Part two of four in our series of XTERRA China athlete profiles.
When Jiachao Wang was five, he thought he heard bees in the walls of his house.
"I loved honey," said Jiachao, "So when I heard the bees, I put my hand into the wall to get some."
Jiachao grew up near Kunming, in the Yunnan Province, Southwest China, which, at the time, had primitive electrical systems. When he put his hand into the transformer, Jiachao 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 Jiachao 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 Jiachao. "My parents forbid it, but I went 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, Jiachao is 28, and if anything, he is even more daring; more undaunted. Two years ago, at the 2017 XTERRA World Championship, he refused to race in the Physically Challenged division and instead raced in the open 25-29 category. During the swim, Jiachao ranked 11th out of 46 competitors in his age group, all of whom had two arms. At the time, he was swimming about 10,000 meters a day, in addition to learning mountain biking and trail running skills.
His performance in his first XTERRA competition is not surprising to anyone who knows Jiachao. In 2001, he was singled out by local coaches because of his swimming talent. By 2004, Jiachao 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 4x100 meter relay at the Paralympic Games in London. Currently, Jiachao is on the Chinese National Paratriathlon team and is training to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. This past July, he was first in his division at the 2019 Magog Paratriathlon World Cup in Quebec.
“I was lucky in Quebec,” said Jiachao, modestly. “There was a railroad crossing which caused flats in many tires as they went across. I was one of the lucky ones.”
To Jiachao’s credit, it’s not just luck. Since he tackled his first XTERRA in 2017, he’s been getting steadily faster, race by race. He has accommodated his training schedule to allow for running and biking training - in addition to the swim - and has reduced his training distance in the pool from 10 kilometers per day to about 4000 meters.
“I have to balance cycling and running, because I am not just a swimmer now, but a triathlete,” said Jiachao.
A typical week includes strength training on Monday, a 4K swim and easy 14K run on Tuesday, a long bike ride or brick on Wednesday combined with strength or transition training, a long ride and running workout on Thursday, a long swim and run on Friday, a mega-brick on Saturday followed by strength training, and an easy bike and swim on Sunday.
In addition to an elite triathlete – Jiachao is also a Level 1 XTERRA Coach at XTERRA training camps as well as to individual athletes.
“I have two athletes who will compete in XTERRA Kunming,” said Jiahcao. “I’ve been helping them with their swimming technique as well as getting them more comfortable in the open water. On the bike, we’ve been working on technique and handling. They are learning a lot and that alone makes them happy. I think they are going to surprise themselves at XTERRA Kunming.”
XTERRA Kunming has a special place in Jiachao’s heart. Not only did he grow up nearby but he completed his degree in sports studies student at the Yannan Normal University in Kumming in 2018.
“The race is in my hometown, which I love,” said Jiachao. “And I love the challenging bike course. My goal is to win, but I have a peaceful feeling about it, because I am still training for Tokyo in 2020.”
The peaceful feeling he describes refers to how Jiachao feels out on the trails, where he can always find the perfect rhythm, no matter what Mother Nature throws at him. Jiachao possesses courage in spades - to him, obstacles are merely learning experiences and difficulties are just another chance to grow and shine.
"XTERRA represents the space between what is known and what remains a mystery," says Jiachao. "You have to go there to find out."
To Jiachao, XTERRA Kunming is another welcome 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."