Pride and passion will fuel 17,000 volunteers in several key roles

THEY will not win any medals, even if they produce a good performance.

But the 17,000 volunteers at the SEA Games are driven by their common passion, sacrificing their time after work and on weekends to fulfil important roles such as photographers, media officers and runners.

Among the country's largest volunteer contingent since it first hosted the regional multi-sport event in 1973 is eight-year-old Charlotte Ng, the youngest of the lot to be entrusted with responsibilities.

The Primary 2 pupil will be a runner for the equestrian competition, distributing event results to relevant parties including the media.

She said she became "crazy" about horses ever since her first pony ride at a Pasir Ris stable when she was three years old. To date, she has been on at least 30 pony-riding sessions, according to her father Ng Chee Wei.

Said the 39-year-old, who will accompany her as a volunteer: "Last year, we wanted to sign her up for horse-riding classes and saw an online notice for volunteers for the equestrian event.

"We thought it would be a good chance for her to get to know horses."

While Charlotte might not even get to meet the competition horses, there's still one thing she's looking forward to: "Watching how they ride the horses."

The oldest volunteer, on the other hand, is 87-year-old Joseph Tan, who bought a new professional camera and lens worth $9,000 after signing up to be a volunteer photographer.

The new gear will help him focus on taking the best photos of dignitaries at the Games. The full-time photographer has taken shots of Aung San Suu Kyi, Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Singapore President Tony Tan Keng Yam during his 50-year career.

"Age is not a barrier, as long as I am physically healthy," said Tan, who has five great-grandchildren. "Singapore last hosted the Games 22 years ago, and I missed it. I don't think I'll make it for the next one."

Unlike Tan, who will be volunteering for the first time, 61-year-old Tang Chun Tuck was a volunteer in each of the last three editions on home soil.

Said Tang, who will be a media relations officer: "In 1973, there was hype because it was the first time we had such a Games. It was only a few years after independence, so there was a lot of national pride."

He feels the same pride among young volunteers, whom he says are more organised and better trained than in the past editions.

This is partly because some of them are avid sports volunteers, like Briton James Martin Garner, 53, who has at least seven years of volunteering experience.

He has been a race marshal for the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix since it started in 2008, and was an anti-doping officer for the 2010 Youth Olympics, the same role he is filling at these Games.

The permanent resident, who has lived here for 17 years, said he first started volunteering out of a love for sport, but the experience has helped him get to know Singaporeans better.

"I get to meet people from different backgrounds and ages. Volunteering's a great leveller," said the father of four, who runs his own consultancy firm.

For these behind-the-scenes volunteers, just a show of appreciation is enough.

Said Garner: "We don't do it for reward or money because we're just passionate (about what we do). But the best way to know that we're being recognised is a simple 'thank you'.

"It's absolutely priceless."

ngxtc@sph.com.sg

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