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Last Saturday (Dec 3), more than 2,000 participants gathered at the Singapore Turf Club for this year’s Run For Inclusion.

The mass run event, organised by local non-profit group Runninghour, saw runners from all walks of life, including individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities.

The event raised more than $32,000 for Runninghour, which promotes integration of persons with special needs through sports.

Guest of honour, President Halimah Yaacob, flagged off the event and joined in a 1.5-kilometre walk. Other abled participants ran distances ranging from 3 km to 10 km with their special-needs buddies and cycled 20 kilometres solo or on tandem bicycles.

But not all the participants were able-bodied or neurotypical. Among them were four athletes from Special Olympics Singapore, part of the global organisation that cultivates sportspeople with intellectual disabilities.

The Pride spoke with the athletes and their caregivers to find out more about why they decided to sign up for Run for Inclusion. All four athletes, alongside their peers and head coach took part in the 20-kilometre tandem cycling event.

Lucy & Ek Jin: “Inclusion is very precious.”

Lucy & Ek Jin: “Inclusion is very precious.”
(From left) Ek Jin with his buddy, Special Olympics Singapore volunteer Matthew Yong, and Lucy with her PWSN buddy, Wanita. Image source: Ashley Tan

For Lucy Siau, in her early 60s, and her 30-year-old son Ek Jin, being part of this year’s 20km tandem cycle was the third time they were participating in Run for Inclusion.

When Lucy first heard about Run for Inclusion in 2020 through emails and friends that the event catered to persons with special needs (PWSNs), she signed up immediately.

The mother of three told The Pride: “We feel very close to the event because it’s about us.”

This year, Ek Jin participated in the 20km tandem cycle. Lucy took part as well but was paired with a different partner, Wanita. Nevertheless, she was constantly looking out for Ek Jin during the ride.

It’s something she has been doing for years, since Ek Jin was diagnosed with Global Developmental Delay at the age of five. For the past 25 years, the duo have been inseparable. She even supported him through his 12-year competitive swimming career, the highlight being representing Singapore in the 2019 Special Olympics in Abu Dhabi. Ek Jin has now taken up bowling.

Lucy and Ek Jin with their medals after completing their 20-kilometer cycling event.
Lucy and Ek Jin with their medals after completing their 20-kilometer cycling event. Image source: Ashley Tan

Lucy hopes that Ek Jin, who works as a part-time office assistant, will be able to be a part of Run for Inclusion for many years to come.

She said, beaming with pride: “Even though he cannot be compared to an abled person, he can still do it.”

Getting involved in such events, regardless of ability, helps PWSNs integrate into society better and shows the world that PWSNs can do their part too.

Lucy, who quit her job to take care of Ek Jin when he was diagnosed, tells parents of children with special needs never to give up on their journey.

“You will never regret spending so much time and effort,” she said.

Dennis & Arthur: “I just want him to be good.”

Dennis & Arthur: “I just want him to be good.”
Father and son posing proudly with Arthur’s uniquely shaped horseshoe medal. Image source: Ashley Tan

Arthur Ho, 23, smiled cheekily at his father, Dennis Ho, 65, after he passed the inflatable arch marking the completion of his 20km tandem cycling event.

The part-time document assistant, who has medium to high functioning intellectual disability, is a confident and cheerful individual.

The father and son duo found out about Run for Inclusion while training for Special Olympics Singapore. Arthur has been an athlete with Special Olympics Singapore for about five years now, competing in running events.

Even though Dennis was unable to cycle with Arthur, he was at the event to support his son and the other athletes.

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“I am proud to be part of this,” Dennis said, adding that he hopes to raise awareness about PWSNs and their caregivers by taking part in the event.

While chatting to The Pride before the cycle, Dennis mentioned that he made Arthur’s “happy drink”, prompting Arthur to burst into laughter. “Can I say, can I say,” he asked excitedly.

It turned out that Arthur’s “happy drink” is a mix of green tea, chia seeds and passionfruit.

Dennis explained: “It puts him in a good mood. And when he is in a good mood, he is motivated.”

Arthur must have had a big cup of his “happy drink” because he was all pumped up and ready to get on his bicycle with his buddy, May!
Arthur must have had a big cup of his “happy drink” because he was all pumped up and ready to get on his bicycle with his buddy, May! Image source: Ashley Tan

Arthur’s involvement with Special Olympics Singapore and cycling for Run for Inclusion has given him a sense of belonging.

Said Dennis proudly: “He is able to do as others can do, and that gives him a sense of accomplishment. I hope that will help teach him to be more independent.”

William, Christine and Timothy: “Things got better after he started working, exercising”

William, Christine and Timothy: “Things got better after he started working, exercising”
Timothy and his buddy, Tommy, all smiles after completing their tandem cycling event. Image source: Ashley Tan

36-year-old Timothy Yew is a baker at SIA-MINDS.

He is also an athlete running for Special Olympics Singapore.

After last Saturday, he can add “cyclist” to the list after his 20km cycle at Run for Inclusion.

Timothy, who cannot read nor write and has the intellectual development of a 10-year-old, partnered with Tommy Chew, one of the Special Olympics Singapore coaches for the biking event.

Invited by volunteer head coach Norman Koh, it was Timothy’s first outing at Run for Inclusion.

His parents, Wiliam Yew, 65, and Christine Chan, 62, shares with The Pride that their family have come a long way with Timothy.

Timothy made a beeline for parents Christine and William after receiving his medal at the end of the event.
Timothy made a beeline for parents Christine and William after receiving his medal at the end of the event. Image source: Ashley Tan

Said Christine: “At the start, we had to force him to run. Now, he is always asking, ‘when is the next run?’”

The exercise has helped give him a fixed routine as well as health benefits – Timothy has lost more than 10kg since he started!

For Timothy’s parents, his involvement in Run for Inclusion helped them feel acknowledged as a family, both as a PWSN and as caregivers.

Attending the event and the Special Olympics training sessions have also boosted Timothy’s confidence and tempered his social behaviour. Running with his peers allowed Timothy to interact with others outside of his social circle, building up resilience and responsibility.

Ever since Timothy started running, Christine has seen positive changes in him.

“I couldn’t recognise him. He became more vocal, more active. He used to have meltdowns once or twice a month, but now, he rarely has any.”

Lia & Wei Kang: “Before I had him, I didn’t know anything about special needs”

Like any other parent, Lia Marahusin, 57, has always wanted her children to grow up healthy and happy.

When her son Toh Wei Kang, 25, was diagnosed with Down syndrome as an infant, she was faced with a lot of uncertainty.

“Bringing him up and learning to accept he is different was not easy. He was sick often and support was difficult to find back then.”

Lia and Wei Kang striking a pose on Saturday.
Lia and Wei Kang striking a pose on Saturday. Image source: Ashley Tan

Lia found strength in her family, especially her younger son, Wei Yang, and the Down Syndrome Association Singapore for supporting her whenever needed.

Wei Kang used to swim competitively but now is part of the running team for Special Olympics Singapore. The rest of his time is pretty busy too, added Lia, with night activities including running twice a week, speech and drama classes as well as bowling, also with the Special Olympics team.

Lia explains why she emphasises so much on healthy lifestyle habits like exercising and eating well.

“In a healthy body, there is a healthy mind. It’s good to have a focus on making them physically strong.”

Wei Kang with his younger brother Wei Yang, getting ready for flag off.
Wei Kang with his younger brother Wei Yang, getting ready for flag off. Image source: Ashley Tan

Participating in Run for Inclusion is important for raising awareness, said Lia.

“As much as you want them to be independent, there are behavioural issues to be mindful of. If the public cannot accept or help them, it is difficult for them in the long run. It is very important to have people guide and be patient.”

Having an abled or neurotypical buddy is an important part of this process. Which is why Runninghour fulfils such a crucial role in society. This helps to amplify the effect of raising awareness through having more members of the society interact with PWSNs. In turn, this engagement integrates PWSNs closer with society.

“Wei Yang!” Wei Kang laughed heartily with his mum who asked who was a better tandem buddy, she or Wei Yang.

Added Lia: “It’s just like (recently concluded) Purple Parade, we can have all people with disabilities gather together!”

Helping in their own way

Outro
The Special Olympics Singapore team, including athletes, coaches, volunteers and parents proudly displaying their pride and joy of being at Run For Inclusion 2022! Image source: Ashley Tan

Too often, we see persons with special needs as people who need help. Or who are unable to take care of themselves.

Yet being at the event, surrounded by a mix of able-bodied and disabled, neurotypical and neurodiverse persons, there is a strong sense of community – not so much of one group helping another, but of different people with different abilities coming together for a single person.

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People with special needs are just like any other abled person, they also have their hopes and dreams, their hobbies, likes and dislikes. They have their struggles, but they can contribute in their own way to create a society that accepts and embrace them.

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