It was a test of endurance and resolve, and two NUS Tembusu College students, new to footrace on desert terrain, were prepared to brave adversity for a good cause. John Low Zhong Heng (Year 1 Science) and Alexis Lee Man Lin (Year 1 Business) embarked on the arduous Gobi March to raise funds for Buckay, a therapy horse at the Riding for the Disabled Association of Singapore (RDA), which provides the disabled with free horse riding sessions. The seven-day trek, from 31 May to 6 June, covered 250km of the Gobi Desert in Xinjiang, China.
The idea sprang from a Tembusu College dinner in 2014, during which College Rector Professor Tommy Koh spoke about a former team from the College which had participated in the Gobi March. The Gobi March is one of four races in the 4 Deserts Race Series, a globally-recognised outdoor footrace series.
The pair, who were inspired by Prof Koh's talk, decided to follow their college mates' footsteps. John said: "It was a mixture of impulse, adventure seeking, and the desire to challenge ourselves…It was about timing too, since the race date fell snugly within summer break. This was a particularly courageous undertaking, as neither had taken part in multi-staged long distance races before.
Mention the Gobi Desert and copious amounts of sand usually come to mind. Alexis shared the surprising truth that only 5 per cent of the Gobi Desert is covered in sand. The rest of the desert is "rocks, cultivated grasslands, pastures, salt flats, rivers and more. Negotiating the punishing terrain was very challenging, not to mention the wildly fluctuating weather, with the competitors fighting to overcome temperatures of 3 degrees Celsius, snow, blizzards, driving rain and chilling wind. In John's words, he experienced "four seasons over three days.
While John had to make the painful decision of pulling out midway due to a double Achilles tendon injury, Alexis completed the race, covering 239km over six days. The final race day was cancelled because of a sandstorm. For Alexis, it was a rewarding experience, meeting many inspirational individuals and supportive competitors. She said: "In the Gobi March, you really see the best of human spirit. John is, however, undeterred and intends to undertake another multi-staged race.
The pair elaborated on their rationale for adopting RDA as their charity. "We believe that horses can help the disabled in a very powerful, unique way on the physical and emotional levels, said John. "When horse meets human, that's when the magic begins, quipped Alexis. Buckay, formerly a polo pony, has given more than 2,000 therapy rides to around 180 disabled individuals since it has been at RDA.
To date, the duo have garnered close to $6,000 for Buckay. Nonetheless, with publicity on various fronts ' including a mention on Singapore Prime Minister Mr Lee Hsien Loong's Facebook page, no less ' which have helped raise awareness of the charity drive, they hope to achieve their target of $12,000 for Buckay. Those who are keen to contribute to the cause can do so here.
After the article was published, an anonymous donation of $6,000 was received, bringing the total amount raised close to its target of $12,000.