[Outlook]One’s personal best

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[Outlook]One’s personal best

The Beijing Olympic Games, which started on Aug. 8, have only one day left in their 15-day run. This Olympics produced many heroes. Jamaican Usain Bolt set a new 100-meter world record by 9.69.

The swimmer Michael Phelps won a record eight gold medals. Russia’s Yelena Isinbayeva broke her own pole vault world record with an amazing 5.05 meters. Park Tae-hwan also proved that Asians don’t have physical limitations when it comes to swimming. The weightlifter Jang Mi-ran showed a great performance. The weightlifter Lee Bae-young sprained his left ankle due to a cramp during his attempt but he didn’t let the barbell go until the last moment. These are the heroes of this year’s Olympic Games.

But if someone asks me to pick the best man and woman during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, I would pick without hesitation the South African marathon swimmer Natalie du Toit and the Dutch marathon swimmer Maarten van der Weijden. Du Toit is an amputee but she raced in the open water swim despite her handicap. Van der Weijden overcame leukemia and won a gold medal. The 10-kilometer marathon swim in which these two swimmers raced was held for the first time this year. Probably not many people expected it to produce the Olympic’s most moving stories. Perhaps we are moved the most when we expect the least.

The 24-year-old Du Toit held the national flag of South Africa, when the country’s team entered the stadium for the opening ceremony. She drew more attention later when she took off her artificial leg on the morning of Aug. 20 for the marathon race in the Shunyl Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park in Beijing. She is missing the lower part of her left leg. She had a motorbike accident seven years ago and her left leg was crushed. She had no choice but to have it amputated. She, however, raced the open water swim with one leg missing and she finished the race in a time of 2 hours, 49.9 seconds, 16th among the 25 finalists.

Although she didn’t win a medal, she broke her personal best record and her swim moved and inspired everyone who watched or heard about it. Russian gold medalist Larisa Ilchenko even said “I would even go as far as awarding her a separate gold medal.”

A men’s marathon 10-kilometer swim, held on the morning of Aug. 21, also produced a miracle. Van der Weijden, who used to suffer from leukemia, won a gold medal in the inaugural race with a record of 1 hour 51 minutes, 51.6 seconds. In 2001, he was diagnosed with leukemia. But he was not frustrated.

He didn’t give up. He went through painful treatments. Before he was diagnosed with the blood cancer he used to shave his head to reduce water resistance. But after the diagnosis and treatment he didn’t need to any more because he lost all his hair. He won a gold medal in the marathon 10-kilometer swim, the race that is difficult for even healthy people to complete.

It is moving and inspiring to see people win despite their unfortunate circumstances. Du Toit and van der Weijden are true heroes who overcame disability and cancer.

The true disability is not losing arms or legs, but losing dreams. The most dreadful cancer cells don’t grow inside one’s body but in one’s mind, causing someone to become frustrated and give up.

Tomorrow is the last day of the Beijing Olympic Games. Our lives, however, keep going on. We should not kneel down before difficulties, hardship and destiny. We should create our own comeback victories. We can win a gold medal in life.


*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Chung Jin-hong

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