“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle-when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”
About two million years ago homo sapiens evolved long legs and short toes to run for survival. Since then, Man has progressed from hunter-gatherers chasing food to running down competition but the race against time, for time, continues. In this time immemorial cycle of life, the young chases the old, the hunter becomes the hunted. Time is the enemy of all. Does one choose to rage against the dying of the light or fill the unforgiving minute with its worth of run?
(Photo Credits: ONEathlete)
Mok Ying Ren is 29 years old. The creases on his face wink in agreement when Mok smilingly bemoans “that the party doesn’t last forever and one day the music will have to stop.”
Once Mok was performing overnight duties at the hospital. There was a patient who got really excited knowing she was going to be stitched up by the national marathoner because “now I’ve got your autograph for life”. By all accounts time has also left its indelible mark on us all. In medicine as in running, it is always a race against time. Mok knows it only too well.
The enormity of the mission behind Mok’s medical profession has lent a great gravity and awareness of the fragilities of life and the human body. After spending a large part of his earlier running career overcoming personal injuries and now dedicating himself to the wounds of others, Mok quietly accepts when his legs take longer to recover, and his breathing more laboured as his heart and lungs strain to compensate. Men at 30 learn to close softly, doors they know won’t be opening again.
Professional running has been compared by some to poetry in motion. Gliding legs caressing the pavement like a carefree antelope, although not even the fastest or most graceful of them has been known to escape the endless pursuit of time. The younger Mok admittedly had an immolating passion and fury raged in his belly, which did not play well to the strengths of a sport where the one who wins is often the last to slow down.
Today, Mok can hold his own among some of the region’s best marathoners, and turn up the heat with a burst of speed or join a breakaway. The feisty runner is hardly one to expect mercy from after the gun goes off. But he always delivers respect. Respect your opponent and the distance. Respect your body. Respect the clock.
How much fire still burns within him? No one, including Mok himself, knows how his SEA Games bid will end. “You have to be absolutely committed, and hungry,” he said. “At the same time, I don’t tell myself that I must win this race or break that record.”
For the doctor-athlete straddled between medical responsibilities and athletic pursuit, Mok’s priorities were clear – his patients. “Their lives and well-being are my responsibility, and I owe it to them and their families that they receive complete focus and attention. When I was put in situations where I had to choose between my training and my patients, I was convicted to prioritize the latter. I guess then, training was compromised, but I gave the best of my ability.”
(photo credits: Ming Ham)
Like medicine, athletics is a lifelong apprenticeship where lessons are passed from one generation to the next. Through mistakes made and guidance shared, the baton is passed as the young learn what they can and the wise imparts what they have.
Mok knows his success is not his alone and he is grateful to friends, family and coaches who have stood by him throughout all these years, as well as the continuing support of partners and sponsors like 100PLUS and New Balance.
At the 29th SEA Games in KL, Mok will be trying to beat the clock but he is also racing the era. Champions don’t give up easily, not even against time. Coach Rameshon set the standing national marathon record of 2:24:22 at the 1995 SEA Games. Then, he was 31 years old.