By all accounts,Winter Olympics-bound Kequyen Lam defies convention.
Born in Macau in 1979 to parents who had fled war-torn North Vietnam, and raised in Abbotsford, Lam admits he was a gifted athlete, but opted to attend UBC in Vancouver and study kinesiology and pharmacology.
Over the past 20 years, the 38-year-old pharmacist has competed at some of the highest levels in snowboard cross and cross-country skiing; written two books; manufactured an “about-to-be-released” line of moustache wax; owned, sold and written about his beloved tiny house; and next month, he’ll buckle up his ski boots and head to the Winter Games in PyeongChang.
Lam, who is currently based in Vernon, will compete as the sole 15-kilometre cross-country skate skier representing Portugal.
His coach Glenn Bond made the official announcement Thursday morning at Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre where Lam has been training.
“Kequyen’s story to the Games is incredible,” said Bond.
“He’s has been racing around the world the last two years and training hard to qualify (for the Olympics), and now it’s 17 days away. Wow, time flies.”
Naturally, Lam is thrilled at the prospect of taking his talent to the international stage.
And while he knows the pressure is on, he feels it’s important to focus on how he got there.
“In 1978 my parents risked it all for our family’s safety,” Lam explained.
“It was a month-long voyage in a rickety, over-capacity sea vessel — my dad, my mom and my brother — and every second they were afraid. That boat could have capsized at any moment.”
Lam said his family was welcomed to Macau, which was a Portuguese territory until 1999, where they lived in a refugee camp. After Lam was born, his family immigrated to Canada and settled in Abbotsford.
He says sports were always a big part of his life, but he didn’t pursue a career as an athlete until after he graduated from university and worked in his field.
In 2008, he decided to “seriously” pursue snowboard cross, and came close to qualifying for the 2014 Winter Games. But a serious injury he sustained at a training camp in Austria prevented him from getting to Sochi.
“It’s a dangerous sport — I mean, you’re going over 60-foot jumps at 70 kilometres an hour. Any small mistake can land you in the hospital. I was living in a state of fear (at the time),” he recalled.
On the last day of training camp, Lam mistimed a feature and ended up crashing.
“I blew out my shoulder. I was devastated, but at the same time it was huge relief because that meant I didn’t have to go up and risk my life again.”
Lam began his recovery, but soon after the “cross-country skiing seed” that had been planted in his head a few years earlier by another athlete “began to take root.
“I had been determined to get to Sochi doing snowboard cross, but after I was injured I knew that wouldn’t happen, and I accepted that it was meant to be that way —that I wasn’t meant to go, but at the same time, I felt like something was missing. I was born to compete. Training and competing feeds my soul. “
He began training and pursued his other passions — he built a tiny home in Squamish, which he recently sold. And wrote about the experience in his book, Tiny Home Haikus.
His other book, Into the Mind of an Olympic Athlete, which has been described as “an inside look into the experience of being at the starting line of an Olympic event,” will be available online soon.
Lam, who says he has also become somewhat of a facial hair enthusiast, recently began manufacturing his own brand of mustache wax called Lamstache. He says it’s more of a side project “for fun” than a serious business venture, but notes that it will be available on the market this year.
For the time being, Lam says all other projects are on temporary hold while he heads off to the Winter Olympics —an experience he says he still can’t believe he will finally get.
He credits his parents for much of his success and says he hopes his story will inspire children with parents who are new to Canada, to follow their own dreams, no matter how big.
“I’m the result of what my parents lived through, and the risks that they took. I’m an immigrant, my parents are refugees and I couldn’t be more proud of that because from that it shows that hard work and dreams that you dream and sacrifice is all worth it in the end.”
The 2018 Winter Games take place in PyeongChang, South Korea, Feb. 9 to 25.