Sports\Team China

The fisherman who got hooked on running

China Daily | Updated: 2017-05-11 06:50

Push-up contest lit competitive spark for ultramarathoner

 The fisherman who got hooked on running

Chen Penbin celebrates completing the 100k ultramarathon in Antarctica in December 2014, becoming the first Chinese person to have run ultramarathons on all seven continents. Xinhua

Born on a small island in southern China's Zhejiang province, Chen Penbin was resigned to fishing for a living and rarely setting foot on the mainland - just like his father and grandfather before him.

Now 39, the man dubbed 'China's Forrest Gump' is an ultramarathon icon and has become a national celebrity for competing on all seven continents in his pursuit of endurance excellence.

"I was like a frog living at the bottom of a well, only able to see the little patch of sky above and never daring to believe that I would be living a different life other than fishing," Chen said of his childhood.

Determined to ease the burden of a family barely able to make ends meet, Chen went into the fishing business with his father and brother after his graduation from primary school.

That venture might have temporarily narrowed his ambition, but it steeled him with a resolve and discipline that eventually paid dividends in his athletic pursuits.

"Since I was very young I knew I needed to stand on my own feet as soon as possible," Chen said.

"My father had to hire another man to help us on the boat. Although I was only 13, I wanted to replace that man and help to cut down expenses for my father. So I would never be lazy. I learned quickly to always give it my all when I was working."

For the next nine years, Chen worked as a fisherman, often facing dangerous situations at sea, until one fateful day in 2000 when a local push-up contest during Spring Festival altered the direction of his life.

"I only trained for about 10 days and I did not know how many push-ups I needed to win, so I just kept pushing myself," Chen recalled.

"When I finished my 438th push-up, a kid pushed me on my shoulder and I fell on the ground. He told me the other contestants were gone for a while. It was at that moment that I realized I had won. Otherwise, I would've done more push-ups."

Chen gave his prize of 600 yuan (about $87) to his father.

More importantly, Chen had tapped into his exceptional stamina, and his competitive instinct had sprung to life.

He began to compete in a wide variety of endurance contests, like triathlons. Odder challenges, like running a marathon wearing leather shoes and racing with a large water-cooler tank on his back, were also on his agenda.

Chen's fame gradually grew nationwide, and after running the 2009 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc event he got the bug for competing abroad.

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