Issue 89, August 2010
Inspiring role models
Participants draw inspiration from four record-setting alumni who share how they beat the odds to do their country and alma mater proud. 

Financial services partner Sean Ong Ming Chuan (NBS/Class of 2002) who would be taking in his first marathon, came away inspired by four speakers, at the 15th Distinguished Alumni Forum he had signed up for.

The four drew on the adventures they had each experienced, touching on the forum theme, "Living an inspired life: Singapore's star adventurers, the ultimate role models".

The 32-year-old Mr Ong was among 220 alumni, students and staff thronging the Auditorium at Nanyang Executive Centre on 23 July. They were there to hear what the speakers had to share.

No route too long
The first speaker, ultra-marathoner Stephen Lim Nghee Huat (Commerce/Class of 1975), had conquered treacherous terrains such as the 217 km Death Valley Challenge in the US and his latest adventure, the 218 km Run Round Singapore.

Being the oldest runner to have completed Run Round Singapore – five full marathons combined – the 57-year-old Mr Lim stressed the importance of having the right mindset. He said: “We should see things as being "mission possible". If you see them as "mission impossible", the negative mindset will deter you from success.”

Set to take on a 1,000 km run, criss-crossing 25 cities in China come October, Mr Lim also constantly redefines his own limits.

Fellow ultra-marathoner Yong Yuen Cheng (NIE/Class of 1997), who was the forum's second speaker, held the record for being the first to finish the 218 km Run Round Singapore. How did he push himself to the finish line? He ran, walked, limped, and overcame physical and mental tortures, as well as a bout of diarrhoea along the long route.

The plucky 38-year-old Physics teacher shared that he was sickly as a child, but competitive at heart. Rather than blame his parents for the genes he was born with, Mr Yong chose to work at tackling his "weakness". He decided to challenge himself to do well in areas he wasn't strong in.

Ain't no cause big enough
Alumna Sophia Pang Soh Chui (NBS/Class of 1994) defied extreme environment challenges like "plain white vastness", brutal winds, sub-zero temperatures and 24-hour sunlight, to become the first Singaporean woman to ski the South Pole.

Ms Pang's strategy? “I came up with mission statements,” said the mother of three. One that was life-changing was "I am important".

Signing up for the Kaspersky Lab Commonwealth Antarctic Expedition was Ms Pang’s way of wanting to do something for herself. But, when her daughter quipped that it would take a miracle if she succeeded, Ms Pang became motivated by a cause bigger than herself – a desire to show her children life’s possibilities.

Ms Pang beat 80 other Singaporean women for a place in an eight-woman team, representing eight Commonwealth countries. She went on to make it to the South Pole in 38 days.

NATAS Singapore Women's Everest team member Ms Esther Tan Yinxuan (WKWSCI/Class of 2005), the forum's last speaker, revealed that fear was the demon she had to fight.

She explained: “After witnessing an avalanche while our team was at the base camp, we began to have doubts. We saw helicopters arriving to pick up climbers that had changed their minds about taking on Mount Everest when they saw fellow climbers having their life snuffed out.”

Ms Tan also recalled the body disposal form she had filled out. But, stay she did.

She and her team mates decided to complete the task, which had been six years in the making, including training and soliciting for sponsors.

On reaching the world’s highest peak, Ms Tan who hadn't climbed a mountain before, said she drew strength from her role model, Kurt Hahn, founder of Outward Bound. She quoted: “We are better than we know; if we can only come to discover this, we may never again settle for less.” 

Stretch and be inspired
Facilitating the Question & Answer session, Chairman Dr Michael Chia Yong Hwa, NIE's Head of Physical Education and Sports Science, drew parallelism with what the forum speakers had shared, to life itself.

In life, Dr Chia noted, we all have our own cold corners, high places and long routes.

The speakers also had the chance to dispense advice in response to the questions raised. While Mr Lim summed up by stressing the importance of having to expect the unexpected, Mr Yong suggested holding on to the belief that a rebound is at the next corner just when you are at your lowest. 

© Alumni Affairs Office