Recently, I was interviewed via email by the Pacific Citizen. It is a national Asian American newspaper with a circulation of 30,000 and nearly 300,000 hits on its website monthly. Below is the link to the actual article and below that is the full interview that I sent in.
With respect to donations, I´m at $8,500. I hope to reach $12,000 with your help. In order to donate, please click below.
1. Please tell us how your training has been going so far in Columbia. What is a typical training day like for you? I understand you recently had a tumor in your mouth? How are you and will this affect your ability to race at the end of this month?
If somebody asked me the perfect place to train for an Ironman, I would undoubtedly respond with Medellin, Colombia. Everything about it is conducive to training. The temperature ranges from 60 to 80 degrees everyday, it is at an ideal altitude and rain showers last only for an hour or two. In addition, the city has an Olympic sized pool and closes off certain roads (up to 14 miles) every Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday for cyclists and joggers (called Ciclovia).
There really is no typical training day since each day is different. But my usual routine starts with breakfast around 9am. Breakfast usually consists of an arepa with cheese. Then, if it is not a long workout day, I will workout until about noon or 1, including stretching, yoga, etc. After grabbing a lunch that consists of a soup, salad, rice, beans, chicken, fries and fresh squeezed juice (all for $2.50!) at a local restaurant, I head over to Casa Karah, which is a shelter for underprivileged children. I return home around 5pm to eat my second lunch and study up on my Spanish. I then eat dinner around 7pm and then talk to my roommates and hang out until 10 or 11pm at which point I read a book in Spanish and go to sleep.
Several weeks ago, I felt an acute pain on the right side of my gums. I initially thought that it was my last wisdom tooth growing in and had some x-rays taken in Colombia. My tooth showed up in the scans so I made plans to have it taken out in the States. When my oral surgeon in Maryland saw the x-ray, he told me that I should have a CT scan to make sure that nothing else was going on. It turns out that the scan showed a growth in my right sinus and the doctor suggested that I return the next week for a biopsy.
Meanwhile, my training had deteriorated because I would wake up several times a night because of the pain and my appetite had all but disappeared because it hurt so much to chew. I noticed a significant decrease in my performance during workouts during this period. With the race coming up so soon, I told the doctor that I didn’t have a week to have a biopsy done. He told me that he could do one that day, but I would only get local anesthesia. Thirty minutes and a massive right cheek later, the doctor had his biopsy.
It took me a week to get to the point of being able to workout after the biopsy because he had made a significant cut inside my mouth. When the results came back, luckily, what the doctor had originally thought was a tumor, turned out to be a cyst with tumor markers (a cyst that grows). I was told to return a week later so that they could install a drain to shrink the cyst for several months in order to make the final procedure less invasive.
Yesterday, they put the drain in after a minor surgery so I should be fine. As I had injured my foot earlier in training, I was unable to run until very recently. I basically have a month to train for a marathon. Although I was in pain, I popped a percocet and went for a run because the race date is so soon.
Am I scared that I’ve missed out on so much training? Yes. Have I revamped my expectations on my finishing time? Of course. Have I given up on this race? Definitely not. When I first looked at my 5 month workout schedule, I felt like I had all the control in the world. Just grind out each day and at the end, you’ll be an Ironman! But the problem is that there are so many things in life that I don’t have control over. It’s very frustrating to feel so powerless, but one thing I can determine is how I deal with it. The last thing I’m going to do is to feel sorry for myself and dwell. I have rearranged my training schedule and am working extra hard to get back on track so I have the chance to be successful at the end of this month. If I don’t finish the race, at least I will be able to honestly tell myself that I did everything possible. And that for me, is enough.
2. You talk about how your friend Greg impacted you to live your life to the fullest. Please tell us about some of the changes you made and especially your decision to race in the Ironman. Why the Ironman?
Prior to my deployment to Iraq, let’s just say that I left a lot of potential on the table. I knew that I was capable of a lot of things, but never made the effort to excel at anything. I actually lost my academic scholarship and was kicked out of my university’s honors program because I partied too much. After engaging in combat and experiencing several near death experiences, I figured that I needed to make some changes.
The Marine Corps is founded on our commitment to each other. The worst fate is not death, but rather disappointing another Marine. It is this commitment that makes us so successful in combat. Greg’s death made me contemplate on what he lived and fought for. I concluded that he lived to ensure that Americans would have the opportunity to live their lives to their full potential. With that in mind, I decided that if I were to continue to slack through life, I would be letting his legacy down. And that was something I could never let happen.
When I survived the war and returned to school, I received a 4.0/4.0 gpa and changed my major to something I was interested in, Economics (don’t get me wrong, I still partied like a champ). I also determined my career direction and pursued a position in investment banking.
The Ironman is another example of how I believe I am realizing my potential, at least physically. I knew that a marathon would be challenging, but the thought of it did not intimidate me. I hadn’t ridden a bike since middle school and my swimming was atrocious (little kids could beat me, in the kiddie pool!) so I felt that I would truly be challenged if I were to improve each of those disciplines to the point where I could complete an Ironman Triathlon. In addition, I thought that it would only be fitting if I were to give back to Greg’s memory, which has inspired me to constantly improve upon myself.
3. Please tell us about your friendship with Greg. Is there a particular moment that stands out for you when you remember your friend? What was is about Greg that you admired?
One specific memory I have of Greg is when I was guarding the vehicles. It was about 1pm and the temperature was around 130 or so and he was the only other Marine around. What amazed me was that he was cleaning his 240E machine gun. Just to give you a little background. If you touch anything made of metal in that heat, you would burn your hand. One would think he had better things to do at that time, but he said that he HAD to clean that weapon right then and there. It really showed what kind of Marine he was.
There are a lot of Marines who feel the need to beat their chests and talk really loudly in order to gain respect. You have to understand that the Corps has a very macho culture. A funny thing that I noted was that the toughest Marines were actually the ones who kept their heads down and didn’t feel the need to act or be macho. The way Greg talked and the way he conducted himself did all the talking for him. He was a very respected and fierce in combat, but one would never expect that from an educated person with a slight stutter. That’s what I admire in Greg.
4. Please talk about some of the difficulties your fellow veterans have had in adjusting to life after returning from war zones. Have you personally known some veterans who are having difficulty adjusting to life after their return to the U.S.?
When one thinks of veterans who are struggling, one probably has in mind an older Vietnam War vet. Reality really struck me when I found out about problems that guys were having with whom I had served. For instance, I was chatting with one of my buddies from the war and he mentioned that he really needed to get a job. This was a couple months after we returned and had saved sizeable amounts of money. I asked him what he had done with the money we had earned during our deployment and he replied that he had spent it all on alcohol. Another friend of mine was hospitalized because of post traumatic stress and yet another buddy of mine just messaged me and thanked me for my efforts because he was homeless himself and felt that he was not receiving the support necessary.
It seems like an issue that other people have to deal with. But what alarms me, is that guys that I trusted with my life are now seen as a liability to society. I really believe that this is an issue that should be front and center of America. We sacrificed so much for this country and the least it can do is to take care of us.
5. Why did you decide to raise funds for the Jericho Project? And please tell us how your fundraising efforts have gone so far.
I chose Jericho Project for a number of reasons. I knew that I wanted to honor Greg’s memory and help veterans, but did not know exactly in what manner. Then, I read an article that stated that 1 in every 4 homeless people is a veteran and that really disturbed me. As someone who has experienced the military and combat, I felt that a home would be the LEAST a country can offer its veterans. I then researched organizations that supported homeless veterans. I came upon Jericho Project’s website and in addition to its new Veterans Initiative, its approach to homelessness really impressed me. I think it’s great that soup kitchens provide food and sometimes shelter for the homeless; however, I don’t think it provides a long term solution.
Jericho Project provides housing, counseling and vocational training to build back not only the bodies of homeless people, but more importantly the minds. Its track record speaks for itself. Only 4 or 5% of its “graduates” return to homelessness. Also, by creating housing just for veterans, I believe that the veterans can begin a road of healing amongst others who understand and have experienced the same trauma. I believe that Jericho Project is confronting the problem in the best manner and that is why I chose to support them.
So far, I have raised about $6000 but am hoping to raise $12000. I chose that amount because that is how much it costs to support one veteran for a year.
6. We would also like to know about your time spent in Iraq. How long were you there and what were some of your daily duties while stationed there? How do you feel today about the current Iraq War?
I was a student at the University of Maryland and a Marine Reservist when my unit, Bravo Company, 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion was activated to serve. In February 2003, we deployed to Kuwait for a few weeks before the war kicked off. We stayed in a tent city that was named LSA 7 (living support area). We were told that we were the northernmost unit at the time and I believed them because we could see the lights at night from the oil refineries across the border. In March, we kicked off the war and headed towards Baghdad.
I’m not sure how to explain my duties, but they included engaging in combat, clearing Iraqi facilities, securing enemy prisoners of war, providing security for a Fox News crew that was embedded with us, standing watch (a lot of it) and providing humanitarian aid where possible. There are a million other things that I did, but to sum everything up, I would just say that I was a Marine.
After the invasion, my unit was tasked as the Quick Reaction Force for all of Southern Iraq. So if somebody was ambushed or a certain area was ambushed repeatedly, we would either respond or patrol areas.
Finally, in September (or an eternity, whichever came first), we returned home. I wanted my first meal to be a McDonald’s double cheeseburger (I swear they put crack in there), but I had to settle for Burger King. It’s amazing the things you crave while over there.
In hindsight (which is always 20/20), I feel that we were wrong to go into Iraq. However, I don’t feel like I wasted my time while I was there. On a micro level, I saw the genuine smiles and waves as we were welcomed into every place we entered. I witnessed the signs of gratitude when we gave medical aid or food to those who needed it. I know I made a difference while I was over there. It may have been marginal, but that’s enough for me. On a macro level, well, that’s not my call, though I feel that it could have been handled very differently.
7. Please tell us what your family and friends think about your Ironman training. Are they supportive? How are you coping with being so far away from your family and friends?
My family and friends have been great. I feel like they are more sure that I will finish the race than I am. I don’t really see being far away from my family and friends as a huge deal. I know they are there for me and I guess that’s how I know I’m blessed with great family and friends. I don’t need to be there all the time to know I have their support. Also, one thing I’ve learned while being away is to make new friends. I live with several Colombians and they’re all very supportive about my training as well as my fundraiser.
8. With the race less than a month away now, how are you doing and feeling? Is this your first Ironman?
This is my first Ironman and triathlon for that matter. After all that has happened with my surgeries and injury to my foot, I’m very anxious. I’ve come to accept that I will always be doubting and questioning whether I could do it until I cross that finish line. It’s just a matter of how I deal with that doubt. The good news is that I’m using my doubts to fuel me rather than to get me down.
9. Do you plan to race in additional Ironmans? After the race, what are your plans?
10. Please tell us about your volunteer work with Catapulta. How are you supporting yourself in Colombia?
I left Catapulta because of a lack of deal flow and am now working with Casa Karah on a more flexible schedule. My training schedule is very time consuming and tiring so it’s probably better that I have something with more flexible hours. I am supporting myself off of savings from working at UBS, although it would be great to find a few sponsors.
11. And lastly, please tell us about yourself (age, where you are from etc.)
I’m 27, grew up in Potomac, Maryland and attended the University of Maryland. I graduated with a degree in Economics and minor in Mathematics (hey, I’m Asian). After graduating in 2005, I worked at UBS Investment Bank in their Global Healthcare Group for three years. Since then I have been training for the Ironman and volunteering in Ecuador and most recently in Colombia. I hope to attend business school after the race and don’t plan on running other Ironmans in the future. I think I will take the lessons learned and focus my energy on other endeavors.