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Wan's Column - Exploring Life

This is a topic that seems outside the scope of running but after reading Ian Thorpe’s life achievement, I feel this topic has a place in my columns. Ian Thorpe is probably the greatest swimmer even seen and he has a long list of achievements listed in Wikipedia, the internet encyclopedia. I am not any great swimmer myself but swimming is my preferred alternative form of exercise to running. I try to swim once a week as a form of cross training to avoid overdose of running. I have been following Thorpe’s achievement since he broke into the scene as a 14 year old, 10 years ago. Since then his achievement is not rivaled by any swimmer, not even the great Mark Spitz. His swimming technique is so refined, it is a pleasure to watch him swim… so effortless in his strokes.

According to press reports, on 11th September 2001, Thorpe who was on holiday in New York was on the way to the Twin Tower when the first hijacked plane crashed into the first tower.

He could have been in the tower when the plane crashed but his good karma probably saved him. He forgot to take out his camera from his hotel room and went back to get it. This camera could have saved Thorpe!

This close brush with death convinced him that his relentless pursuit of Olympic immortality was futile and there were more important things in life. The hallowing experience made him reassess his priorities and he vowed not to waste another day, abandoning his quest to replicate Mark Spitz and splitting with his long time coach Doug Frost to train under Tracey Menzies, his former high school art teacher, who encouraged him to explore life outside the pool. Thorpe took her advice, traveling the world to mix with the rich and famous and indulging in his passion for fashion, but his performance began to suffer. His final appearance was in the Athens Olympic in which he successfully defended his 400m freestyle gold, winning the 200m and a bronze in the 100m. He took a year off to recharge his batteries for a long road to the Beijing Olympics in 2008 but a combination of illness and the realization that swimming was no longer his main priority let him to early retirement at 24. (Reuters)

On the day after Thorpe’s announcement of his retirement, ABC Radio’s poll on its website asking listeners whether they agreed with Thorpe’s decision to retire. They did – overwhelmingly – with 83% of the 1,184 respondents saying that they thought Thorpe made the right decision (AP). The moral of the story is that we need to explore life outside our main activity, be it a job, business or profession. In the case of Thorpe, he is a professional swimmer; swimming is his business, job or profession. Most of us who are not professional athletes, our job or business is our main activity. I am a banker, a risk manager in a bank and work 5 days a week like any other professionals in their respective jobs. The test of whether a person has a life outside his / her work or business is that whether he / she can strike up a casual conversation without talking shop! Just try to make this observation the next time you meet someone and see if they can talk beyond their jobs or business. To most of us reading this column, chances are running is already one of your activities outside work. I run on average 5 mornings a week, 51 weeks in a year covering about 1,500km and wear out 2 to 3 pairs of shoes in the process. I do consider running as my core activity outside my work. It is extremely important to me as it gives me a balanced life.

Christmas Carols
Last month, my neighborhood Catholic Group initiated a Christmas Carols singing program for the Christmas season. The concept and objective was to get the Catholic families in Subang Jaya SS19 to join the Christmas Carols and in the process foster better goodwill and also get to know one another. I must admit that other than my few immediate neighbors, I hardly know anyone else in my vicinity, I leave the house before dawn and return after the sun sets, almost daily. On the first night of the practice, I stayed out, opting to read newspaper and watching TV while my family went over to the neighbor’s house for the practice. Shortly, I got a call from my wife Clara, told me that they will be happy to have a harmonica player in the group, in addition to a keyboard, 2 guitars and a violin player. Oh! A great reason for me to play harmonica again I thought. The bigger benefit is that this is a wholesome family activity that I can do with my family and the neighbors. Twice a week we practiced and we gathered a consistent group of more than 30 individuals; from the young to the old. While I am familiar with the more popular Christmas songs, the commercial ones as I call them, I was quite lost with the conventional, religious Christmas songs such as O Holy Night. I equip myself with the C, G and A key tremello harmonica and manage to play most of the songs. Those I can’t play, I just sing along.

Our group was scheduled to perform at the Little Sisters of the Poor on 10th December 2006. I was all excited and nostalgic about the trip as I last visited the place in 2000 before the home was rebuilt in 2003. In 2000 when I was the newly elected president of PACM, I initiated a charity run fund raising exercise without organizing a run. We rode on the Kuala Lumpur International Marathon 2000. We mobilized 187 PACM members taking part in the KLIM 2000 plus several members and friends to help raise funds through a combination of appeal letters and cash collection cards. The three beneficiaries were Rumah Ozanam, Little Sisters of the Poor and National Autistic Society of Malaysia.

The campaign went for 3 months and it was a great success for us. We grossed a total of RM106,348.05 and net RM103,822.76 after deducting RM2,525.29 expenses, mainly printing and postages. Little Sisters of the Poor was given RM30,693.50 while Rumah Ozanam and NASOM got RM34,642.55 and RM28,475.50 respectively. While this amount was small compared to what the Little Sisters themselves have raised to build such an impressive home for the aged. Nevertheless, I felt that I have contributed in some ways. (Reference – Footloose July/Sept 2000).

We met at the shops of SS19, Subang Jaya under the guidance of Joseph, one of the leaders of the group. Despite the rain, all the 10 cars were punctual and at 4.05pm, we set of in a convoy to the Little Sisters of the Poor in Cheras. We reached there before 5.00pm, still drizzling and started to set up our equipment which included a key board, a guitar, a violin and a harmonica. Of course we have the choir of 35 strong, made up of adults and children. Shortly before 5.30pm, the old folks started trotting him, some in wheel chairs assisted by the sisters. We sang a medley of songs till we broke off at 6.00pm to allow the old folks to have their dinner. We joined them for dinner as well. After the dinner we sang a few more songs and end the night with some presents given to the old folks by our in-house Santa Claus. We went home happy and satisfied that we have brought cheers to these old folks. We are happy they are well taken care of by the sisters. This performance also gave the confidence to the group that we are ready for the neighborhood session that we are going to perform on 20th, 21st and 22nd December 2006.

Wan with the harmonica at ready>>

The neighborhood sessions for the 3 nights were even better participated as the group swelled to over 40. We sang at 18 houses over the 3 nights with each night ended with a small party at the last house of the night. The final night was a big party at Richard Lee’s house. I must compliment the various individuals such as Richard, Grace, Joseph and a few others who put in lots of effort to co-ordinate the carolers as well as the families to allow us to sing at their houses. As SS19 is quite a large area, the logistics and routing of the houses is almost like charting a running route with drinks stations, given the challenge that we have several senior citizens with us. This Saturday, we are going to have a pot luck dinner at Richard and Grace’s house to promote fellowship. I must say as a first time caroler, I enjoyed myself. I discovered that my second daughter, Rachel can sing and dance. It was great family time during the practice sessions and we get to meet several families in the neighborhood. This is a great example on how I managed to explore life outside my banking career. I look forward to the new year adopting a more open mind on things I may not have done or experience before. In the meantime, I get back to office for 5 weeks of work before the Chinese New Year break.

I wish all readers a happy and healthy new year. May you explore your life outside your mainstream activity and have lots of fun doing it.


Wan Yew Leong
2 January 2007


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