He's neither the tallest nor the heftiest runner on the Malaysia marathon scene, but Frank Chong Wei Siong's countenance is as tall as Mount Kinabalu, the nation’s highest peak. If you're looking to be inspired, you couldn't find a better role model than Frank as you look forward to a new year of health and happiness.
RS: Frank, when and why did you start running?
Frank: I've been running since I was a kid, but it wasn't until around seven years ago that I was seriously bitten by the bug. In March 2007, I jumped into the KL Marathon and with each new challenge, I came to love this healthy activity more and more. When I learned about Terry Fox—the Canadian runner who ran across his nation to raise awareness and funds for cancer research–I was doubly inspired to keep going and, like Terry, I realised that I didn't have to be the fastest runner on the planet to make a difference in the lives of others.
RS: Your accomplishments are impressive, so we'd like to ask a) if you have a favourite running event and b) which was the toughest race for you?
Frank: My first Comrades Marathon in 2012 was the toughest. I almost missed the 12 hour cut-off and completed the race with just seven minutes to spare—which scared my friends. I was in so much agony, I had no idea they were freaking out! My favourite race? Two come to mind: the 2013 Comrades Marathon and the 2014 Craze Ultra 100 Miler. The first was memorable because I stopped to help a stranger with cramps at the final 7km mark and therefore, missed hitting my target, but no regrets since I love the feeling of helping someone else.
RS: You overcame cancer in your youth—no wonder you look upon helping others as a gift!
Frank: I was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma in 1992—at age 12. For 30 long months, I underwent radiotherapy and chemotherapy—painful treatments. I looked a fright; hair loss, my face broke out and my body was covered with blisters. I was very frail-looking, too. People aren't always kind when they encounter someone who looks so different. Despite being so young, I knew that I shouldn't worry about other people; I had to concentrate on my recovery!
RS: How brave of you at just 12. Where did you find the strength to carry on?
Frank: I had the world's best friends, family, doctors and nurses. I'll never forget undergoing a bone marrow extraction and waking up from the anaesthesia. That was awful—a syringe was in my lower back bone. But the people around me helped me get through it and come out stronger and more compassionate for those who have to go through similar treatments.
RS: We understand that you're serving as an ambassador for CARIF. What's it like to represent this group?
Frank: I consider it a privilege every time I tell my own personal story as a CARIF ambassador because I know how important it is to give other people hope and assurances that they, too, can face cancer.
RS: You are an amazing example of resilience and courage. What about the darkest times? How did you cope?
Frank: My parents never left my side throughout my battle and I credit their love with making the darkest days bearable. I also have three close friends who never fail to buoy my spirits and keep me going when things get tough. I would embarrass them if I mentioned their names, so let me just thank "Porcupine", "Fish" and "Tan Sri" for their loyalty and love.
RS: Do you use your experience as a cancer survivor to help you when you run?
Frank: I do. When I start feeling discomfort or I'm in pain, I know that I must push through because the pain or discomfort are temporary and will end. I remind myself of how I felt when I woke up in agony with that syringe in my back during the bone marrow extraction procedure—and I know I can overcome whatever I'm feeling!
RS: You're the ideal person to encourage other people battling cancer. What would you say to someone in need of your wisdom?
Frank: My first word will always be “Positive”. Develop a positive mind-set and your battle is half won. I would tell them that—given today's medical advances—treatment is less painful than ever; that they must believe they can beat this disease. Be brave, be bold, be hopeful. Don't be afraid to talk about your battle; survival rates keep getting higher. I also urge people to see a doctor if they suspect something is wrong. It’s better to get a diagnosis than worry. And remember that cancer is not a death sentence.
RS: The Comrades Marathon organisers couldn't have picked a better ambassador—you are so upbeat and positive. Are you the only Ambassador appointed in Malaysia and Singapore or are there others? Did they have to work hard to get you to say yes to this honor?
Frank: First, I am proud to say that I have been the only Comrades Marathon Ambassador for Malaysia since 2012. I'm presently standing in for Singapore until they choose someone. Why did I say yes? How could I not say yes? This is a very precious opportunity for me to give back—to enjoy a sense of fulfillment that one only gets when helping others. Some people ask me why I am willing to spend time on this since I get no benefits—but fact is, I get lots of benefits.
RS: Like what?
Frank: Well, I get to promote the Comrades Marathon to my fellow countrymen and to people all over the world. I get to go to beautiful places like South Africa and Scotland where I learn about new cultures and spread the word about Malaysia. The Comrades Marathon Association gives me marketing materials to help promote the race and explain to people around the world about this organisation's mission.
RS: What's it like to run in other countries?
Frank: Fun and interesting! While South Africa and Scotland are close to my heart, I've made many friends elsewhere and gotten to know lots about the international running scene, event management, supporters and running cultures. One thing we all have in common is that we are crazy about running, but these people are modest about their achievements. They don't brag. They just move on to the next run. The volunteers I meet are so unselfish. They organise everything, understand what runners need and help all they can since we pay for many of own expenses—even finishers medals. We're a family. A running family!
RS: How many races have you run?
Frank: I haven't kept track of them all but I have kept track of races with distances of 42.195km (full marathon) and above since year 2007. If I've jotted them down correctly, this totals 56 races.
RS: Can you give us some insights into your training routine?
Frank: In 2013, I began following the advice of a South African running coach by undertaking a basic program of running five days a week. I take Monday and Friday as rest days. Having this schedule allows me to focus on conditioning my body so rather than attempting to hit certain distances, I train based on my target heart rate. It's a healthier way to condition and keep a low heart rate--which can be frustrating for some, but ideal for me. I also do weight and resistance training so my muscles stay toned and I stay on a low carb, high (good) fat diet.
RS: Have you set goals for yourself and the organisations you represent for the year 2015?
Frank: First, I'll represent Cancer Research Initiatives Foundation (CARIF) under the "Be Frank" outreach program to raise funds and awareness for cancer research. I'm the perfect person to deliver a message that a future free of cancer isn't just possible, it's likely. I will also represent Saucony Malaysia as brand ambassador, promoting the company's running gear. I use their products when I train and race and I can use these events to talk about my personal cancer battle.
RS: You have said that you believe that life is too short to skip new opportunities so will you run new races in 2015?
Frank: The South Africa Comrades Marathon is always my first priority and will be my biggest challenge ever. My coach says that it's a realistic target for me, but even if I don't win, there's no shame because I'll have spread the word of hope to cancer sufferers everywhere. I'm going after the Vibram Hong Kong Ultra Trail race – my first 100km trail race – too. Once that's off my bucket list, I'll replace it with another trail race. In case you haven't figured it out by now, I'm pretty unstoppable!
Frank Chong's spirit and enthusiasm for life is profound enough to take your breath away. He serves as an indomitable spirit and an example of how to live life for anyone who has ever indulged in self-pity! Have you ever known anyone as remarkable as this man? If your answer is yes, we would love to hear from you!
You can find out more about Frank and be updated of his running journey at his blog.