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ULTRA WOMAN
Joyce Lim
Mon, Mar 16, 2009
The New Paper

RUNNING sharpens her focus on life and intensifies her emotions.

She describes it as her spiritual indulgence, where she discovers her inner strength and rhythm with each step she takes.

Chong Hai-Yen is an ultrarunner.

The 38-year-old Institute of Technical Education (ITE) lecturer once ran 250km across the Sahara Desert.

That was in 2005.

Two years later, she braved cold weather and thin air and completed a 100 Mile Stage Race in five days in the Himalayan ranges.

But quite unlike other athletes, Chong did not race to win or set new records. The runs were intended for a good cause.

Quite literally, Chong goes the extra mile to raise funds for charity causes that she supports and believes in.

Even when it means having to suffer extreme temperatures and dizzying altitudes.

'The Sahara race was a spiritual run for me. I enjoyed the solitary night run in the desert despite my stress-induced early onset mensus on the longest day and stabbing shin pain,' Chong recalled.

The petite, athletic-looking woman would tell you that the physical pain she suffered in such races is nothing compared to the plight of those people who would benefit from her fund-raising efforts.

She believes in putting her talent to good use by helping the less fortunate.

'I realised I can run. It's not something very difficult. I am more community-based. I like to find a reason to do things. If I feel that the cause is worthy, I will find ways to achieve it,' said Chong, who had graduated from the University of Western Australia with a bachelor's degree in Physical and Health Education.

Bootcamp

At the end of this month, Chong will be taking a group of youths from Andrew and Grace Home to a bootcamp in Thailand.

The All Femme bootcamp held in conjunction with Women Make a Difference (WMD), will feature a series of urban and adventure challenges on Lao Liang island, off Trang.

Chong, one of the co-founders of WMD, said: 'Some of the girls will be pairing up with their parents for the activities and clinics. It is a good chance for them to rebuild their bonds with each other.'

The bootcamp is another fund-raising effort by Chong for the School Beach Phuket Project - a shelter for children who are victims of child sex tourism and those at risk of being sucked into child prostitution.

At the last bootcamp in 2006, Chong ran 36km from Krabi airport to the town.

To prepare the girls for the upcoming bootcamp, Chong has been running with them at East Coast Parkway every Saturday morning.

She said: 'Sport is a good way to help build the girls' confidence and endurance - the two important qualities that they will need when they return to society or school.'

On her own, Chong would run from her home at the end of Changi, to her parents' house in Punggol.

Her route takes her from the Coastal Park Connector to East Coast Parkway to Siglap Park Connector, which leads her to Eunos, and through Hougang to Punggol.

Chong said: 'I don't know what the distance is, but I would take between two and three hours to run to my parents' home.'

When Chong is not going to her parents' place for dinner, she would be running from her home to East Coast Lagoon Hawker Centre for her favourite wanton noodles and sugar cane juice.

And if she runs further up to Big Splash, she would reward herself with a Carl's Junior burger.

A runner since her college days, Chong started long-distance running eight years ago.

To her, ultramarathon races promise few rewards as the time, effort and energy required is immense.

But Chong said: 'People stop themselves from achieving much because they fail to see that the only limitations that one faces are only the ones that they impose upon themselves.

Perturbed

'Nothing is impossible. You just need to set your mind to do it.

'I want to continue exploring and what better way to do it when I still can in this short lifetime. People who are close to me are often perturbed that I talk about death so much. My only explanation is that I am so because I live life to its brim.'

And as her dad always tells her: 'Stay brave against the odds as you lead an extraordinary life.'

  • Behind every runner, there will always be an interesting story to tell. Look out for excerpts from Chong Hai-Yen's diary of her five-day Himalayan race in tomorrow's paper.

     

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