2022 marks the 10th year anniversary for the Challenge Taiwan triathlon. Hosted in Taitung this April, its 2022 slogan is ‘Always Better Together’. CEO of the Challenge Family Asia Pacific Jovi Lo said, “Challenge Taiwan is ranked as one of the top three triathlon events worldwide. Many lasting memories are created here. The Flowing Lake, a still and clear lake, makes Taitung an especially suitable location for hosting large-scale international races.”
The coastline of Taitung is 179km long. It has high potential to develop into a water sports destination for swimming, surfing, kayaking to name a few. Currently, the Taiwan Open of Surfing event is hosted in Jinzun, Taitung as well as the Challenge Taiwan swimming course. More recently, athletes and sponsors have been advocating Taitung as a training residence for stand-up paddle, kayaking, and swimming.
“Water sports can nurture growth and sustainability in a region. It doesn’t cause much harm to the environment and can generate steady economic growth.” said Chair Stanley Yen of The Alliance Cultural Foundation.
Taitung bears the ideal conditions for water sports. Whether to be appreciated as athletes’ training ground, tourist excursions, or international races – it is a fitting arena for all. Lo said, “Challenge Taiwan is an event organized by the German company, Challenge Family. My passion in organizing international triathlons stems from having the opportunity to help cities be seen by the world. Through Challenge Taiwan, athletes witness firsthand the natural beauty of Taiwan and build deep memories with the land.”
Taitung, a prime location for triathlons
Each year, the Challenge Taiwan triathlon takes place when the season changes from spring to summer. With people from across the globe racing and cheering, Taitung transforms into a vibrant triathlon city. Lo said, “In 2019, we invited the CEO of the Challenge Family German headquarters along with CEOs from 12 other countries to Taiwan – Prague, New Zealand, Thailand to name a few. The CEOs left with fond memories of Taiwan and Taitung.” The misconception of several is that though the people of Taiwan are undeniably friendly, littering isn’t uncommon. What surprises people most about Taitung is the cleanliness of the city, its stunning mountains and ocean.
It took the Challenge Family headquarters two to three years to find a suitable city in Taiwan to host the triathlon. Besides receiving government support, cities need to have certain environmental characteristics. The bicycle lane, for example, would need to be long enough and the road quiet for it to be closed without issue for the safety of the triathletes. The view on the left as well as the right should differ, and the road should have variations of uphill and downhill to create a certain level of challenge. The difficulty in Taiwan was finding a suitable body of water for the swimming course. The Flowing Lake in Taitung was chosen because it is clean and clear for the triathletes to swim in. The cycling trail begins at the Flowing Lake and finishes at the indigenous Paong'ong Village. The lane is wide and therefore safe. It travels north passing through Dulan and the Chenggong Township with the mountains on one side and the coastline on the other. The diverse elevation of the road also creates enough challenge for the cyclists. The running trail passes through the bustling Taitung City, rice paddy fields, the coastline, Taitung Forest Park, and finishes at the Tiehua Music Village.
The Taitung Forest Park is a much loved park for locals and tourists which embodies the Flowing Lake, Lake Biwa, and Yuanyang Lake.
Challenge Taiwan, once the highest triathlon sign-up worldwide
Lo said, “During the week of the Challenge Taiwan triathlon, between 30,000 to 40,000 people enter Taitung occupying 10,000 rooms, generating over NT$100 million. When the date for the upcoming race is released, people book their accommodations and local commute instantly.”
Lo said, “When I plan triathlons, I plan them through the eyes of triathletes. I think about their partners and spouses – activities that will include them during the race.” When fathers sign-up for triathlons, most mothers send their blessings; however, when mothers sign-up, fathers will bring their children to the event. Lo hopes to raise the number of female participants.
Lo said, “The most effective way to boost the number of travelers is through the participation of children. If children participate, the entire family will likely travel with them to share their support. Over the years, we’ve developed a junior triathlon targeting three to four year-olds and five to six year-olds. Annually, the junior triathlon is the fastest to be booked out.” The experience of those cheering are just as important. Entertainment and resting booths on the side lines are created to help keep spirits high. For most, receiving the medal at the end of the race isn’t what matters most, but rather the process of the training, the persistence to finish the race as well as seeing and hearing the cheers of their families, friends, pets, and bystanders before crossing the finish line. The gung-ho spirit in athletes, loved ones, and host city Lo said, “Each year we come up with a new slogan that represents the message we wish to highlight for the year. This year’s is ‘Always Better Together’. One year, the slogan was ‘Super Mom’. That year, we hoped to encourage more women to participate. Moms who signed-up would receive a 40% discount; the medals also had Swarovski crystals on them. Another year was ‘Gung-Ho’.” Because training takes a lot of time, many triathletes forget some of the more important things in life such as their work, family, friends, and relationships – in being aware of this, that year’s slogan was ‘Balance Your Life’. Lo said, “What we aim for is not only to create a sports event, but also to nurture sports culture in countries that are in lack of it. Athletes in Taiwan, for example, don’t receive the same recognition and respect as other countries do due to its lack of sports culture. If, for example, a marathon took place in Tokyo, the locals would feel proud and honoured, whereas if one was to take place in Taipei, the locals would likely complain about road blocks causing traffic and inconvenience without understanding that these events bring tremendous economic growth and honour to the city.”
Lo said, “To ensure highest standards which is also key to fostering pride in the Taitung people, I set a flexible budget for my team. The triathlons I organize usually exceed the costs of other organizers by two or three times. The highest cost for me is usually the salary.” The Challenge Taiwan triathlon hires 1,300 to 1,400 staff members to support in the four days. This ensures there are enough people to handle different situations well, to offer quality service, and to maintain the cleanliness on the grounds.
Lo values recycling, reusing, and reducing waste. In Challenge Taiwan’s 10th year anniversary, it works with Chung Hwa Pulp Corporation producing paper cups that are 100% recyclable. Lo also believes in the importance of aesthetics, quality, usability in the t-shirts, swim caps, and souvenirs they produce. He said, “As long as people use it, it is not wasted.”
Raising the enthusiasm of locals is not something done overnight. Accessible on the Challenge Taiwan website is a ‘tour Taitung’ itinerary that is paired with the triathlon. Through the race, the local tourism is uplifted. In the ten years, Challenge Taiwan only became profitable in the last two years. Lo said, “When we were losing money all the years, I was not worried. I always had belief in the way it was planned.”
“I am not afraid of failure because I didn’t grow up with money.” – Jovi Lo
Lo said, “I was raised by a single father. He was a simple labourer, but an incredible father. His life was simple – work and family.” Lo was a lonely child. Whenever there were activities at the school, his father would encourage him to participate. He signed-up for table tennis, and the coach would later choose Lo, who wasn’t tall, to be on the team. Lo said, “At the time, I could only afford an inexpensive racket, but it didn’t matter – I was exhilarated to just have one. When I joined the team I later became the number one player.”
When Lo was five or six years-old, his father would often bring him to swim. In the 3rd grade, he would ride the bicycle every morning to swim. Lo said, “One morning a swim coach passed by and asked me to stay behind. He started giving me free lessons, and eventually I became the best swimmer on the team.”
Sports appeals to Lo very much. He went on to join the baseball team, basketball team, and pool. At every race, he is focused. When he joined the military, he managed the gym, swimming pool, and golf course. After completing his service, he went into sales working in different athletic brands. He was like a sponge. He then started his own business which built the blueprint of the Taipei Songshan Sports Center. The center became Taipei’s top three recreational centers. Lo said, “I surprised several of the people who watched me grow up. Growing up in the family that I did and now able to help my father retire at the age of 58.” Lo used to feel jealous of other families but is now proud of the upbringing his father gave him.
Lo said, “I’m not afraid of failure, because I’m not afraid of not having money. I tell my wife, I can always go back to coaching swimming. People tell me that I need to think about my child’s future, however, I don’t see the connection between my child’s future and whether I have money in the bank.” Lo feels that success isn’t measured by income. He believes that being able to inspire and change people through sports is what truly matters.
“My father went from riding 180km on a motorcycle watching me race to racing in his first triathlon at the age of 59.” – Jovi Lo
People often ask what the benefits are of exercise. Lo said, “I remember a group of 35-40 year-old moms, when they started to incorporate exercise into their busy lives, their mindset changed completely and become generally happier people.”
Burn-out in mothers is common – they work full-time jobs while still managing a family. As time goes on, their lack of self-love and care rises. Lo said, “After the group of mothers started exercising regularly, they discovered their strength, perseverance, and believed they could achieve anything they set their minds to.”
Lo said, “One year, I attended the 226km ironman triathlon. I invited my father to watch. He cheered me on riding his motorcycle for 180km until I finished.”
Lo’s dad asked if he could join the triathlon. Lo said, “It might be hard to believe, but my father has had knee surgery. We started training his muscle strength. He started from being only able to run half a track to finishing one track, then half a marathon, then a triathlon.” Lo said, “When I was young, my step-mother and I were not close. When I was older, to nurture the relationship between us I would bring her to races and we would exercise together. She eventually joined triathlons. My parents now run every morning and cycle together. The three of us race in triathlons worldwide. We have a beautiful relationship, we are a triathlon family.”
“To share the beauty of Taiwan through the triathlon is my honour.” – Jovi Lo
Lo said, “Being one that participates in triathlons worldwide, I believe Taiwan has just as much to offer especially Taitung with its pristine nature and rich culture. This is what I really want to share with the world. Taitung is more beautiful than one can imagine, it just needs to be seen.”