined Mr. Chae in 1997. Mr. Im trained the athletes together for three years, without getting paid.
In 2002, Mr. Bae finished a full marathon in Chuncheon in 2 hours, 57 minutes and 7 seconds, while Mr. Chae won two gold medals in the World Games for the Deaf in Rome.
After Mr. Chae won the two medals, he knelt down and bowed to Mr. Im. “I am proud of what they have achieved. They are God’s gifts,” Mr. Im said.
He is now looking to train others like Mr. Bae and Mr. Chae.
by Jeong Young-jae
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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