When Jiachao Wang was five, he thought he heard bees in the walls of his house.
“I loved honey,” said Wang, “So when I heard the bees, I put my hand into the wall to get some.”
Wang grew up in a small town in the Yunnan Province, Southwest China, which, at the time, had primitive electrical systems. When he put his hand into the electrical socket, Wang was burned so badly that he lost his left arm.
It’s difficult to imagine how a tragedy like that could impact a small child. But if you ask Wang outright what that was like, his eyes flash and he lifts his chin.
He will tell you that his parents became very protective of him. And he wasn’t going to tolerate any of that.
“When I was six, I snuck out of the house to go to the river,” says Wang. “My parents forbid it, but I went to the river anyway, because I wanted to learn how to swim.”
After he taught himself to swim, he used his friends’ bicycles to learn how to ride.
Today, Wang is 26, and if anything, he is even more daring; more undaunted. Last weekend, at the XTERRA World Championship, he refused to race in the Physically Challenged division and instead raced in the open 25-29 category.
In the swim at the XTERRA World Championship, Wang ranked 11th out of 46 competitors in his age group, all of whom had two arms.
His performance in his first XTERRA competition is not surprising to anyone who knows Wang. In 2001, he was singled out by local coaches because of his swimming talent. By 2004, Wang was competing for China in the Paralympic Games in Athens. In 2012, he was part of the gold-medal winning team in the men’s 4×100 meter relay at the Paralympic Games in London.
Today, Wang swims about 10 kilometers per day and is a sports studies student at the Yannan Normal University in Kumming. In addition, he mountain bikes and runs, because he is also an XTERRA competitor.
“XTERRA represents the space between what is known and what remains a mystery,” says Wang. “You have to go there to find out.”
Next year in April, Wang will be racing in the inaugural XTERRA China race in Suzhou, one of the oldest towns in the Yangtze Basin in Southeastern China.
Today, Suzhou is one of the most prosperous cities in China and home to 13 million people as well as many high-tech companies. Considered “The Venice of China” because of its many canals, and located about 100 km from Shanghai, Suzhou is the perfect site for an XTERRA. This beautiful city has magnificent places to swim, bike, and run.
To Wang though, XTERRA China is just another challenge and another way to connect to the sturdy vein of joy that runs beneath all of his extreme undertakings.
“XTERRA?” he asks and shrugs. “It’s freedom.”
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