CHANGCHUN, May 28 (Xinhua) -- Tall and thin, with an obvious beard and a striking red jacket, 63-year-old Xi Zhanyu cut a distinctive figure at the third Changchun International Marathon on Sunday.
Having taken up running at the ripe old age of 60, Xi has barely stopped since, participating in no fewer than 17 marathons, and covering 430 kilometers. He is well-known in local running circles, for few people, at his age, can run such long distances. Some people suspect he may be crazy, due to his habit of always wearing his distinctive flowery cotton-padded jacket.
"The clothes belonged to my late wife. I wanted to run with her." Xi said. "We were poor. My wife wore this red jacket with peonies on it for 30 years. She only had this one and wore it every year. When she didn't need to wear it, she would wash it and put it in the closet."
Growing up in rural Taku village, near China's northeastern city of Changchun, Xi has endured his fair share of hardship over the years.
In 1998, the nearby Songhua River flooded, breaking a dam near Taku village that needed to be filled in with grit. It so happened that the foundations of Xi's house had just been laid. When he heard the urgency of the situation, he told his wife Xia Shuyu that he wanted to use the grit from his house to fill the dam. Xia agreed without hesitation, and the 18 cartloads of grit from Xi's house helped save the region's fertile farmland from flooding.
In 2015, Xia was diagnosed with lung cancer. When she passed away, Xi cried so much that he almost couldn't see anything. He recalled those cherished moments when he teased her and she would scold him playfully. In March 2017, a doctor found a tumor on Xi's left lung. Fortunately, it was benign and could be surgically removed. But Xi refused to be treated, not wanting to live on alone.
Arriving back home after his diagnosis, he saw pictures of his wife on the wall and felt he still had much to achieve. "Then I began running to see whether it would cure me," he said. From then on, every day, come rain or shine, villagers would see Xi running from Taku to the neighboring village seven kilometers away. Running helped lift him out of his sorrows.
At the first Changchun International Marathon in 2017, Xi participated wearing his wife's jacket for the first time. Before the event, he went to her grave with cigarettes, wine and sugar, telling her that he was going to run marathon and hoped she also could "see" the lively contest and people's smiling faces.
Ever since then, Xi's many marathon appearances have been characterized by his distinctive jacket. If he got too hot wearing it, he would simply take it off and carry it by hand.
The bottom front of the jacket had been damaged broken, leaving some cotton exposed, but Xi thought this imperfection should not be repaired. "As long as I live, I will wear it on my birthday or for other big occasions. Unless it is broken completely, I will keep wearing it."
Now, wherever Xi goes, he is accompanied by his wife. The more he runs, the happier he becomes, and the more he wants to run.
"In 2021, I will run across many provinces in China to welcome the coming of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games." Xi said.