No. 2 spot surprises Arctic ultra-racer

Mr Toh's second-place finish only 56 minutes behind the Romanian winner was especially sweet for him as he did not complete the same race six years ago due to injuries and inadequate preparation.
Mr Toh's second-place finish only 56 minutes behind the Romanian winner was especially sweet for him as he did not complete the same race six years ago due to injuries and inadequate preparation. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

S'porean hoping to just finish the 8-day race raises $30k for ST fund for needy school kids

The man who walked 566km in temperatures as low as minus 40 deg C has successfully completed the race.

The only Singaporean and Asian in the 6633 Arctic ultra race across Canada, Mr Toh Poh Joo was placed second out of 12 participants, five of whom had dropped out along the way during the eight-day race that started on March 11.

Mr Toh, 41, was only 56 minutes behind Romanian racer Tiberiu Useriu, bodyguard to a minister in his country.

"From the beginning, my aim was just to finish (the race), even if I finish last. So when the organiser said I was second, I was really surprised," said Mr Toh, vice-president for terminal operations for the Changi Airport Group (CAG).

The achievement was especially sweet for him as he did not complete the same race six years ago due to injuries and inadequate preparation.

The race has also helped Mr Toh raise some $30,000 for The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund, through appeals to family, friends and the public via the Giving.sg website. His employer matched the amount with a $30,000 donation from the Changi Foundation, the charity arm of CAG.

The ST School Pocket Money Fund provides pocket money to children from low-income families. They can use the money for school-related expenses, such as buying food during recess or paying for transport. It supports about 14,000 children and youth a year.

As a child, Mr Toh sometimes went to school without pocket money and knew what it was like when his stomach growled while he was trying to focus in class.

"I feel for kids who have to go through it every day," he said.

Said Mr Warren Fernandez, chairman of the ST School Pocket Money Fund and editor of The Straits Times: "Our congratulations to Poh Joo on accomplishing this amazing feat. Our beneficiaries will stand to benefit from his grit and generosity in helping to raise funds."

Separately, Mr Toh has also raised almost $20,000 for NorthLight School, a school for those who fail PSLE or drop out of secondary school, by getting his colleagues to donate. The school has been a beneficiary of Changi Foundation since 2014.

The money raised will go towards helping needy students buy school uniforms, as well as pay for meals, transportation and medical fees.

Said Mr Martin Tan, principal of NorthLight School: "We are proud to hear of Mr Toh's achievement in completing the race, and the donations raised by his CAG colleagues."

Mr Toh returned to Singapore on March 26 to a surprise party by his family and friends.

He went for a walk at the Botanic Gardens the next morning with his wife of three months, Ms Linda Loh, 36, and had nasi lemak there, which he craved during his race.

Said Ms Loh, a management consultant: "Even under such trying conditions, (Poh Joo) kept a cheerful and giving spirit. To me, that's a real winner."

During the race, Mr Toh walked 70-72km daily, surviving on an average of four hours of sleep each night. And when he noticed the Romanian racer suffering from a shin injury, Mr Toh shared his tent with him.

The other racers chided him for this later, saying that he might have won the race if he had not helped the Romanian racer. But Mr Toh thought otherwise. "It would be wrong if I didn't," he said.

On what the race taught him, Mr Toh said the difficulties encountered had made him a stronger person.

"Embrace the hardship and learn to get out of the unpleasant situation," he said. "You will become a better person."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2016, with the headline 'No. 2 spot surprises Arctic ultra-racer'. Print Edition | Subscribe