Goodbye Uncle Chan: Local running fraternity remember 89-year-old who ran 101 marathons

Goodbye Uncle Chan: Local running fraternity remember 89-year-old who ran 101 marathons

Chan Meng Hui
89-year-old Chan Meng Hui took part in more than 100 marathons.

SINGAPORE: Mr Chan Meng Hui wasn't always a runner. He was a heavy drinker and smoker who preferred party shoes to running shoes.

In fact, when he first started running in his 50s, he could barely eke out 300m. But by the time Mr Chan reached 89 years of age, he had covered thousands of kilometres in exactly 101 marathons around the world.

A beloved figure in the local running scene, Uncle Chan - as he is affectionately known as - died on Thursday (Feb 21), friends and family told Channel NewsAsia.

His passion for the sport was evident - both in life and death.

At his wake in North Bridge Road, Uncle Chan was dressed in his 101st marathon singlet. His casket was surrounded by an array of colourful medals - a reminder of his achievements over the last three decades.

The singlet read: "101st marathon, Uncle Chan Meng Hui".

A finisher's medal was draped around his neck, coming to a rest on his chest.

An inspiration for many in the running fraternity, Uncle Chan was a great friend and a great cheerleader, his friends said.

"He always encouraged runners. Some of them would be walking, and he would stop by and encourage them to keep on running and not to give up," recalled Mr Steven Lee, president of local running club MacRitchie Runners 25 (MR25).

After all, Uncle Chan was never too fussed about competing with fellow runners. This was a man who ran at his own pace - it was never about the speed and always about the finish.

Uncle Chan 89-year-old marathon runner
Chan Meng Hui's casket was surrounded by an array of colourful medals he'd collected over the last three decades. (Photo: Facebook/In Memory of Chan Meng Hui)

RUNNING WAS HIS LIFE

Uncle Chan, who has two sons and three grandchildren, was a late entrant to running, only picking it up at 50 in order to curb an unhealthy lifestyle.

Over three decades though, his races would take him from the steps of the Great Wall of China, to the steppes of Mongolia. 

Uncle Chan and Mr Lee first met as fellow members of MR25 in 1983. In order to become part of the elite club, members have to clock a timing of 25 minutes or less for a 5km run at MacRitchie Reservoir.

In 1986, Uncle Chan was made president of the club, but gave it up after one year so he could focus on running, said Mr Lee.

"He said: 'If I'm president, I can't run!' He wanted to concentrate more on running, so I took over," said Mr Lee.

"I am crazy about running and he too was crazy about running," said Mr Lee. "He was an easy-going type of person ... He always obliged anything, if you asked for help, to run together, to go running overseas - he liked running overseas."

And Uncle Chan never stopped running. He completed his 101st marathon - the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore - in 2015, clocking a time of 8.5 hours.

Chan Meng Hui at 2015 Standard Chartered Marathon
Chan Meng Hui completed his 101st marathon - the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore - in 2015, clocking a time of 8.5 hours. (Photo: Facebook/In Memory of Chan Meng Hui)

"I advised him many times to take it easy at this age," said Mr Lee.

"The last marathon he did - the 101st one, I told him not to go, he already had his 100th one, that’s it. But I think he was very enthusiastic and wanted to have another go and I think that took a lot out of him."

Uncle Chan loved running so much that he even went for a jog on the day of his son's wedding tea ceremony, recalled Lee.

"He told me that even on the day of his son's wedding he went to run and came back late for the tea ceremony," Mr Lee said. "I wasn’t surprised because running was his life."

THE 'REAL DEAL'

Tributes flowed freely after news of Uncle Chan's death broke, with those who knew the sprightly senior taking to social media to share their memories of him.

"You could see the flood of people pouring their condolences. Uncle Chan touched a lot of lives in the running scene, he’s like an icon," said Mr Dan Gan, a member of MR25.

"He was like a mentor to me and a father to every runner who joined the club. He would dish out his advice and tell us about his life story, how he was not a born runner but through life experiences he started running."

To collate some of these memories, 36-year-old Gerrard Lin and several others started the Facebook page In Memory of Chan Meng Hui.

"Uncle Chan is part of the history of running in Singapore," said Mr Lin, who goes by the nickname Ah Siao. "He has experienced all the running in Singapore, the ups and downs.

"You’d see him at races and marathons – the thing that was most impressed upon me was the way he still continued running. He said he wanted to use his actions to inspire people. He would say running is not about winning or losing, that was not so important. But the important thing is finishing."

Mr Lin, an ultra-endurance athlete, described Uncle Chan as a "source of inspiration."

"From the bottom of my heart, I am inspired. He’s one of the people who whenever I’m doing something very arduous, his story would always float in my mind - if Uncle Chan could do it, why can’t I? He lives on through the stories that people tell," said Mr Lin.

Chan Meng Hui 2
'Uncle Chan' as he is known, is a beloved figure in the running fraternity

Despite his years of experience competing in various races, Uncle Chan's humility is also fondly remembered by those he came into contact with.

Ms Liew Wei Yong, a personal trainer, recalled how the then 86-year-old was selected as part of a programme to prepare participants for a local run.

"He was a veteran in running but yet he was very humble and willing to learn," she said. "Even though he was old, he tried to get better – to motivate others to run as well."

The seven-week regime included strength training, a component that Uncle Chan was not too familiar with. But he would call instructors during the week to find out more.

"He was not a fast runner but he was very consistent in his training and when we were out for training runs, he would try to keep up with the pace which we set for them," she added. "In fact he would encourage the rest to do this more often.

"It’s a loss to the running community in Singapore – he was quite an inspiration."

Outside of running, Uncle Chan ran his own company - the aptly named Constant Courier. He could have called it a day years ago, but wanted to keep it running in order to help those under his charge.

One of his employees was 69-year-old Chan Chai Hui, also a member of MR25 and a friend.

"He had a very good heart and was very good to employees," said Chan. "If employees were in trouble he would lend help. If he saw a beggar on the street, he would give money."

Embossed on Uncle Chan's name-card is the company's motto: "We may not be the best, but we always do our best".

Source: CNA/mt(aj)

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