PROF LOW CHENG HOCK – My friends from primary and secondary school still meet up frequently to catch up and stay active by going for walks together. While we talk about anything and everything under the sun, a large part of our conversations revolves around nostalgic memories of our younger days spent outdoors.
In fact, when we look back, the only vivid memories for me are often of my experience doing sports, or just being out there in the great outdoors, in general. Looking back at my younger self, I could describe myself as a ‘jack of all trades’ because I would readily take on the challenge in any sports, even though I was never quite proficient in any. It is still a fond part of my memory that I’m glad to share with readers of our #RunWithMok column.
Memories of enjoying life
Running or just merely being outdoors has always been a big part of my life. During my time in primary school, our teacher would bring us running at 5.30am. Unfortunately (or fortunately), children nowadays are so busy studying around the clock that they no longer can afford the luxury of time for such simple ‘pleasures’ of life.) At that time, running was totally voluntary and, judging from the turnout, we all simply enjoyed it! In fact, our teacher and his wife were inspirational figures who led by example They coached us to run, motivated us to train, and rallied us to do our part for society and raise funds for charity (through running, of course).
I was an avid sports fan, just not the spectator-kind. I had an eye for the graceful footwork of badminton and also enjoyed the rigors of a heart-thumping soccer match. I have also cycled to Malaysia with my cycling ‘kakis’. In fact, the bicycle was my go-to choice to commute during medical school. I started exercising and playing sports to keep fit, but the leisure and pleasure of good company kept me going. Being the non-athlete I am, the social undertones of sports took some (not all) pressure off me and allowed me to immerse myself in whatever sports I had chosen as my poison.
Memories of adventures
In my younger days, I liked sailing and would sail in the waters off West Coast Park with my medical school classmates. I remember Dr. Ben Tan, who introduced the sport to me and taught me the basics. On one such voyage, our rowing boat (with a makeup sail) had capsized somewhere near Pulau Bukom, at a particularly high-traffic part in the middle of (apparently) nowhere! But being young, we were fearless in that situation and just calmly floated in the choppy waters, until rescue came to some 30 mins later.
Some years ago, I went to visit an old friend who was a surgeon-turned-missionary and ran a rural hospital at a dizzying altitude of 5000 feet up in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. During this ‘holiday’, I helped out at the hospital and treated a Masai (local native) patient with several wounds, some of which even needed surgery. I later found out that he had wrestled with a lion that had attacked his cattle. Fortunately, he recovered well enough to return to his hometown up in the mountains. It was a blessing in disguise because I got to accompany this gentleman on an unforgettable long and scenic hike through some of the most breathtaking views and wilderness Mother Earth can offer. I’m glad I had scaled Mount Kinabalu with a group of young doctors, as the experience came in handy too.
Being able to even conquer such challenging terrain at my age, was a blessing, that allowed me to meet fellow explorers who, more often than not, would have adventurous stories to share. I used to tackle the trails at Bukit Timah, starting from the dairy farm side and leading up to the summit. On a good day, this would give me about an hour or so to catch up with my friends. Till today, I still swim, walk and hike whenever possible.
Memories of being time efficient
The time we have is for us to decide, but definitely within us to manage As a doctor, I would always try to finish rounds and necessities so that I can have time for exercise. I didn’t want to be too desk-bound and would try, schedule permitting, to slot in a visit to the beach, arrange a picnic or a camping trip over the weekends.
Looking back, it was really about setting priorities. If something was important, then it would only be logical to make time for it. Being physically active is one of these things. But you think you have time and can wait for important things, it will one day become urgent. When you are lying on the hospital bed clutching your chest, suffering from a heart attack, your health becomes an urgent condition that needs to be treated. Taking care of the important things regularly prevents them from becoming urgent.
Memories of running my race
In my years as a doctor, I remember vividly there was once a runner and conquered a marathon 3 months after completing his chemotherapy therapy for leukemia. This despite finishing last, and in visible pain as he crossed that finish line. He did his level best and won HIS race! He taught me that winning the race is not always about coming in first, and we can’t be first all the time. Finishing the race is also winning the race. It’s just as important!
The story of Rick (who suffers from cerebral palsy) and his ‘triathlon’ dad, Dick Hoyt, is equally inspiring. To fulfill his son’s wishes, Dick had completed a triathlon, his first, while towing Rick along with him. A race completed to the best of his own abilities, no less and the pair were later inducted to the Ironman Hall of Fame in 2008.
In both cases, neither age nor physical ability was a limiting factor in running their race. My experience and belief have shown me that there is no ‘right’ age, but a correct mentality for anything and everything we seek to accomplish and achieve. Every age is the right age, in its own way. Whether one chooses to run, jog or walk, as long as you enjoy ‘running my race’ leisurely and complete or compete, to the best of your abilities, that’s what matters the most.
So you can see how running, sports and the great outdoors can be physically beneficial, as well as memorable in more ways than one. Don’t worry about getting old; worry about thinking old. Regardless of age, the outdoors hold much in its promise, as it is for you, and me.