A 70-year-old Vietnamese-born American woman living in Kansas City has set the record for being the oldest human to complete the ‘triple 7’ marathon challenge – running seven marathons on seven continents in seven consecutive days.
Born in 1947, Chau grew up without a father, a teacher who fought alongside Vietnamese revolutionists during the first French War in Vietnam before being killed by French colonizers.
At the age of 13, Chau was admitted to a local hospital with serious injuries after being hit by shrapnel from a bombing raid during the American War in Vietnam. The pieces remain in her body.
Twelve years later, Chau moved to the U.S. with her first husband at the age of 25. She was later met her current husband, Michael Smith, in 1983 at a Christmas party.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Chau suffered from serious work related stress brought on by the need to support her relatives who had just immigrated to the U.S.
“I had never played sports before, but my husband encouraged me to wake up early and run each morning to aid my stress relief,” Chau said of her decision to take up the sport. “I was over 40 years old at the time.”
Like a fish in water, Chau soon found joy in running and became a sports enthusiast, waking up at 5 a.m. every day to run and hitting the gym every afternoon following work.
Her reason for running marathons rather than short distance races came down to money.
“As a woman, I’m used to being in charge of making ends meet for my family, so I figured participating in marathon contests would be more economical in terms of dollar spent per mile than short-distance races,” Chau explained.
And with that simple logic, Chau began training for marathons under the instruction of her husband, an experienced runner himself.
“I started at five kilometers and gradually increased the distance to ten kilometers,” Chau said. “I finished my first marathon when I was 49.”
Can’t live without running
Chau said she had nearly passed out during her first 5K race in Kansas City.
"They [had] to put the oxygen mask on me," Chau told NBC News.
"But I felt OK about half an hour later ... I said, 'Hey Michael, I want to do a 10K.' And he said, 'Chau, you almost died today! What are you talking about?' And three months later, I showed him. I did a half marathon and never looked back."
The shrapnel inside Chau’s body has also proved an obstacle for the 70-year-old woman, with each step feeling as if a knife is being stabbed into her leg.
"I always try to concentrate on the good things. So even when I'm really in pain, I'm able to think about something positive," she said in the interview with NBC News.
"So you don't think about, 'Oh my god, it hurts so bad.' You just think about, maybe, the waterfalls, the streams, and the lake."
Over her 20 years of running, Chau estimates that she has participated in nearly 70 marathons across the globe.
She was about 400 meters from the finish line at the 2013 Boston Marathon when a terrorist detonated a bomb at the event.
Among her group of eight runners who participated in the ‘Triple 7’ marathon quest operated by Marathon Adventures, Chau was the oldest.
The quest involved running marathons in Perth (Australia), Singapore, Cairo (Egypt), Amsterdam (Netherlands), Garden City (U.S.), Punta Arenas (Chile) and King George Island (Antarctica) in the seven days from January 25 to 31, 2017.
“I don’t think I’ll stop running until my legs completely forbid me from doing so,” Chau said.
“I have been taking up cycling with my husband to reduce the pressure on my joints. I really can’t imagine how my life would be without running.”