HE was no track champion but running was his life and at the wake of 89-year-old Chan Meng Hui, his casket was befittingly surrounded by an array of colourful medals picked up over three decades.
His passion for the sport was evident – both in life and death.
Rightly hailed as a beloved figure in the local running scene, Uncle Chan – as he is affectionately known as – died on Thursday, having completed over a century of marathons around the world.
The singlet read: “101st marathon, Uncle Chan Meng Hui”. And a finisher’s medal was draped around his neck, coming to a rest on his chest.
Ironically, he wasn’t always a runner. He was, from personal notes of family and friends, a heavy drinker and smoker, in his early years, who preferred party shoes to running shoes.
In fact, when he first started running in his 50s, he could barely cross 300m. But by the time Mr Chan reached 89 years, he had covered thousands of kilometres in exactly 101 marathons around the world.
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,” recalls 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 simply ran at his own pace – it was never about the speed and always about the finish.
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.
He completed his 101st marathon – the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore – in 2015, clocking a time of 8.5 hours.
“I advised him many times to take it easy at this age,” says 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, recalls Mr Lee. He explains: “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. I wasn’t surprised because running was his life.”
Plenty of 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.”
Uncle Chan’s physical inspiration was simply to use himself to give hope to the younger generation and even senior citizens. How a late-starter, who loved drinking and smoking, could turn over a new leaf. For him, running was not about winning or losing. The important thing was in finishing.
Outside of running, he 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.
Befittingly, in his passing, family and friends remembered what was embossed on Uncle Chan’s name-card.
The company’s motto: “We may not be the best, but we always do our best”.