These Champions Don’t Have to be Rock Stars to Inspire the World!

by On Jul 15, 2016

Near and far, these ordinary runners with extraordinary stories will inspire you to reevaluate your life/ running goals.

These Champions Don’t Have to be Rock Stars to Inspire the World!

As a runner, you probably bump into the word "inspiring" frequently, and it's often associated with mega-stars profiled in running publications. But how about inspiring runners you may never hear about – runners who change the world but get little recognition?

We've searched for people guaranteed to inspire you. Some are more well-known than others, but they all meet our definition of the word 'inspiring'. Once you read their stories, you'll agree!

Rob Young

How did the UK runner earn the title “Marathon Man”? By breaking the “longest run without sleep” record in 2015, completing nearly 374 miles (601.9 km) without so much as a nap.

These Champions Don’t Have to be Rock Stars to Inspire the World!

Photo Credit: marathonmanuk

He's got other records under his belt and no distance is too far to make more, but his proudest accomplishment is a Champions Walk for Peace movement torch relay instituted by Kenyan runners to raise money to combat ethnic violence in that nation's North Rift Valley.

He is deeply concerned about young people trapped in a cycle of violence that has resulted in high numbers of killings (600 by 2014) and 435,000 displaced people. Inspiring? Absolutely.

Jeri Chua

She's no wimpy woman and she proved that tackling the 400 km Ultra Trail Gobi, becoming the first Singaporean woman to claim victory over this harsh environmental challenge. She's been running for 20 years since acquiring her "self-proclaimed addiction", and despite the fact that she's quite tiny, she qualified for the Singapore National Triathlon Team.

These Champions Don’t Have to be Rock Stars to Inspire the World!

Photo Credit: Jeri Chua

As the first Singaporean to tackle the Ironman Kona Hawaii, she repeatedly undertakes new international challenges, carrying on even when sidelined with a torn muscle.

Her inspiration? Runners who finish last out of "dogged determination" and the friends she makes every time she competes. Do challenges scare her? No way. Bring on the gale force winds, exhaustion or sub-zero temps! Her favourite quote?

"Pain is French bread that tastes awesome with butter."

Eddie Izzard

This Brit loves living on the edge – whether it's as an actor or comedian, yet he rarely talks about his most impressive claim to fame: Completing 27 marathons in 27 days for charity and this inspiring accomplishment won’t be his last.

These Champions Don’t Have to be Rock Stars to Inspire the World!

Photo Credit: Marius Janse van Rensburg

Helping to amass millions of dollars for human rights campaigns throughout the world gives him as much pleasure as applause and even when fatigue overtakes him, he won't rest until he takes time to thank his supporters – of which there are legions.

Despite exhaustion, the comic never missed a beat at the end of his daunting marathon of marathons, sharing this bit of wit and wisdom with well-wishing bystanders: "Don’t do this at home!"

Mok Ying Ren

Would you be willing to put your medical career on hold, leave your family and relocate to the U.S. to train for a year on the off-chance you could represent Singapore at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro? Mok Ying Ren is so focused on seeing Singapore win a running medal this summer, he’s putting his future career as an orthopedic surgeon on hold.

These Champions Don’t Have to be Rock Stars to Inspire the World!

Photo Credit: Mok Ying Ren

Thanks to support from Pocari Sweat, Brooks, AirAsia and the National University Hospital (NUH), Dr. Mok is running for more than a Singapore victory: he's also celebrating his recovering health following the freak accident that tore his right retina and put him out of commission for a year.

His philosophy?

"Life has its ups and downs but if you keep pushing the envelope, there is a high chance that you will succeed eventually."

Once Dr. Mok opens his Singapore practice down the road, who wouldn't want to become the patient of this selfless runner?

Amy Palmiero-Winters and Sarah Reinertsen

These Americans make our list of inspiring runners because each lost legs yet became "blade runners" to show their mettle.

Winters' leg was amputated after a motorcycle crash, but she went on to become the fastest "below-the-knee amputee" in the world. She supports the One Step Ahead Foundation benefitting kids with disabilities and was instrumental in getting prosthetics for a young Boston Marathon bomb survivor.

These Champions Don’t Have to be Rock Stars to Inspire the World!

Left: Amy Palmiero-Winters. Right: Sarah Reinertsen. Photo Credit: AlwaysTri

'Sister-in-run' Sarah Reinertsen was born with a congenital bone deficiency that required surgeons to amputate her legs when she was only 7 years old. She came roaring back over the years to become the first female leg amputee to complete Kona's Ironman World Championship. She works with Ossur, a prosthetic equipment manufacturer, to mentor and inspire athletes via the Challenged Athletes Foundation.

Grace Chua

We've no idea whether she's related to Jeri, but we don't care. Grace Chua is ethnically Southern Chinese but 100-percent Singaporean when it comes to her passion for running. This well-travelled, enthusiastic soul is heading to the U.S. with her husband so he can undertake doctoral studies and she plans to run her way around Boston while he’s pursuing academics.

These Champions Don’t Have to be Rock Stars to Inspire the World!

Photo Credit: Genetically Challenged Athlete.

Why is she inspiring? Because she's a typical Singapore runner who can be found running around with a baked sweet potato in foil, dressed in an old cotton shirt and decidedly unfashionable shorts!

As an advocate for Singapore women who adore running, she spreads the word about how nurturing Singapore's close-knit running community is and she makes it a point to brag about our government because they create so many splendid parks. Come back to us, Grace, once your hubby gets his degree!

Bob and Lenore Dolphin

Don't let the last name of this married couple fool you: These Yakima, Washington run enthusiasts like to swim but they love to run, which is how they came to serve as race directors for the Yakima River Canyon Marathon. While Bob has completed more than 500 marathons, it's Lenore who gets the most credit for serving as a volunteer for hundreds of events on her own.

These Champions Don’t Have to be Rock Stars to Inspire the World!

Photo Credit: ontherunevents

A retired entomologist, Bob says that he's probably the only runner on the planet who studies plants and animals when out for training runs, but they never distract him from his running goals of staying safe and healthy.

We forgot to mention that these inspiring running champions are both 83-years-old, proving that it's never too late to continue enjoying a passion – both for each other and for their favourite athletic activity.

Lexxus Tan

You may wish to sit down before you check out the list of marathon victories Tan has managed to accomplish during his running career, though to be honest, he's been running since age 7. Taking his passion for running to the highest peak, he became a full-time trainer and active Singapore running group F1 Runners' head coach, so he inspires a whole new generation of Singaporeans by serving as their role model.

These Champions Don’t Have to be Rock Stars to Inspire the World!

Photo Credit: Lexxus Tan

Who is responsible for his success on so many levels? His sisters. They motivated him to train by instilling in him the belief that "you can beat the boy who is faster than you!"

Their influence proved fortuitous. These days he sets records with repeated wins at the North Face 100 where he proudly represents Singapore and serves as an inspiration to everyone he meets.

Abby Sweitzer Bales and Angela Coulombe

Though these American women have never met, they share commonalities that have inspired others because each has proven to be unstoppable.

These Champions Don’t Have to be Rock Stars to Inspire the World!

Left: Abby Sweitzer Bales. Right: Angela Coulombe

In 2010, Bales was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and she had to have her colon removed, but that wasn't about to put an end to her running career. Bales finished the New Jersey Half-Marathon in 01:40 only a year after the surgery.

Angela was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2007 and discovered, quite by accident, that running helped her deal with the never-ending pain she experienced. If there's a marathon dedicated to Lyme disease research, Coulombe packs her shoes and shows up. She even qualified for the 2012 Boston Marathon to show the world that Lyme disease had no power over her in any aspect of her life.

Boston Marathon Heroes

News footage reverberated around the world so we believe it appropriate to add unsung heroes of the Boston tragedy to complete our list. As dust from explosions dissipated and fire and rescue workers swooped in to care for the injured, extraordinary acts of heroism were commonplace.


Runners and bystanders tore off shirts to make tourniquets, used their hands to stem bleeding, administered CPR and many rushed to hospitals to donate blood. Nearby businesses handed out merchandise free: bottled water, phones, Internet access and food for rescue workers was delivered throughout the day and night. Airlines replaced tickets at no charge and stranded runners were invited to stay at local runners’ homes. Inspired? You bet!

Who's Your Running Hero?

Would you like to see more unsung heroes profiled in the media? Why not tell us about the person who most inspires you to be a better person and run a better race?

Nathaniel is a disciplined casual runner and a lover of bananas. As a columnist for RunSociety, he is always on the lookout for exciting and controversial topics that touch the heart of the running community in Singapore, often adding in his funny observations. He has embarked on a mission to start a world class running group in Asia.

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