Lessons from Granddad: It's never too old or too late to run

The writer Justin Kor trying to keep pace with his grandfather, Kor Hong Fatt, while training for next month's Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon.
The writer Justin Kor trying to keep pace with his grandfather, Kor Hong Fatt, while training for next month's Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Writer, 26, will run his first marathon, while granddad, 86, will be going for his 23rd

When I was 10, my grandfather suffered a debilitating heart attack that left him confined in a hospital ward for eight days.

The news came as a shock. All along, I had viewed my grandfather as a fit and athletic man who prioritised his health. My grandmother had suffered a stroke that made her wholly dependent on him, so he had always tried to be in the best shape to care for her.

He took a great interest in encouraging his five grandchildren to pursue an active lifestyle from young.

For instance, he would frequently take my sister and I along for his regular jogs at Changi Beach Park. He also took all his grandchildren for our first swimming lessons. After lessons, he would encourage us to swim additional laps.

"Always remember to exercise and keep fit," was the mantra he preached to us religiously. As such, maintaining a healthy lifestyle was something that was ingrained in us.

So to me, it was simply inconceivable for him to have a heart attack. Seeing him lying on that hospital bed, we were all afraid that he would never be the same again.

But we could not have been more wrong. The ordeal only made him grow stronger. Just 18 months after his heart attack, he ran his first marathon at the age of 71 - against all odds and the doctor's advice.

And he was just getting started. The past 15 years have seen him run 22 marathons, chalking up nearly 1,000km. These feats have left me in awe, and inspired me to pursue my own fitness journey. I make it a point to exercise every week.

The plan is to establish a strong fitness base while I'm still young, which will hopefully serve me well in my older years. My grandfather had always maintained that one should never be dependent on others, even in old age.

Besides being an inspiration, he also imparted some valuable lessons. He taught me that nothing is impossible if you set your mind to it, that it is never too late to pursue anything in life. Because if an 86-year-old can endure the strain of 42.195km of cold, hard running, what's stopping the rest of us from accomplishing our goals?

So this year, I'll be running my first marathon with him. The thought of my legs going through hours of agony is a daunting prospect that has played on my mind. But if a man 60 years my senior has already done it 22 times, I'm certain I can finish at least one.

So when the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon comes around next month, when my legs feel like lead, and when I hit that dreaded "wall" that runners all talk about, I'll simply keep going.

Because running with me will be my grandfather, the heart patient beating the odds to run his 23rd marathon. Putting that in perspective, no task seems insurmountable.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 18, 2018, with the headline 'Never too old or too late to run'. Print Edition | Subscribe