Yesterday, 186 years of tradition were brought to bear on the fight against cancer when two "similar yet dissimilar communities" came together over the waters of Marina Bay to raise funds to help cancer patients.
Nearly 100 members from the Oxford and Cambridge Society of Singapore (Oxbridge Singapore) and cancer survivor and support group Pink Spartans rowed their hearts out for charity in the first Row For Hope boat race.
It was a plan hatched by the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), together with Oxbridge Singapore. It was inspired by the 186-year tradition of annual boat races of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge on the River Thames in London, which earlier this year raised money for British charity Cancer Research UK for the first time.
NCCS director Soo Khee Chee explained that despite their obvious "dissimilarities", both the Oxbridge Singapore and NCCS communities of cancer patients and caregivers have the common goal of "celebrating life".
The two organisations also complement each other. "One community has tremendous potential to do good, while the other community is looking for others to help out with an onerous task," said Professor Soo.
As of 5pm yesterday, more than $65,000 had been raised, almost reaching the target of $70,000 to support the Community Cancer Fund, a charity that assists needy patients and their families with the cost of cancer treatment.
Oxbridge Singapore president Paul Supramaniam said: "We are delighted, as a society of privileged Oxbridge alumni, to have an opportunity to put back into our community. This collaboration with NCCS allows us to infuse the celebration of an annual Oxbridge tradition with a meaningful purpose."
The society said it has made a contribution of $10,000 to the campaign.
International Olympic Committee executive board member Ng Ser Miang, guest of honour at the race, said: "This initiative of unifying sports and the cause of fighting cancer demonstrates strength in adversity, which I hope will inspire more people to join in and support this worthy cause."
While Oxford and Cambridge alumni raced against each other, dragon boat team Pink Spartans held its own exhibition race, pitting cancer survivors against supporters of the fight against cancer.
The survivors won. One of them was Ms Kate Wong. She was diagnosed with first-stage breast cancer in 2002, but one can hardly tell just by looking at the tanned and muscular 75-year-old with a crew cut who brimmed with excitement yesterday.
The former kindergarten principal took up dragon boating shortly after her brush with cancer and said she has rowed in places from Shanghai to Berlin.
"Cancer was a wake-up call for me that I have to take responsibility for my own health," she said.
Besides training hard every Saturday and swimming twice a week, she teaches people about cancer awareness and the importance of screening, drawing from her own experience.
And Prof Soo has a message to patients and their families who feel terrified when they are diagnosed with cancer: "You're not alone."