An endless white expanse of ice and sky was all Ms Yvonne Chee could see.
She was at the 27km mark into the Antarctic Ice Marathon on Nov 20 when mental fatigue set in.
“It was just a long stretch of white so it was mentally exhausting and a struggle to stay focused,” said the 34-year-old, who was on the last and toughest leg of an ambitious feat to run seven marathons on seven continents while raising funds for charity.
To keep herself going, she went through in her mind the names of people who supported her cause.
“I pictured their faces and if this friend donated $1,000, I counted 1,000 steps,” said the civil servant, who works at the Singapore Embassy in Paris, in a phone interview with The Straits Times.
Yvonne was holding back tears as she kissed the finisher’s medal for the Antarctic Ice Marathon. PHOTO: YVONNE CHEE
With that in mind, she pressed on and completed the marathon in six hours and 34 minutes. She was ranked eighth out of 12 woman runners who took part.
The Antarctic run – the only marathon which takes place in the interior of the continent – is held only a few hundred miles from the South Pole at the foot of the Ellsworth Mountains.
Runners face daunting conditions of minus 30 deg C and howling winds at an altitude of 700m.
This marathon capped Ms Chee’s five-year journey which saw her taking part in at least six other marathons – New York City (2008), Singapore (2009), Australia (2010), Paris (2012), Morocco and Rio de Janeiro this year.
Ms Chee now joins the ranks of some 100 members of the feted Seven Continents Marathon Club. Only two other Singaporeans – Dr William Tan in 2007 and Ms Gloria Lau last year – have accomplished this.
Immense relief and joy after completing her 6th continent marathon in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on July 7, 2013. PHOTO: YVONNE CHEE
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in a Facebook post last Saturday, congratulated Ms Chee, calling her “an inspiration”.
He wrote: “No mean feat considering the gruelling conditions.”
The money she has raised – about $20,000 since fund-raising started this year – will go to the Tsao Foundation, a charity that provides eldercare services and advocates ageing well. She previously raised some $4,000 for cancer research from the New York City Marathon.
She paid all her own costs and every cent raised goes to the charity.
Ms Chee chose the Tsao Foundation because she was inspired by her late grandmother, a samsui woman and rubber cutter, who lived through two world wars and single-handedly raised two children on limited means.
“While running away from Japanese soldiers, she jumped off a building, broke her back and became increasingly hunch-backed due to a lack of medical attention,” she said.
Her grandmother, who died in 1997 at the age of 87, played a key role in raising Ms Chee, whose parents divorced when she was a child.
“She exemplified perseverance and determination to me and I wanted to show her, by running, that I can do it too.”
Ms Chee, too, has shown her fair share of grit; she navigated through the ice marathon despite having difficulty breathing when her face mask froze, and nursing an existing knee injury.
The injury also interrupted her six-days-a-week training regime.
So it was with tears that she crossed the finish line. She knew her grandma would have been proud of her.
“We almost always regret the things we don’t do rather than the things we did,” said Ms Chee, whose biggest regret is not spending enough time with her grandmother. “I don’t want to have any more regrets.”
With support from her family and her Belgian sommelier husband, she hopes to run the North Pole Marathon next year if she is able to find sponsors.
That will earn her a place in the “Marathon Grand Slam Club”, which has just over 70 members.
If she succeeds, she will be the first Singaporean woman to do so. The first Singaporean man with that honour is Dr William Tan.
Said Ms Chee: “This experience taught me that in doing good for others, we do good for ourselves as well. I have felt the immense kindness and compassion of others even as I realise this dream.”
To donate to Ms Chee’s cause, visit www.yvonne7marathons7continents.com.
This article was first published in The Straits Times on Dec 8, 2013. For similar stories, go to sph.straitstimes.com/premium/singapore. You will not be able to access the Premium section of The Straits Times website unless you are already a subscriber.