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An iron woman with a firm grasp on life

SHANGHAI native Amy Xu Min is a successful 40-year-old Minnesota-based lawyer who also happens to be in the elite class of world athletes who take part in the Ironwoman triathlon where protagonists battle to win extreme races that involve running, swimming and cycling. Yao Minji asks how

Six years ago, Shanghai native Amy Xu Min knew nothing about swimming so she hired a swimming coach to learn the sport from the ground upwards.

Five months later in September 2003, she completed her first Ironwoman triathlon in Canada - the full Ironwoman rather than the Ironwoman 70.3, a.k.a The Half Ironwoman, as most first-time-racers do. And she finally made it to the world championships in Hawaii last October, completing the course in 14 hours, 15 minutes and 13 seconds.

This is not another touching behind-the-scenes story of a Chinese athlete's hard-working, long way to success and her trust in her coach. Xu is not the next promising star for China in Ironwoman races.

The 40-year-old woman is a successful Minnesota-based lawyer, specifically "a partner practicing in Information Technology and Intellectual Property Law areas," according to her biography on the Webpage of Dorsey & Whitney LLP, an American business law firm. She also holds a masters degree in Electronic Engineering from the University of Minnesota, as a continuation of her bachelor's degree in the same major at Shanghai's prestigious Fudan University.

This is about a hip and fun attorney, totally unlike the stereotypical image of lawyers - stern and cautious people who wear suits to work and Polo shirts on golf courses.

Xu is calm, confident, analytical and talkative, as one might expect in an attorney. And she is also relaxed and cheerful with all manner of funny stories. Sport is her way of escaping the stress at work and she started by running. Along the way, she also became interested in swimming.

Xu had never expected the swimming classes would lead to her fifth iron challenge in Hainan Province last April. This involved a 3.9-kilometer swim, a 180-kilometer cycle section and a 42.2-kilometer marathon. She came third in the group aged from 34 to 39, the strongest age group in Ironwoman races. The placement also qualified her to take part in the world championships in Hawaii last October, which had been a dream for Xu since she started in 2003.

She has never dropped out of any of the events since she started. Like the marathon, it's common to see more than half the contestants drop out during an Ironwoman event.

"Quitting just never went through my mind. I was thoroughly prepared, not only physically but also mentally," says Xu.

She is grateful for her veteran Ironwoman running coach, who was shocked when Xu signed up for her first race five months after starting swimming classes. Her coach also advised her to take part in only one race every two years to recover physically from the intense competition and better prepare for the next. Xu has completed six events in six years, with two races last year.

Her efforts and outcome, whether in business law or in Ironwoman events, point to the same set of skills, particularly time management, scientific thinking and a strong will. It started much earlier than 2003, when Xu first arrived in America in 1991 for further studies in Electronic Engineering.

With her knowledge in engineering, Xu soon found a job in a local law firm specializing in patent law, and this inspired her interest in law.

For the next four years, she completed a law degree and a masters degree in Electronic Engineering while working for the law firm to support her study. She also got married shortly after graduation.

"It was difficult, I don't remember how I did it. I slept for three or four hours every day and I wouldn't recommend anyone do that." Xu tells Shanghai Daily that she never thought about whether it was possible or not.

"I wanted to learn more after I arrived in America. I just set the goals, tried my best to achieve them and enjoyed the process."

Xu repeats the quote about her goals more than 10 times in the three-hour interview with Shanghai Daily. Instead of assessing possibilities, she sets a goal and goes for it, be it study, work or races.

Xu is reluctant to be described as a role model for success although she more than fits the common definition of success. She considers a successful person the happiest and most content in their journeys to achieve their goals, no matter whether they get there or not.

The confident and inspiring woman responds rapidly to every questions except one - when she is asked about failure. The lawyer says she doesn't remember having any.

"I do have some moments, but maybe I'm so prepared that I don't consider these failures. It really is about how you define failure. For me, those moments are setbacks from my goal, but there are better things ahead," says Xu.

The cheerful Ironwoman hesitates for a few minutes when the question is changed to frustrations, before recalling a spinal injury two months before the world championships in Hawaii.

Retracing that time calmly, Xu says she "was concerned and frustrated because I realized I might not be able to attend the race in Hawaii."

"But even when those moments come along, there's nothing to it. You just have to re-evaluate your plans," says Xu.

Because she has been based in America for 20 years, Xu hasn't met many young Chinese women, but she has been through similar family pressures. Although she has been married for 14 years, the 40-year-old attorney hasn't had a child with her attorney husband, and neither is she planning any in the near future.

Like all Chinese mothers, Xu's mom also pushed and still pushes. Their most recent conversation about children came right after the world championships in Hawaii, when her mom hinted that she should now fulfill the family obligation since she had achieved her dream.

"I love kids and I have never planned not to have children," says Xu, who has also devoted a lot of time to charity and especially charities for children.

"I would definitely give up Ironwoman races to take better care of my kids. I'm just not prepared yet.

"In terms of the children, I'm probably not on the mainstream side," Xu admits, but she also insists alternative opinions are no less significant.

Xu has managed to build a good relationship with her mother, persuading her to accept alternative ways, "and she has changed, although she changes back every now and then."


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