By ShuQi Liu
Walking towards the starting point of the Colour Run on Sentosa Island – a 5km race in which everyone starts out in white, but finishes plastered with colour – I was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of more than 5000 youngsters sporting brightly coloured running shoes, tutus, headbands and knee-length socks.
I was here though – not just for a fun day out – but also to be The Chain Reaction Project’s running buddy of someone from Runninghour, a co-operative that promotes the integration of people with special needs through sports. Runninghour seeks sporty volunteers to team up with people who are intellectually, physically or visually challenged so that their members can more confidently participate in mainstream sporting events.
That morning, Zhang Tingjun – the co-founder of The Chain Reaction Project – WhatsApp-ed me and suggested that we make an eighties fashion statement. Great, I thought, that’s a good excuse to put on my electric blue leggings! Little did I know that they would come in useful later in the day.
A week before the Colour Run, I woke up bright and early for Runninghour’s training session. Like most Singaporeans, I grew up in a mainstream environment surrounded by people with ‘normal’ intellect and health. While this seemed ordinary, it’s really just a bubble. Sadly, I had never interacted with anyone who just needs a little more special attention . . . until this morning, when I would be a running buddy for the first time.
Although it was 7.30am on Saturday, a large group of Runninghour members and volunteers had already gathered at the carpark for warm-up exercises. When we first got going, I jogged along like a fish out of water, wondering how I could fit into the group’s dynamics. Then one of Runninghour’s members – a young woman who is a cleaner at Clarke Quay – ran towards me. When she caught up with me, she was huffing and puffing, crying “I can’t run anymore! I can’t run anymore!”
Here was my chance to really be part of the group, to step up as a Running Buddy.
“Swing your arms more,” I coached. “Lift your knees higher. Keep it up!”
She did as I advised and we chatted as we jogged. With a few words of encouragement, the barriers between us were broken.
Unlike previous adventures with The Chain Reaction Project – climbing a mountain or biking with my dad through Manila’s slums to raise awareness about human trafficking and urban poverty – being a Colour Run buddy was low risk and easy to do. All you need is a dose of empathy and patience to bond with someone with special needs. Isn’t this what social inclusion is all about?
Back at Sentosa on the day of the Colour Run, I was paired up with Helen, a teenager with a ponytail and funky Barbie-pink running shoes before flag off. Despite a limp in her leg, Helen was upbeat and excited about the race. I was pretty pumped too.
“Just to let you know, I am partially blind but I can see your bright blue legs!” Helen chirped.
My unique fashion sense became her reference point for the rest of the day.
For the next 5km, we had a wonderful time bonding over splashes of colours and stories about our lives. Helen told me how she was born with a leg impairment, then years later, a high fever caused her to partially lose her sight. Nevertheless, she enjoys weekly canoeing sessions with her school mates at Hwa Chong Institution and studying biology. Her physical disabilities never dampened her positive spirit, and certainly have not slowed down her intellectual pursuits.
It is not the destination but the journey that counts, and I am glad to be part of the journey as Singapore progresses towards an inclusive society ONE by ONE . . . by ONE.
If you would like to get involved in a social cause through sport, Runninghour will be organising its first nation-wide race themed “Run So Others Can” on 22 March 2015. The co-operative hopes to attract over 5,000 participants, involving visually, intellectually and physically challenged runners as well as the general public, in a display of self-reliance and empowerment to do good and to do well. For more information, please visit http://www.runninghour2015.com/.
This article was edited by Michael Switow. Photos courtesy of The Chain Reaction Project.
- For more information on how to get involved in a social cause through sport, visit runninghour.wordpress.com
- Watch highlights of TCRP 2014: Colour Run Lion City Adventure
- Read ShuQi’s biking adventures with her Dad in Manila
- Read ShuQi’s earlier trip to Davao City for The Ultimate Survival Challenge – Fighting Human Trafficking