They'll suffer to save strays

FOR A GOOD CAUSE: Mr Chin Wei Chong (in white) and Mr Ian Lye will be taking part in the Marathon des Sables to raise money for local animal rescue group Save Our Street Dogs.

SINGAPORE - He was all set to conquer the Sahara desert in a gruelling 251-km run in April.

Then he met a speed bump.

His routine medical check-up last August revealed a heart murmur and doctors here refused to certify him physically fit for the run.

Mr Chin Wei Chong, 34, could not accept that because the lives of many rescued strays belonging to Save Our Street Dogs (SOSD), a non-profit animal rescue group, were at stake.

Mr Chin and his running mate, Mr Ian Lye, 32, the head of Terrorism and Insurgency Research at Thomson Reuters, had hoped to raise $100,000 for animal welfare by taking part in the run.

They love dogs and the money raised would go a long way towards helping the animals as it would help build a new shelter.

Then, Mr Chin, the regional director of marketing communications at First Advantage, had to undergo a medical check-up to certify him fit for the event.

Married with two sons aged one and three, he said: "Of course, I was disappointed, but I wasn't about to give up without a fight."

Mr Chin, who does not own any pets, later had his heart checked by French doctors working with the organisers of Marathon des Sables (MdS).

The MdS is a 251-km ultra-marathon held every year in southern Morocco across the Sahara desert and is considered the toughest foot race in the world.

After various tests, Mr Chin was given the green light for the race.

His wife, Ms Phe Ying Ying, 33, a sales executive, was initially worried.

She said: "Both the boys and I love Wei Chong dearly. I've read about cases of athletes who lost their lives because of similar heart conditions."

'RELIEF'

Ms Phe said she was relieved and delighted when the French doctors and organisers of the MdS gave her husband the green light.

She added: "My husband has always been a running fanatic and I'm proud of his determination and dedication to his passion, as well as his role in championing the welfare of street dogs."

Both Mr Chin and Mr Lye are avid runners and have taken part in many marathons in Singapore.

Said Mr Lye: "We become bored with the local running scene and needed something more. That was when we learnt about the Marathon des Sables and decided to take it on."

Mr Lye has three dogs, one of which was adopted from SOSD.

Training for the gruelling run in one of the world's most inhospitable climates was not easy.

Said Mr Lye: "Singapore's climate is humid, while it's hot and dry in the desert. So we picked the hottest part of the day to train - we run between 11am and 3pm."

He added they would also wear long-sleeved tracksuits and carry large backpacks to simulate race conditions.

Training over the weekend at East Coast beach would invariably draw curious and incredulous looks from beach-goers, Mr Lye added.

For terrain work, the men travelled to Hong Kong to train on the 70-km Lantau Trail.

While training, the duo also had to study for exams and garner sponsorship, not only for the dogs but also for their trip.

They also contacted several Singaporeans who had previously crossed deserts such as the Sahara and Gobi, to learn from their experience.

Said Mr Chin: "Their spirit and enthusiasm were so inspiring, and it helped us get ready for our own run. Both Ian and I can't wait for April to come."

'TOUGHEST FOOT RACE ON EARTH'

Described by the Discovery Channel as the "toughest foot race on earth", the Marathon des Sables (MdS) is a gruelling event held in the Sahara desert.

Participants have to be self-sufficient, carrying everything - except water - needed to survive one of the world's most inhospitable climates.

The environment that runners will face comprises sand dunes and temperatures of up to 50 deg C.

Participants have to negotiate some 251 km, a distance equivalent to 5½ marathons, in just five to six days.

Started in 1986 by French concert promoter Patrick Bauer, MdS is now in its 29th consecutive year.

The event has attracted more than 1,200 runners this year.

It begins on April 4 in southern Morocco and ends on April 14.

For an idea of what runners will be going through, visit http:// marathondessables.co.uk/site/content/ stage-1

juditht@sph.com.sg


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