Run, Kenny, run - thanks to Runninghour

Mr Kenny Tan, 24, with his parents - housewife Selina Tan, 63, and retiree Vincent Tan, 64 - and their helper Nova Baniaga, 36. Mr Tan's family will be selling prints of his artwork, with half of the proceeds going to Runninghour. Last year, Mr Tan's
Mr Kenny Tan, 24, with his parents - housewife Selina Tan, 63, and retiree Vincent Tan, 64 - and their helper Nova Baniaga, 36. Mr Tan's family will be selling prints of his artwork, with half of the proceeds going to Runninghour. Last year, Mr Tan's work raised $1,800 for the volunteer group.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

In fast-paced Singapore, there are those in need - and those who go out of their way to meet their needs. This is the latest in a series on noteworthy causes that The Straits Times is spotlighting.

At age two, Kenny Tan was diagnosed with autism and cerebral palsy, which affects muscle tone, movement and motor skills.

Learning to walk was a slow affair that took years, and he was six before he learnt how to run.

But this has not stopped Mr Tan, now 24, from running at least 5km three times a week with a volunteer group called Runninghour.

He has even taken part in marathons, and medals from these events are on display in his room.

On May 13, he will be one of 500 runners with special needs at the third running event held by Runninghour to promote inclusion.

His mother Selina Tan, 63, a housewife who used to work in the banking sector, said: "It is good physical exercise and a race like that is a good way of telling parents of special needs children to not keep their kids at home. I thought it was a good way for Kenny to socialise with a buddy, not his mother or another family member."

Runninghour was started as an informal running group in 2009 by Mr John See Toh, 56, and his wife Chan Jan Siang, 39. The special needs educators wanted to find a way for their students to exercise. The group relies on volunteers to partner special needs runners and lead them on runs.

In 2015, keen to show that those with disabilities are just as able as others, the couple introduced the first Runninghour running event. This included a "blind run" segment where runners pair up and take turns to lead each other while running blindfolded.

In the first year, 2,800 people participated, including 200 with special needs. Last year, 2,100 took part, of whom 340 had special needs. This year, Runninghour wants to have 500 special needs runners. All of them will have complimentary slots sponsored by Challenger Technologies.

"The (number of) special needs participants has steadily increased. This is testament to the fact that they see value in this event and are keen to participate," said Mr See Toh.

Runninghour participants can choose a 5km or 10km route. To get more families to participate, the race is introducing a 3.5km fun-walk category this year, open to anyone aged six and above.

Mr Tan will be taking part in the 10km category while his sister Sophia, 34, and helper Nova Baniaga, 36, will join the 5km category.

His sister, who runs social enterprise The Everyday Revolution, said the blind run was interesting.

"I learnt to verbalise and communicate the type of guidance I needed so that my guide could help guide me better. It's quite a metaphor really, as sometimes asking for help is not enough, one has to be specific about the help one needs."

Ms Baniaga accompanies Mr Tan to his Runninghour session once a week. "I like running and I can be a guide for Kenny too," she said.

Mr Tan's family will be selling prints of his artwork, with half of the proceeds going to Runninghour. Last year, Mr Tan's work raised $1,800 for the group.

Mr Tan feels a sense of pride from completing the run, said his mother. "He'll wear his medal for the rest of the day. It's like he feels he has achieved something," she said.

The run will take place at Bedok Reservoir on May 13. To find out more, visit www.runninghour.com

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2017, with the headline 'Run, Kenny, run - thanks to Runninghour'. Print Edition | Subscribe