FEATURE: Taiwan's ex-ultramarathon star runs on 'invisible track'

Imagine what would happen to an exceptional runner after one of her legs and a foot were amputated; few would envision her standing up again, not to mention running on a "track." But that is the real story of Taiwanese record-holding ultramarathon runner Chiu Shu-jung, who suffered amputations to her right leg and left foot after contracting a serious bacterial infection from broken blisters on the soles of her feet in late August 2008. Her infection came while she was competing in the 1,150-kilometer La Transe Gaule ultramarathon, in which she had to run from Roscoff, a small fishing village in northwestern France, to Gruissan-Plage in the south, in 18 days. Despite suffering broken blisters on the 16th day, Chiu insisted on completing the race. After the run, she was rushed to a hospital in Montpellier, southern France, where the amputations were carried out. Her condition was so critical the doctors even declared her incurable. But miraculously, the 54-year-old survived. After a month-long hospitalization in France, she returned to Taiwan to continue treatment. Over the past three years, Chiu, a state-run steel company employee, has maintained an optimistic attitude, refusing to live a sad and hopeless life as many people would think someone in her situation would. "Of course, I have regretted my decision to continue the race," Chiu told CNA in a recent interview. "But what is done is done, so I decided to accept it." Chiu's outstanding performance as a runner and her strength in overcoming difficulties captured the attention of director Jang Da-jung, who decided to make a documentary about her, which will be premiered in Kaohsiung on Nov. 6 as part of a film festival there. "I don't believe an energetic person who can finish an 18-day run would be defeated by amputations," Jang told CNA. Since early 2009, the director has followed Chiu and recorded her daily life to make the Chinese-language documentary. The film crew also flew to France with Chiu in August 2010, when the ex-ultra runner returned to the finish line of the French ultramarathon on the last day of the annual event and met her fellow athletes. "We all felt very touched at that moment," Chiu recalled, teary eyed. Chiu also visited the hospital where she was amputated. The doctors were surprised to see her. "The doctors said they would never forget Chiu, as she is a great reminder that they cannot give up on patients no matter what," Jang said. Although the accident took away part of her body, it never diminished Chiu's passion for sports. Following months of healing and subsequent physical therapy, Chiu can now pedal a three-wheel bicycle and has completed three 42-km marathon rides, besides walking well on her prosthetic limbs. Through the documentary, Chiu hopes to encourage more physically disabled people to walk out of the shadows. Echoing Chiu's remarks about herself, Jang said: "You cannot find a pessimistic side from Chiu." As its English title "Once A Runner" suggests, the 60-minute documentary features a story of a former runner about Chiu. But its Mandarin title, which refers to "an invisible track," may fit her more. "Now I am running on an 'invisible' track for a life ultramarathon of my own," she said. "I have to deal with unknown challenges in the future." By Elaine Hou, CNA Staff Reporter