An unlikely Portuguese Olympian hails from B.C. Interior

It turns out literally half of Portugal's Olympians in the Pyeongchang Olympics are from British Columbia. That's because it's only a team of two and Vernon's Kequyen Lam is one of them.

'I was meant to do this. I was meant to be here,' says cross-country skier Keyquen Lam

Kequyen Lam is a cross-country skier for Portugal who was raised in B.C. (Kequyen Lam)

It's a long way from Pyeongchang to British Columbia — and it's an even longer way from Pyeongchang to Portugal.

But long distances are no sweat for Kequyen Lam, a B.C.-raised cross-country skier competing for Portugal in the 15-kilometre men's free ski event at the Pyeongchang Olympics.

"Pyeongchang is the bomb.There's nothing like it," Lam told Radio West host Sarah Penton. "Being here as an athlete, it's such a unique experience. It's really hard to put into words what it's like."

Lam has dual citizenship, and is one of just two athletes competing for Portugal.

And just like his sport is an unusual pursuit in the country he competes for, his journey to the Olympics was equally unusual.

Kequyen Lam was one of only two athletes on the Portuguese Winter Olympics team in Pyeongchang (Kequyen Lam)

Cross-country, crossing countries

Lam's story begins in war-ravaged Vietnam.

His parents, Chinese shop owners, fled the aftermath of the Vietnam War for Macau, which, until 1999 was a colony of Portugal. Lam was born there a Portuguese citizen.

His parents moved to Canada and he grew up in B.C., where he works as a pharmacist in Vernon.

"It's fate. I was meant to do this. I was meant to be here," he said.

Lam says the Portuguese Ski Federation has been active finding athletes abroad with Portuguese citizenship who can compete for the country, which is how he was discovered by the national program.

He even got to be the flag-bearer in the opening ceremonies.

'Tip of the iceberg'

Lam did not go to Pyeongchang with medal hopes. Indeed, he finished 113 out of 119 at his event on Feb. 16.

But, he says he's happy with his performance in what he called an unusually tough course.

"I was at the edge of hitting the wall," he said. "My muscles were starting to cramp near halfway through the race and it was just survival at that point. Especially with some of those brutal climbs. They were relentless."

Still, he says he managed to get through it with the encouragement of his coach and others, including Portuguese fans who were there to cheer him on.

He's hopeful his appearance in the Olympics will build interest in cross-country skiing in Portugal.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg of what's going to happen in Portugal. That was the whole point."

With files from CBC Radio One's Radio West