Empower North Koreans

Empower North Koreans

From Andrew Hong

I am raising funds to support ENoK, a nonprofit organization that supports North Korean refugees with housing, food, and educational services, while attempting my first-ever Ironman Triathlon!

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Update #6

29 days ago

D+31 Last Call to Action

Today marks exactly one month after my first Ironman experience. I have detailed my experience in my last update. I cannot thank everyone seeing this message enough for your contribution. The “Empower North Koreans” campaign did not quite reach the 14K goal I had set out in the beginning, but I am more than overwhelmed by and grateful to over 70 people that helped the campaign reach over 10K in just a short couple of months. Plus, there were a number of people who donated via ENoK’s regular donation route instead of the campaign page.

Also, I am thrilled to let you know that with your help, ENoK is closer than ever to being able to purchase its own facility to house the North Korean refugees in the Empower House program! This will allow ENoK to become a better steward of the resources that all of its supporters have entrusted by turning their financial gifts into an investment instead of simply using them to pay off the rent fees, which have made up close to half of ENoK’s annual budget each of the past four years Empower House was open. This will allow ENoK to focus more of its resources and energy on improving its programming and services to our refugee friends besides housing.

With this last note, I hope you continue to keep following ENoK's work either through our website (www.enok.org) or FB page (www.facebook.com/ENoKGroup)!

With much love,

Andrew

More Info

Dear family and friends,

Seven years ago, I completed the Chicago Triathlon, through which I did the first-ever fundraiser to support North Korean refugees living in the United States.  I raised around $2,000, which was donated to a North Korean refugee living in the East Coast. He used the money to purchase a car, which allowed him to start work.  

Since that time, ENoK (Empower North Koreans) has filed its Articles of Incorporation and received the 501(C)3 nonprofit status from the IRS.  It has raised about $300K throughout the past seven years to provide shelter, food, various educational services, and other needs to dozens of North Korean refugees that have come to knock on its door.  Through this experience, I've personally met friends whom I've come to consider my second family.  I've even had the pleasure and honor of acting as the MC of a wedding of a North Korean refugee couple who met and began dating during their stay at ENoK’s Empower House.  I got involved in this work following a spiritual experience, and while this calling continues to be my primary motivation, I've been incredibly blessed with personal growth and the fellowship I've had with North Korean refugees ever since I embarked on this journey.

For some of those receiving this message, the story of North Korean refugees may be unfamiliar.  They escape from North Korea in search of food, better life, and freedom.  First, they must cross the narrow river that separates North Korea and China.  Then, they must somehow make their way down to Southeast Asia on some kind of transport.   Finally, away from danger, they're able to walk into the UN refugee camp located in Thailand.  

Next month, exactly on Sunday, October 14th, 2018, I'm attempting my first-ever Ironman Triathlon in Louisville, Kentucky.  Swimming across the Ohio River, biking through the hills of Kentucky, and running to the finish line are meant to honor the perilous journeys that all of my North Korean refugee brothers and sisters have had to endure.

At the same time, I'd like to use this opportunity to raise funds again (just like I did seven years ago) to support North Korean refugees.  Particularly, ENoK plans to purchase its own facility for Empower House so that it no longer has to pay rent and incur expenses that'll never be reaped back in the future.  Since it has been seven years since my Olympic-distance triathlon, I'd like to set seven times the amount raised seven years ago--i.e. $14,000--as the fundraising target.  All donations will be deductible for income tax purposes.

Also, as of now, I'm expected to drive down to Louisville, spend a couple of nights alone, and race the whole Sunday all by myself.  So I'd like to invite any of those free that weekend to come enjoy the festivities around the event as well as what the city of Louisville has to offer along with me!  I'll match the travel and lodging expenses anyone incurs and donate that amount to ENoK personally!

With much love and thanks,

Andrew

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Andrew Hong posted a new update:
29 days ago

Update #8

D+31 Last Call to Action

Today marks exactly one month after my first Ironman experience. I have detailed my experience in my last update. I cannot thank everyone seeing this message enough for your contribution. The “Empower North Koreans” campaign did not quite reach the 14K goal I had set out in the beginning, but I am more than overwhelmed by and grateful to over 70 people that helped the campaign reach over 10K in just a short couple of months. Plus, there were a number of people who donated via ENoK’s regular donation route instead of the campaign page.

Also, I am thrilled to let you know that with your help, ENoK is closer than ever to being able to purchase its own facility to house the North Korean refugees in the Empower House program! This will allow ENoK to become a better steward of the resources that all of its supporters have entrusted by turning their financial gifts into an investment instead of simply using them to pay off the rent fees, which have made up close to half of ENoK’s annual budget each of the past four years Empower House was open. This will allow ENoK to focus more of its resources and energy on improving its programming and services to our refugee friends besides housing.

With this last note, I hope you continue to keep following ENoK's work either through our website (www.enok.org) or FB page (www.facebook.com/ENoKGroup)!

With much love,

Andrew

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Andrew Hong posted a new update:
about 1 month ago

Update #7

D+10

I earned this shirt--the most expensive shirt I have in my wardrobe.

After graduating from a master’s program in May, I traveled and spent much time with my family in the summer. I came back to Chicago for good in early August and resumed my life prior to graduate school, for which I had left Chicago exactly two years ago.

I registered for Ironman Louisville on August 5th, Sunday, the evening before my first day back at my consulting firm in downtown Chicago. I began my training right away as I returned to the workforce on Monday, the 6th, by reducing my gym session hours and increasing mileage on the run and getting back to the swimming pool. Having done the Olympic-distance Chicago triathlon on a non-racing bike seven years ago, I knew that for the Ironman, I needed the real stuff, so the following weekend, I made a trip to a professional bike shop where I bought my Cervelo with clip-on cycling shoes. I also bought long-distance running shoes since I did not own a pair of running shoes. The bike was ready the next day, and on my way back home from picking it up, still not used to the clip-on shoes attached to the pedals, I forgot to unbuckle my feet from the pedals before I tried to stop. I fell hard to the left, and I had pretty bad bleeding on my left index finger. There must have been some sharp object that my hands landed on, for blood didn’t stop gushing out in gulps out of my fingertip until the next day. Thinking back to that fall, I can’t stop laughing and feeling really dumb.

Another lesson from my Olympic-distance triathlon seven years ago was how important nutrition was. So I bought Gatorade powder, energy gels, and energy bars--the standard stuff for endurance sports--in bulk. Also, having always been the slowest freestyle (front-crawl) swimmer in any group of people (my breaststroke might even have been faster), I took three half-hour private swimming lessons to correct my technique throughout the ten-week training.

Having played lacrosse as a kid and soccer extensively throughout my life, I knew I wouldn’t have much trouble with the marathon portion of the Ironman as long as I took care of the brick training (bike and then, immediately run). Also, I found out this time that the knee muscle pain I felt in my shorter distance triathlon seven years ago was due to the fact that I had not used the right muscles to pedal, largely because I had ridden a non-race bike. With the clip-on shoes and a proper bike that is also fitted to my body mechanics, I used the entire thigh, as opposed to just around my knee, which made running right after biking not as hard as it had felt seven years ago even after many more miles of pedaling.

So my concerns involved the first two legs of the race. First of all, unlike shorter-distance triathlons, the Ironman had not only the overall time cut-off, which I was not terribly worried about because I knew I could catch up on running, but also cut-offs for the swim and intermediate cut-offs for the bike portion. Again, meeting the swim-plus-bike cut-offs was less concerning because my biking speed was not horrendous (still not great. I need to develop my leg muscles on par with my upper body in order to improve my time.) However, finishing the 2.4 miles within 2 hour and 20 minutes depended on a number of factors. While in the pool, I was swimming at a speed that would carry me 2.4 miles well within 2 hours, swimming in the open water was a different animal. Most notably, seven years ago, I remember swimming in a zigzag the whole course which lengthened the distance I had to swim eating up several minutes off the clock. While back then, I could afford to do that because there was no time limit, this time, being a slow swimmer, I couldn’t afford that kind of mistake. I had to practice sighting to make sure I would not swim off-course but straight.

The second issue I discovered in training was that my toes twisted during long bike rides, forcing me to stop to stretch. My toes were especially vulnerable to these cramps in the cold because they became numb as I only used my leg muscles, unable to move my toes so much while sitting on the bike saddle. Fortunately, this must not have been a problem unique to me because the Ironman website featured a cramp-treating drink. So I bought a trial pack of three bottles and tried them during two of my longest bike workouts. While the first shot did not prevent my toes from twisting, the second shot seemed to have an effect as I could sense my toes about to twist a couple of times, but they did not twist again till the end of my workout.

Some triathletes say that Ironman consists of four legs--swim, bike, run, and nutrition. It certainly makes sense for a race that will take anywhere between 8 and 17 hours to complete. Indeed, I considered implementing nutrition plans during my training as part of the whole practice. Gatorade, GU, and Powerbar seemed to work for me, and my final plan was to eat or drink every twenty minutes on the bike, starting mostly from solids and then switching gradually towards liquids for carbohydrates, electrolytes, salts, and hydration. During the run, I seemed fine without eating or drinking anything for almost 10 miles, so I planned on drinking Red Bull for a kick during the second half of the marathon. (more on this stupid miscalculation to follow below)

Starting around Week 6 of my training, I began to check the weather in Louisville daily. The chillier fall temperature in Chicago made biking not as fun as it had been during the earlier phases of training. So I was badly hoping the weather would be nice not just for the bike but also for the swim. However, when the final race week finally arrived, there was no mistaking that it was going to be wet and chilly on the race day in Louisville.

Thursday, D-3

I picked up the rental car and packed all my thought-out and tried-out warm racing gear. One additional piece that I added that turned out to be the biggest lifesaver during the race was a pair of soccer knee socks the feet portion of which I cut off to turn them into a pair of arm warmers. Without these, I may not have been able to finish due to hypothermia. I also packed an Apple watch a North Korean refugee sister of mine let me use because my watch could not keep track of distance traveled.

Friday, D-2

I left Chicago around 7:30 am. I was shooting for getting to Louisville before 2:00 pm, when one of the mandatory athlete briefings was scheduled to take place. About halfway there, I was pulled over. I was pulled over because I was going too slowly on the left lane although I was going above the speed limit. I did not want to switch lanes too many times, so I was very slowly passing the trucks on the right lane. But the SUV behind me that switched lanes a couple of times in an apparent attempt to pass me turned out to be a cop, and when he was frustrated with my slow driving, he pulled me over. Luckily, he was a real nice guy. For my safety, he invited me to sit next to him while he checked my record, and when I told him I was going to Louisville to participate in an Ironman race, he wished me luck and just told me to drive in the left lane only while passing (quite the same rule that is applied in the bike portion of the Ironman).

When I was almost at the bridge that separates Indiana and Louisville, Kentucky, the traffic came to a dead stop. There must have been a big accident, so I was delayed an hour. While I could not make the Friday athlete briefing as a result, I was grateful that I arrived there safely, especially as I could have been embroiled in the accident had I departed just a few minutes earlier.

Saturday, D-1

I had gone to bed early to wake up early to get my body adjusted to the early rise the race day as well as to participate in the test swim. When I was changing into my swim gear, it was cold! The water was warmer. The test swim hinted that sighting would be difficult with the bad weather, but the current was going to really help me make the time cut-off!

Throughout my time in Louisville during the race weekend, I could not stop staring at other people’s bikes and gadgets. Out of thousands of participants, I could count how many did not have an aerobar (it allows cyclists to rest their arms and adopt a more aerodynamic posture) besides myself. Everyone had the fancy aerobars, and many of them had fancy wheels or even disks, whatever they are good for. Also, they had fancy water bottle cages outside the basic cages mounted below the saddle for extra hydration, and most of them had a water bottle mounted in the front with a straw that allowed them to sip comfortably without having to reach for the bottles compromising their form. Many of these, I had already known about but didn’t want to spend extra money on; others, I had not seen and thought they were really cool and useful. (Bike computers for tracking time and distance traveled come to my mind most at this moment as the reason will be quite clear below.)

Race Day

Thank the LORD that I finished safely.
So many thanks to the six friends that came to support me in the rain after driving hours and hours the day before.

Four notable things happened. First, the swim got cut short. The weather was horrendous. It rained all day. Maybe it changed to drizzle for a couple of hours. The current was too strong that it was unsafe, perhaps impossible, to swim upstream, so we only swam downstream. When I heard this news, I was no longer worried about being able to finish the race because of the swim cut-off time. But I was disappointed because it was not going to be a day that I complete the full 140.6 miles Ironman course.

Being a very slow swimmer, I seeded myself towards the very back. I was the second to last person getting in the water and thus, beginning the race. Anyways, I ate up twelve seconds because as soon as I hit “start” on the Apple watch, the screen disappeared, so I had to let a couple of other swimmers go before me. When I finally entered, the water was warm, and I felt great. Sighting was next to impossible, but I did my best not to do the zig-zag again like last time. I got out of the water in about 18 minutes. I swam about the same distance (actually a little shorter this time because of the weather adjustment) I swam in the Chicago triathlon. My time seven years ago was over 50 minutes. So I took care of it well—yes, with great help of the strong current!

Up until I got in line to start the swim that morning, I had debated whether I was going to wear a windbreaker for the bike leg. During the transition, I did not feel as cold, so I only put on my trisuit (plus leggings underneath for warmth), a cycling short-sleeve shirt and the soccer-sock arm warmers I had made a few nights before. I grabbed goggles and gloves just in case. If I didn’t need them, they were small enough that I could just shove them in my cycling shirt back pockets.

The bike ride was miserable. The first half was relatively fun. I smiled, laughed, and sang. But during the second half, all I could think about was the warm bath I was going to take in the hotel later on. I also wondered every time I biked past a police officer whether they wondered why these crazy people had to do this race putting them on duty in this Sunday afternoon. The second notable thing that happened was the Apple watch died during the first hour of the bike--and thus, my interest in those bike computers, which I learned later on are much less expensive than Apple watch and the less-fancy watch I had! Then, not only could I not track distance traveled but also I did not know how long I had biked (this also forced me to guess on when to take my nutrition) nor what time it was to make sure I made the bike cutoff. I should have brought my own less-fancy watch just in case. The Apple watch was too fancy that its battery did not last very long. Not having tested it on a long ride during my training, it was a consequence I had to face for changing up my routine in the last minute.

Again, the bike leg was miserable. The hills were too numerous to count. Some guy shouted, “Are you XXXXing kidding me?” at the appearance of yet another hill, in response to which I let out a hearty laugh, and some people dismounted and walked up instead of pedaling up the hill. Chicago flatland had certainly not prepared me enough for those hills. But the positive side was that I seemed to have comparative advantage in climbing hills as I passed by people who on average biked faster than I. (An alternative explanation is that they were saving up their muscle energy.)

During the bike ride, I did not stop once, except when I fell off the bike sometime during the first hour when I tried to take off my gloves and, not paying full attention, went off the course with a bump. But that should have eaten up only half a minute or so, at most. What I learned later however was that the athlete tracker app went MIA for about an hour. (I apparently did not move at all for an hour.) This turned out to have worried some people who were cheering me on by tracking me on the course.

I think the 90 mile sign was the slowest to appear in my mind (yes, there were 10 mile markers on the bike course and a marker every mile on the run course, so I didn’t really need the Apple watch that ended up dying during the early phase of the bike). At any rate, when I got off the bike finally, I felt my leg muscles used in walking or running very fresh though my legs had felt really sore on the bike. So I was really happy walking the bike back to the transition. In the transition tent, I was happy to take off my disgusting soggy biking gear and put on some dry running clothes. I finished dressing, feeling anxious to begin my strongest portion of the race. When I stepped outside the tent, however, I started shivering--the third notable. I immediately thought to myself, “I can’t run four hours like this.” So I went back inside and looked for my bag to put back on my arm warmers, but my bag had already been taken by the volunteers. So I asked for a trash bag that many other people were using to retain heat. I punched three holes, slipped myself into the bag, and put my running shirt over the trash bag. My top looked normal, but one of the volunteers said, “Nice skirt!” I warmed myself for some seconds and ventured out again. I ran fast so that my body would warm up. By the time I got out of the transition area, my body was warm enough, and I felt great. I felt like I could run at this relatively fast speed forever. I was happy, thinking finally it was my time to shine. Indeed, I shined for quite some time. I was not passed by anyone during the first quarter of the marathon while I must have passed hundreds of people. Sticking to my race nutrition plan, I was going to eat only minimally. I did drink one cup of hot chicken broth that the aid stations were giving out because I wanted to avoid hypothermia. But while others stopped to drink and eat, I just skipped past all the aid stations for the first quarter of the run.
Then, the “wall”--the fourth thing happened--hit. All of sudden, I couldn’t feel blood going to my fingertips. My body failed. I learned after this experience that our bodies are much like cars. I never experienced my heart racing, which would be equivalent to a car’s engine getting overheated with greater speed, during the Ironman (after all, it’s an endurance sport), but I did experience the equivalent of a car coming to a stop because it ran out of gas. I wanted to keep running, even at a very slow speed, but in the end, I had to walk. Until I was able to literally invigorate myself by eating everything that the next aid station had to offer, I must have walked about a mile, not sure. Anyways, as the fuel I got from the next aid station began to digest, my energy level picked up drastically, and I was able to run again. As I fueled myself more regularly in more moderate amounts throughout the remainder of the race, I was able to run faster and faster and thus, finish at a strong pace.

During the last half of the run, I thought about a lot of things. “Ah, the mistakes I made with the watch and nutrition!” Also, “I should take care not to make the same mistake I made today with regards to fueling my body in my life. To go long and to finish the long journey that life requires, I need nourishment. I can’t just go fast without properly nourishing my soul. (Well, to me, the food for my soul is the Word of God.)” “My North Korean refugee brothers and sisters must have experienced this failure of their bodies multiple times during their arduous journeys out of the danger. They are the real Ironwo/men! How lucky and blessed I am that I only experienced this physical failure in the presence of all the medical help needed, and more importantly, I chose to partake in this sporting event whereas my brothers and sisters did not choose to be born where they felt forced to flee from.” "Thank you, Father, for giving me enough resources to participate in this event. Thank you, LORD, for the health of my body, my ability to move freely.” “Thank you, Father, for all the friends and family whom you have blessed me with and who are watching and cheering for me either here or far from here.” “Thank you, Father, for this opportunity to compete and the joy I feel.”

It was an incredible experience. I had so much fun. As soon as I heard the swim was going to be cut short, I knew this was not going to be my last. After the race, however, I looked up all the Ironman races held in the U.S. (there are eleven of them), and now I want to finish all of them during my lifetime. The Kona race in Hawaii, where the original Ironman exactly 40 years ago took place in 1978 and where the annual World Championships are held nowadays, is an event one must qualify for with another Ironman race during the year before Kona. So I am not sure if I will be able to finish all eleven that includes Kona, but with God’s grace, I hope I can make the trip to Hawaii, perhaps when the competition thins out in older age groups. Also, with God’s grace, I hope I can race one day in Ironman Korea that takes place annually in Gurye, South Jeolla. I can't wait to implement all the lessons I learned from the mistakes I made this time in the next race!

This whole Ironman experience, I had hoped, would help me rediscover the purity of my heart in pursuing God’s will--in surrendering my earthly desires in order to love and serve others. I hoped that the Ironman experience would help me recover humility that I had gradually lost throughout the seven years I led ENoK--the humility armed with which I had tried to love and serve my North Korean refugee brothers and sisters. I had hoped this intensive ten-week experience would help me discern, recognize, and redefine God’s calling, especially with respect to His vision for ENoK. This journey of renewal seems to continue past those ten weeks, but I am confident that the process is well under way, and I am forever grateful and anxious to witness what God has in store for us, ENoK, for me, for Korea, and for this generation.

PS. Extra thanks to God that my bike held up the whole 7 hours and 37 minutes (I saw a dozen bikers sidelined trying to fix their bikes.) and that my toes never twisted despite the worst weather possible for the bike portion of the race.

#ironman
#ironWOman
Thank you #IMLOU directors, staff, and especially volunteers!
@ironmantri, please consider changing the brand name to ironwo/man!

=============

I am incredibly humbled by and grateful to almost 70 supporters who helped the “Empower North Koreans” campaign reach 10K, almost three-quarters of the way to the target, 14K! Please help this campaign reach its goal by November 15th!

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Andrew Hong posted a new update:
2 months ago

Update #5

D-1

This is it. Preparation 100% complete.
Cannot thank the six friends that have driven hours and hours to come support me.
I will have the "Empower North Koreans" Campaign open for another month in case anyone has missed it!

#D-Day

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Andrew Hong posted a new update:
2 months ago

Update #4

D-2

I'm safely (and finally) here! These gear bags are now all packed and ready to be checked in tomorrow.

Many thanks and much love to everyone who has helped the "Empower North Koreans" campaign reach halfway its target.

#1399

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Andrew Hong posted a new update:
2 months ago

Update #2

D-3!

Download the Ironman Tracker App, and you can track me during the race this Sunday! My bib number is 1399!

#1399

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Andrew Hong posted a new update:
2 months ago

Update #1

D-4!!!
Many thanks to everyone who has contributed to "Empower North Koreans"!
I am happy to let you know that I won't be alone in Louisville this weekend. Four of my wonderful friends will be there to make sure I come back safely. So no worries. ;)
All major workouts are already under my belt. I just finished my last pool workout today. I will be doing my last "brick" workout (bike and then, run) tomorrow--a very short one. Rest Friday, test swim in the course on Saturday, and then, the race!!

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