Even Tony Stark couldn’t have done it.
The Ironman 70.3 Putrajaya race was tough and the condition dreadful, held on perhaps Malaysia’s hottest day to date at 39˚C.
Yet a man named Gary Lui Kim Lun crossed the finish line after 1.8km of swimming, 90km of biking and 21.1km of running.
Not only that, his team called AustSports comprising 31 triathletes managed to win second and third for the Relay Team category. They also triumphed in the Best Team, Male Relay and the women’s category.
This real life Ironman from Hong Kong is a pure veteran at the age of 35.
One of the pioneers of the sport, he now travels yearly just to experience and challenge himself through these races.
“I didn’t quite know what to do with my life when I was in school, but I have always been a sporty kid,” he recalls. A visit by the Hong Kong Triathlon association to his school when he was 14 sparked the interest – or rather destiny – of who Lui is today.
“I didn’t know how to swim at all,” he says with a laugh. But determination is his favourite word.
In one day, Lui managed to master swimming’s basic techniques and did 50m. A year and a half later, the 15-year-old competed in his first ever triathlon race.
After high school, Lui left for Australia to pursue his bachelor’s degree in Sports Administration. “Australia was the best choice. I feel like sports don’t just happen. It has to be studied; there wasn’t enough knowledge on this back then in Hong Kong.” His education continued with a Masters in Sports Medicine and Health Science from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Now he boasts a resume as an experienced triathlon coach who trained the state squad in Canberra, Australia. He is also the founder of AustSports Association and head coach for the club, keen on the organisation of sporting events (not just triathlon) and to promote sports in Hong Kong.
“Sports is not just about daily training. I believe in making training as part of (our) daily lives, not just for races.
“Families should make sports as part of daily lives, so that our chances of finding athletes are higher,” explains Lui, who is a father of two. He was in Kuala Lumpur recently as a guest of an event organised by Retrocraft Eyewear. Lui’s team was supported by Retrocraft at the last Ironman in Gurye, Korea last October.
AustSports offers training for different age groups. Programmes can be custom made for aspiring triathletes over the summer holidays.
For those in the dark about Ironman races, it is separated into two categories – full Ironman and Ironman 70.3. The full Ironman consists of a 3.8km swim, 180km cycle and 42km marathon; Lui had his first experience in Australia last year.
“It took me one whole year to prepare,” he recalls.
Professional dieticians controlled his food intake, with six days’ a week worth of training.
He would wake up at 4.30am, cycle at 5am, go to work and then back to training from 7pm to midnight.
It certainly paid off, as he was the first Asian male to cross the finish line.
He finished his first full Ironman under 12 hours, when his target was 13 hours.
“The sport is dominated by Americans or Australians; they’re physically bigger, taller and faster,” says the 178cm-tall Lui.
So with his Ironman experience in Malaysia being the “hottest”, what was his coldest?
Lui singled out Korea, where the temperature dropped to as low as 12˚C. “When it rained, it was torture,” he says with a laugh.
“I endured by repeating to myself: ‘Don’t give up! You can do it!’”
So what does the man do in his free time?
Apart from managing AustSports, he volunteers to give motivational talks at schools a few days a week.
“I’d really love to go to bed early, but you know how it is, having two kids,” he says as he looks at his son cradled by his wife across the table. “I’m happy that my wife has finally decided to join the 42km marathons; I am more than willing to train her.”
In case you’re wondering, Lui’s two elder brothers have no interest in sports. His father, however, is a swimmer and his mother has taken part in marathons.
The self-confessed Eminem and Eason Chan fan is currently preparing for another full Ironman in New Zealand next year. Also in his plans are Ironman 70.3 which will be held in Korea this October, the annual ITU Ironman in Hong Kong the same month followed by Harbin, China in November.
Asked for advice on being a good triathlete, his answer is simple. “Enjoy the sport in total. That includes every moment, whether you win or lose. Every moment should be cherished as it will never happen the same way again.”