All the way from Hong Kong, an amateur runner and blind guide runner, Elaine Lee quit her job as a high salary teacher job and went to Cambodia alone to be a local children’s teacher.
In 2019, she set up the first Cambodia Youth Christian running team called “Susu Running Teens” to provide scientific running programs and nutritious meals for local children.
After hearing the story of “Cambodia Su Su Running Teens,” two female runners from Hong Kong who are visually impaired (one is completely blind, the other has 30% vision) felt inspired.
So they decided to join Elaine to participate in the Run For Cambodia 2020 online run created by Spacebib in the 6.7km category. Even though they could not see the Cambodian youth runners, they still supported and encouraged each other because of the same running belief——persistence! As they run together under the same sky, every corner of the earth.
We spoke to Elaine to find out about her decision to move to Cambodia and how she is helping the Cambodian youth with running.
RS: What inspires you to run in Cambodia this year?
Elaine: Training ourselves to persevere-to learn no excuses and no matter any situation, just keep running. When I was in Hong Kong, I could run in the stadiums, the stairs, ramps, on grasslands, along the beaches, seashores, and in the mountains – it was so convenient and having a place to run seems to be taken for granted.
But when I started to live in Cambodia, I found that the roads in Cambodia are not well-paved, and there is a lack of venues for running and doing exercise. The streets are full of duk-duk taxis and motorbikes driving in all directions. There are very few pedestrians. So it is very difficult to find a proper running venue for my team.
Anyway, we found solutions to solve this problem and now train along the outskirts of a construction site because the paths are smoother, although the concrete ground is quite hard.
RS: What are the differences in running culture you discovered in Cambodia?
Elaine: The running culture in Cambodia is just starting to build up because the weather is so hot, and it’s hard for running during the daytime. Actually, Cambodians are not used to wearing running shoes. They would prefer flip-flops or barefoot instead.
Every Saturday, we would go to the Phnom Penh National Stadium for training. The training venue is less often used by teenage runners and also female runners. Even so, buying a pair of running shoes might not be affordable for them. Therefore, I truly appreciate the generous donations of shoes from my running teammates in Hong Kong.
RS: What are your running missions in Cambodia?
Elaine: The initial intention was to set up a girls’ running team. Since the social status of women has been quite low in Cambodia, my hope is to help improve their confidence and build up their faith in God through physical exercise.
However, during the selection process, I discovered that a number of boys possess high potential, and I didn’t want to ruin the opportunity to cultivate their talents. As a result, both a girls’ team and a boys’ team were born because the children there lack adequate nutrition and proper eating habits, they often have a stomach ache or feel physically unwell. One possible reason could be the unclean source of water supply.
I would wake up at 4 a.m. to prepare breakfast for them before their training at 6 a.m. After the training, it is important to take some protein and nutritious food. Right after that, we would participate in fellowship and disciple training held by the CEC church. Therefore, we provide whole-person care and development for the students.
The short-term goal of our running team is to participate in more contests through which they can learn the importance of perseverance. Hopefully, more Cambodians will get to know more about our team. Through communicating with these teenagers, they can also get to know about God and faith.
RS: What do you wish to achieve for your running mission?
Elaine: As for the long-term goal, I hope to serve the local community in Cambodia. We can cooperate with the schools for the blind by training our students to be pacers for the blind runners. Not only do the boys and girls in Cambodia run but also the blind people as well.
During their adolescence, when they might encounter difficulty and doubts about themselves, I hope that they manage to maintain their goal and keep their faith, get to know more people, broaden their vision, and spread the word of God around the world through running. I hope that Cambodia is just the first place where our “Susu Running Team” set foot on.
RS: During the pandemic, how do you run safely by continuing to serve your mission?
Elaine: Keep a social distance, wash hands, run slowly if you wear a mask. Sometimes, I invite our team members to work out together with Zoom. Remember to do exercise at home, especially to build up our core muscle, hip flexor and hamstring muscle training can help us run faster!
RS: How can you encourage others to run for Cambodia this year?
Elaine: During the pandemic, Cambodian schools were closed, and I returned to my hometown-Hong Kong. I would like to share my story and invited my team and my running buddies to join the Spacebib event Run for the Cambodia Online Race 2020 to run 6.7k and 67km together in different places, the same sky. Susu! (Khmer word meaning to cheer up) We never give up running.
Some people might not agree with putting the needs of others before their own, but Elaine is an example of an individual that did that.
Do you prioritise yourself over others or vice versa? No matter what, joining Run For Cambodia this year achieved either one.