Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Running to Death

When I was eight, my biggest concerns were defeating the shadow in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link and avoiding Jennifer Li, who loved to tear into me during free period with her harsh words.

If my parents had woken me up every morning and told me to prepare for a nonstop 40-mile run, I think I would have gathered my stuffed animals and run across the creek to safety.

Others in this best of all possible worlds don't have that luxury. With the 2008 Olympics in a matter of months, China is going to extra lengths (pardon the pun) to bring its athletes into the spotlight...

An 8-year-old girl runs 2,212 miles to Beijing in 55 days...

Zhang Huimin spent the summer running 40 miles a day from her home on the southern island province of Hainan to Beijing in northern China, her father trailing behind her on an electric bicycle.

In China, where one-child families are the government-enforced norm, pushing a child to overachieve is a social imperative.

"Here in this part of the world, you've still got very different ideas about children and their relationship in the family to what you have in America," Evans said. "The idea that children should have rights over and above their parents is simply culturally foreign."

Let me address this story not as a concerned parent or an American, but as a runner: this is a terrible idea. There’s a reason that people under seventeen are barred from participating in long distance races (even with parental consent, in some cases) – this girl, barely old enough to write complicated sentences, is destroying her legs.

"China's sports system has long concentrated on training athletes from a very young age. And by the time these athletes should be winning gold medals, their careers are already over because they were forced to over-exercise at a young age," Chen said. "The injuries will hit her in two or three years."

The controversy surrounding the young runner may not be over yet. Her father is now talking of another, even more risky ultramarathon - from the peaks of Tibet, all the way to Shanghai.


Her father, Zhang Jianmin, believes she can compete in the 2016 games, when she will be 17.

I hope she can still walk.


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