Published on 10 November 2022

Run It Forward

Professor Joseph Sung
Dean, Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine

In a few days’ time, Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine is going to launch her annual signature charity event “Run it Forward”. In the past two years, “Run it Forward” has successfully brought together faculty, staff, students and alumni in a healthy and meaningful activity for a three-month challenge. We have also raised a significant amount of funds for President’s Challenge Singapore, so much so that we were specially recognised in a Thank-You reception hosted by the President of Singapore Madam Halimah Yacob last year. For the Run  last year, I was extremely touched to be invited by a group of Year 1 medical students to run with them at Gardens by the Bay. 

But in my mind, it has an even deeper meaning. Life itself is a marathon. 

I started running at the ripe age of 56. Never before in my life have I trained for running. I picked up running because I was feeling exhausted at work and getting weaker every day. So my friends told me, running can change your life.  Then, I read a book about a retiree (as a beginner) who ran around the island of Taiwan (over 1,000 km) in 30 days to raise funds for children with cancer. I thought, if he can do it at 60 years of age, I should be able to do it at my age. 

The first run I had was at the famous Brandenburg Gate of Germany. I landed at the Berlin airport during one cold morning of November 2016. Without thinking much, I put on my jumper and ran out of my hotel towards the iconic site of the German capital. It was snowing, it was cold and it was dark. I could only finish 3 km before feeling the drain to carry on. However, there was the miraculous feeling of fighting against the harsh weather, the experience of overcoming my anxiety and apprehension alone in a strange land; and the unbridled joy of conquering my inertia and physiological limits was beyond what words can describe. 

I have learned a few things in my run. 

First, Life is a Marathon. In that long journey, one would see beautiful scenery; and one would face unforgiving gusty winds and pouring rain. There will be times when  you get a flat and smooth runway or gentle downhill slopes that allow you to enjoy your exercise. But there will also be times when the roads are bumpy and full of obstacles causing you to  trip and fall (and I did twice). In any case, you have to strive for the finishing line with your determination and utmost effort (which is why I am not keen to run on the treadmill). No one can do it for you. And when you reach that finish line, no one can take away your joy and accomplishment. 

Second, Your Limits are Only in your Mind. I have never been an acclaimed athlete in my life. Neither have I won medals in any sports, from the days at school, to the days of today at my age. My muscles are flappy, and my heart is not strong. I used to have a million reasons and excuses for not exercising. But one day I bought a Nike t-shirt with the words “JUST DO IT!” printed across the front. I just followed with no questions asked, and then I realised that I could be transformed as I broke my own record. After that, I felt confident of going on to the next level, and I did. If I kept asking questions when, how, why and what, I would never reach where I am today. 

Finally, let me say this: You Don’t Know What You Are Missing. Unless you Run. I have made it a habit that wherever I go, I will always bring my running shoes, and jog around the city I travel to. I ran in every corner of Hong Kong and Singapore, then New York, Chicago, Sydney, Heidelberg, Berlin, Amsterdam, London, Oxford, Santiago, Rio, Cape Town … and many other places. I saw breath-taking sceneries; I saw beautiful birds and animals. I met interesting people and numerous spectacular monuments and architecture. If I had just stayed in hotels, meeting rooms and restaurants, I would have missed all these. Life is much more interesting and colourful, and you would have so much more to talk about, only if you run and enjoy the fresh air on your face and the wind blowing through your hair.

So, whether you are 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 or 70 years of age, don’t hesitate. Come join us in “Run it Forward” this year and start your own wonderful journey of life.