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Marathon man

DNBAN24223 | 5/2/2010 | Author : Vinita A Shetty | WC :874

To say Jamie Frederic Metzl has done it all would not be too far from the truth. This self-confessed India-addict talks to Vinita A Shetty about his life's philosophy and why he wants to live for ever

It's not hard to see why Jamie Frederic Metzl has a trans-continental base of admirers. Often described as a high achieving and gifted go-getter, he simply says his life is blessed. The executive vice-president of the Asia Society is also an iron-man triathlete, has a doctorate in southeast Asian history from Oxford University and is a leading writer on Asian affairs and politics. A former UN Human Rights officer, he also served as director for Multilateral and Humanitarian Affairs for the National Security Council during the Clinton Administration and says he is addicted to India.
I was one of those crazy kids who did everything…
I've done 25 marathons, seven Iron Man triathlons, and one ultra marathon in February this year, which was a 50km race all through hills and pure mud. It took nine hours. Why do I do it? I love it. Also I have a general philosophy in life that we have so many 'potentials' that remain untapped and we need to push ourselves to realise them. In high school I played a bunch of sports and was always on teams. I was one of those crazy kids who did everything. But I have always loved it and I'm probably Greek in that way because I believe that there is a deep connection between your physical, spiritual and intellectual being. I am one of four brothers and we are all lovingly competitive with each other so we often push ourselves on to greater and greater athletic feats.
India will take its rightful place in the community of nations…
I was about 18 years old when a college mate, a Cambodian refugee and a survivor of the killing fields there, told me his story. My father is a survivor of the Holocaust in Europe and here was somebody who had been through this terrible genocide. We connected immediately. I quit my summer job, went to Thailand and worked in a refugee camp. Then I started travelling around Asia. There's something about Asian cultures that speaks to me - respect for tradition, for elders, the culture of food. India is also very special to me. There is diversity, creativity, potential, bubbling chaos and a lot of progress at the same time. India will soon take its rightful place in the community of nations as the leader it deserves to be, it is right on the verge of a breakout. I am truly impressed by its civic society and entrepreneurial spirit. My favourite Indian cities are Khajuraho and Udaipur. The rise of Asia is changing the world in fundamental ways. As someone who is steeped in Asia, I recognise that the world of the future will be much more multi polar and Asian countries will play a more significant role.
When I testified before US congress on genetic enhancement…
With genetic enhancement my big issue is first, I want to live for ever and I'm looking for opportunities. And second, I think that there are often things which may seem very important because they are proximate. But seen from a historical perspective, they may not be so. Issues like genetic enhancement are so fundamental to what it means to be human. Soon we are going to have the ability to take control of our evolution and that's going to have profound implications. I wrote an article on genetic enhancement and on the national security implications of the human genetics revolution and I got a call from a member of congress saying he thought it was important, that he was going to organise a congressional hearing and he wanted me to testify. So I went and testified on genetic enhancement. My brothers who are all doctors were saying 'What the hell do you know about genetic enhancement?'. For me it's all part of being an engaged human and struggling to understand your place in the world.
Every person I meet is a teacher…
I meet thousands of people every year. They are all my teachers. My friend from Cambodia lost his entire family in the genocide but discovered the positive energy within to do great work. I'm here because of him. An Asia Society fellow from Afghanistan is another inspiration… he stands for the best principals of good governance and human rights accountability in such a harsh environment. My father and grandparents had a difficult life but I feel my life is blessed.  The Dalai Lama is a calm, gentle force, I've learnt a lot from him too. For more than a decade, my friend from law school and I spoke of going to Dharamshala to meet him. We eventually met and had a great dialgoue. At the end of an audience, the Dalai Lama gives you a scarf. I thought, 'what do you give a man who needs nothing' so I decided to give him something that had sentimental value for me... my Kansas City Chiefs baseball cap.  We took a great picture together. Over the years, I have learnt to ask myself 'What am I doing to make a difference in the world and am I letting the little things get to me.' I have also learnt not to get blinded to the true greatness of people around and that our imperfections make us human.

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