King Tan

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Photo courtesy of King Tan

Sometimes during our lifetime – either events, interactions or decisions occur that can change the entire trajectory of their lives. Unlike how it is portrayed in the movies, those moments can often be mundane and unspectacular. It is not until we reflect on them in hindsight, that we realise how significantly those moments have shaped us – these are called “defining moments”. Such is the story of King Tan. When she thinks back to that ordinary afternoon two and a half decades ago when she and her sister went to Bukit Shahbandar – something happened back then, which would keep her running up until today.

When she was 33, King often experienced fainting spells for no apparent reason. Her doctor was not able to diagnose the problem and she was convinced that her life would be short lived if she didn’t do something about this. But the big question was what could she do, when even the doctors had no idea what was wrong with her?

Then one fateful afternoon when King decided to join her sister at Bukit Shahbandar, after hiking up just half of a hill she was not able to catch her breath. “I was so physically shaken that my lips turned purple and I couldn’t breathe,” she recalled. “And my sister had to support me all the way back down to the foothill”. When this happened for some odd reason, King felt that she had a point to make – she needed to prove to herself that she could conquer that hill. So she decided to go back the next day and the day after that, to slowly push her way up the hill. With every ounce of her strength and an unbreakable focus she was finally able to get to the top of one hill after four grueling days of continuous effort.

After achieving this first milestone, King then made a pact with the hill. She pledged to one day conquer all seven hills. So religiously, King went to Shahbandar six days a week. And step by step it took her two years to hike up the next four hills. Soon she realised that her stamina was improving; that she was feeling stronger and that her fainting symptoms were beginning to disappear. Over the next 13 years King continued to hike and eventually surpassed one hiker after another, and earned a reputation for being the fastest woman in the jungle. As King’s fitness progressed she went from walking to running and her friends then encouraged her to participate in her first marathon which was organised by Standard Chartered in 2005.

Despite not having the right gear, no professional coaching and running with the wrong technique, King finished the 42km run as the second runner up. This then fired up her determination to win the first prize, so she went back the next year better prepared. At 47 years old, King won her first full marathon, the Brunei Standard Chartered Marathon in 2006. Since then she has dedicated her life to running one marathon after another, winning countless medals in Brunei and also in the region.

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In 2009, King married again and moved to California. In America, she still runs a minimum of 10 kms a day. She takes part in state marathons, competing with world class marathon runners in her age category and continues to win medals.

We asked King what motivates her to keep on running at the age of 57. Her answer was simple. She runs to convey a message to all women that “It is never too late to start and you are never too old to run. Running has given me a second chance in life. If I can do it, everyone else can do it too!”

King cannot imagine where she would be today, if it hadn’t been for her sister’s invitation to Shahbandar on that ordinary afternoon.

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This article was published in the Apr – Jun 2016 issue of Inspire Magazine. Download it here!


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