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Wan's Column - Farewell to our Friend, Ngae Koh Hieng

A Sudden Unexpected Event
I have been writing the Wan True Pacesetter’s Tale column since the May 2005 issue. In these 5 years, I have never missed a deadline with the editor. Usually, I could submit my article a few days before the deadline. Somehow this time, I was lethargic and procrastinated in writing. I did have a subject in mind; which is “ Changing Trends in Races and Race Management” I was sort of busy for the last ten days; getting involved as a facilitator for the Advance Sports Management Course for the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM), helping out in drafting a portion of the Strategic Plan for OCM 2011-15, watching the Thomas and Uber Cup series, volunteering for the New Balance Pacesetters 15km and driving over to Kuala Kubu Bahru and Rasa to watch my third daughter, Karen playing in the MSSS U/18 Inter-district basketball.

On the morning of the Footloose deadline, 15 May 2010, I texted Michael Gan, our editor and requested for an extension in the deadline. He instantly called me back and told me to take my time. I never knew it was fated that I need to write a farewell message to my friend, Ngae Koh Hieng who passed away suddenly on 15 May 2010.

Ngae after the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon 2007 at the hotel lobby

Ngae with Chai Weng Moon, Wan and Clara after the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon 2007 at the hotel lobby

That afternoon, after coming back from the route marshal briefing on the New Balance Pacesetters 15km, I was glued to the TV, watching the high definition broadcast by Astro on the Uber Cup Finals between China and Korea. Chong Ting Chow, our fellow Pacesetters member who missed the route marshal briefing in the morning came to my house to find out about his duty the next morning. We watched the game together and got very excited when Korea turned the table on the Chinese with a deserving 3-1 victory. While we were still excited over the game at about 6pm, my hand phone rang and Dr Tan Tah Ming was at the other end of the line. I heard his solemn voice “ Wan….I got bad news for you…..” Dr Tan went on to tell me that he was going to the mortuary to make the identification. Over the next one hour, several telephone calls exchanged with Bruce Wun, Jason Thiang, Chai Weng Moon, Chua Keng Huat , Lim Meng Lock and Lok Chan Chuen. I requested my friends to hold the news first while waiting for Dr Tan to make the identification and if true, make a successful communication with the family before notifying Ngae’s friends. By 9pm, the news was confirmed and the words went out to friends and well wishers.

Taken at the Imbi Palace Restaurant during his last lunch with us on his 56th Birthday. Standing L-R: Chua Keng Huat, Wan, Dr Tan, Lim Meng Lock, Bruce Wun. Seated L-R: Chai Weng Moon, Ngae, Jason Thiang

Taken at Old Town Cafe after our August 2009 lunch. L-R: Dr Tan, Lim Meng Lock, Wan, Ngae, Bruce, Chai

That night, I stayed home with the FA Cup Finals between Chelsea and Portsmouth on but I was not really watching. I went to sleep early as I need to be up by 4.45am to be on route marshal duty for the New Balance Pacesetters 15km at the 5km mark. As Chai, Dr Tan and Bruce have signed up for the NB 15K, we decided to meet at 10am at Dewi’s Corner after the run to talk over the matter. Prior to the end of the NB 15K at 8.30am, I received a text from Ngae’s hand phone, a message sent by his wife Pin Pin notifying me of Ngae’s departure and that she was making arrangement to claim his body from the mortuary. During our breakfast, we decided that we could only wait for the next text from Pin Pin on the funeral arrangements. Later in the day at 2.10pm while I was watching the Thomas Cup Finals between China and Indonesia, I received another text from Pin Pin notifying me of the funeral details. I forwarded the message to all my contacts in my hand phone that I think know Ngae.

At South Sea Restaurant, November 2009

At Imbi Food Village, December 2009 during Dr Tan's Birthday

Our Time Together
I knew Ngae back in 2003 about the time he joined PACM when I was still the president. As I used to do my morning runs at Bukit Aman Car-park prior to going to work in the city centre, I got to know some individuals who run in the morning and many of them became members of PACM. This small group of members was personally serviced by me when it comes to membership renewal or event registration. Besides Ngae, they are Dr Tan Tah Ming, Chai Weng Moon, Patrick Ng, Chua Keng Huat, Bruce Wun, Lawrence Lee and Lim Meng Lock. We used to chit-chat after our morning run before hitting the shower. This went on for a few years as we got to know one another better, we started going for some runs outstation; Ipoh, Bidor, Kuantan and Singapore. By the end of 2005, we decided that we should have a regular lunch together after celebrating Dr Tan Tah Ming’s birthday. Our first regular lunch place is the Imbi Food Village where we have our favorite roast goose. Later, we started to have our Saturday lunch on a monthly basis with Chai as the organizer with places recommended by Chua who has a very good idea of where to eat. We share many running stories during these lunches and most of the time our Saturday lunches end at 4pm.

Ngae and Dr Tan with their families at KL Sentral prior to their departure for the Sahara Marathon

Taken at an eatery behind the Peninsula Hotel on the eve of the Standard Chartered Marathon 2007

We listened passionately about Ngae and Dr Tan’s plan for the Sahara Desert that they did in 2007. Those of you who missed that article could look it up in the Footloose (June 2007 issue) or if you have junked the hard copy, visit this link. At times, we even adjourn for coffee at the local café after lunch. The last of such lunches we manage to get Ngae to come was during his 56th birthday, we celebrated it together with him on 9th January 2010 at Imbi Palace (see picture). I recall walking with him to Australia Cake House at Imbi Road to buy him a birthday cake, he insisted that we don’t need a plastic bag as it is more environmental friendly. After that, our February, March and April lunch was without him as he is unable to come. Up to 3 weeks ago, he called me and sounded positive, talking about joining us for the May 2010 lunch which he never made it……….

Inducted into the Power Team Elite

Ngae has been a regular contributor to the Footloose. After his first brain operation in April 2009, he wrote a revealing article about himself (June 2009 Footloose), about his early life growing up in Sarawak. He also discussed extensively about his experience in barefoot running. Those of you who are interested could read it from the Footloose. I see if I could get the soft copy to be uploaded to my website.

Run In Memory of Ngae Koh Hieng on 23 May 2010
My group feel very lost as this happened so suddenly. I don’t really know what to do or how to react. After the funeral on 18 May 2010, we went for a late lunch that afternoon at SS2. Those who were working never have the mood to go back to office. We stayed put in SS2, have several drinks till 8pm that night. Prior to the funeral, I suggested to the group that we hold a run in memory of Ngae the coming Sunday and it was agreed. I requested Francis Cheng to help me print 150 souvenir bibs for the event. I created an event on the Facebook and after two days, I have 102 registered guests. I do not think I want to hold this article to write about the run but would leave it to someone else who may wish to write about it.

Compilation of Postings from Facebook and Blogs
I have read through the many postings on Facebook and some blogs about him, the description is very similar; an icon of our sports (running and triathlon), always smiling, friendly and very helpful to newer practitioners of the sports. Here are some of the selected postings;

"On Saturday 15th May 2010 Ngae Koh Hieng left us for hopefully a better place. He will be so dearly missed by just about everyone that ever met him. Always (and I mean ALWAYS) smiling, always optimistic, always positive and always supportive, sometimes cheeky and more often than not loud. He was the type of guy that was usually the centre of attention but only because people were drawn to him and his magnetic personality. You always felt better for an evening, a few words or just a passing greeting on a run with Ngae.

I was shattered when I heard the news and still am. I felt like one of my closest friends had been torn away from me. Then I got to thinking that Ngae was such a warm and welcoming person that probably most people who were acquainted with him had similar feelings of loss. He's not a person that people will simply feel sad about losing and forget easily. His passing will leave a huge gaping hole in the running and triathlon community of Malaysia, he will be deeply missed by hundreds and hundreds of people.

My Mum once said to me that people never really die and leave us so long as someone still remembers them - Ngae is going to live on in our hearts and minds for a long long time.
I hear there will be an impromptu memorial run this Sunday morning at Lake Gardens. Everyone will do their usual run i.e. double hill, Sri Hartamas but there will be a minutes silence at 6:29am and then everyone will do their run in honour of Ngae. I will be doing the Bintan Triathlon (assuming I'm well enough, if not I'll be at Lake Gardens for sure).

I'll be doing the race in honour of Ngae. Disco Dave will be there too - we will have our own minutes silence. I will swim, bike and run with him in my mind & heart but I will not mourn his loss but rather celebrate his life, I will do my best to wear his trademark smile from start to finish. He was an inspiration, an icon, a role model - they don't come any better than Ngae. We love you buddy, you will be missed but not forgotten.

My all time favourite multi-sport photo - they say a picture speaks a thousand words."

Posted by Simon Cross

"Though I do not know you, I have seen your smiling face many times running the Lake Garden - Petronas route. May you continue Running in Peace in the clouds above us. Am sure you will find a way to run wherever you are."
– Angelyn Liew

"This morning, when I was manning the 1st water station during the 15KM, I saw 2 ladies wearing sarong to run, they told me is a memory for a running friend who passed away yesterday. Then I receive a SMS from Mr Wan the about tragic news of Mr Ngae. May God blessed his soul. "– Phylis Loke

"WHAT ?! I am very shocked to hear about his passing ... thanks Elaine for sending me this ... My husband and I had the honor to have breakfast with him at PJ State after his Gasing Hill run (barefoot + sarong) and listen to him chatting about his brain surgery and ICU, and hospital experience ... and he jumped back to ...running (his passion) just weeks after that major operation ... that memorable breakfast ... was 1 year ago ... And now, he's ..... I am so sad ...
Mr. Ngae is the most optimistic, cheerful and daring person that I met ... He gave us hope, laughter and cheer ... I am 4 weeks into delivering to my 2nd baby ... and will be attending a full day course on that Sunday... what the heck, I'll skip whatever I was suppose to do and just for Mr. Ngae, I'll be running pushing my toddler baby (19 months) and carrying the 34weeks old 2nd baby in my stomach ... for HE, he's the symbol of courage, and always "forward looking" guy that lived life to the FULLEST"
! – Evanna Low

"Run like butterfly, be free".... quote by late Uncle Ngae" – MC Foong

"My mum and I will be there for the run. I can't remember when I first met him but he came to my late dad's wake in his sarong and that made me smile. He would encourage me to run barefoot when I complained about my knee pain. The last time I spoke to him was earlier this year and he was telling me how he didn't fear de...ath. He said it was just a part of the journey in life. My condolences to his family." – Yin Boey

"I will be running Copenhagen Marathon on the 23 May, I will run in memory of him from Copenhagen." – Henry Wong

"The first impression Ngae gave was a memorable one.. he saw a half bonked runner(he was on his second lap, I guess).. as he passed by, he tapped me on the shoulders and said, "sikit lagi mau sampai"... I looked up and saw a barefooted, bold headed guy overtake me.. he was smiling and waving at other runners.. It was all smiles and joy surrounding him.. I tried to keep up with him, just to share the glow he brings.. I shall miss your presence on the tri/run scene.. rest well, runner.." – Azly Anwar

"I was thinking about you a lot over the weekend. Remembering a time way back when when you chatted with this newbie runner, encouraged him to no end and eventually became his good friend. Thank you for inspiring me to be the runner I am today. And always armed with a wicked sense of humour. I remember you telling me on...ce during a particularly tough race that US BLADIES have got to stick together no matter how tough the going got. You paced with me although you were clearly the stronger runner and could have ran on ahead. And that got me to the finish line. I will miss you my dear friend. May you now rest in peace. Free from all the pain." – Lawrence Leong

"Our Brothers & Sisters of the Legal Fraternity shall mourn the loss of a Legal Eagle. Our Racers & Friends of Triathlon & Ironman shall live up to your Spirit. Auld Lang Syne to you, my Learned friend." – Raymond Tan

"I am glad & honored to have known u in my life. Thank You so much for all ur inspiration, dedication, cheerfulness towards sports. I shall always remember u my dear friend." – Elaine Wong Kar Yan

"Thank you for inspiring us with your modesty and determination. Thank you for simply for being a friend to us. We will miss you much. May your soul find rest, peace and comfort.... – John Wai Mun
huge smile, sarong with powerbar logo and barefoot -. A personality larger than life - bet you're smiling down at us right now.."
.- Nurina Van Oostrum Abdullah

"Life is not about how long one lives but rather how many souls you touched along the way.. Ur encouragement, determination n humbleness will be remembered, run along to heaven even if it's in sarong n bare foot. Ur body has left but the fighting spirit is in every soul that you touched .".- Adeline Lee

"Bro Ed Ngae,you are a humble n loving person-GOD loves u so much bro." I am the resurrection n life.Those who believe in me will live, even though they die;n those who live n believe in me will never die."( John 11:25 ).Amen!" – Moses Sinnappen

"U r such an inspiration to many, ur positive attitude, ur fighting spirit, ur camradarie n most of all, to me, ur humbleness. I will miss u, dear fren" –Mahizzan Mohd Fadzil

"How can we forget your humbleness, joy and laughter that you shared with us. I think it is only befitting that we pay tribute to this great man when we run in Sundown Marathon later this month. Every step that I take in the Sundown Marathon is dedicated to you. RIP, Ngae." – Loke Shu Sun

"RIP Ngae, you'll always be remembered and thanks for saying hello, for sharing many humbling stories on those short encounters when you decided to join us in the back of the pack. You've been an inspiration." – Haza Zean

“Running may not add years to your life but it definitely add life to your years” – Jim Fixx.

Wan Yew Leong
15 May 2008


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