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Wednesday January 16, 2013

Age no barrier for Ong Hock Siew's mountain quest

Overcoming the odds: Ong Hock Siew (first from right) led a team of 70 people, including 23 people with disabilities, in the Cheshire New Challenges Mount
Kinabalu Climb. Overcoming the odds: Ong Hock Siew (first from right) led a team of 70 people, including 23 people with disabilities, in the Cheshire New Challenges Mount Kinabalu Climb.

Age has not slowed down Ong Hock Siew in his quest to conquer peak after peak.

MOUNTAIN climber Ong Hock Siew can truly stand tall among his peers. At 62, Ong has climbed Mount Kinabalu 63 times!

“Mount Kinabalu has a certain charm and it keeps drawing me back. When I first conquered Low’s Peak in 1979, I fell in love with its majestic beauty. As I stood on the summit (at 4,095m) and looked down to mid-level, I promised myself that I would be up again. Since then, I’ve been bitten by the climbing bug and have scaled the mountain 62 times. This year, there are seven trips lined up,” said the experienced guide.

Besides Mount Kinabalu, Ong has gone on to conquer other peaks around Kuala Lumpur and its outskirts, including Gunung Nuang in Hulu Langat, Bukit Kutu in Kuala Kubu Baru, and Apek Hill in Cheras.

He chalked up another milestone when he scaled Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro (5,895m) – the highest mountain in Africa – in September last year.

“When I was younger, I dreamed of scaling the highest mountain in each continent. So far, I’ve conquered Mount Kilimanajro. This year, there are plans to scale Mount Kosciuszko in New South Wales, Australia, followed by Antarctica’s Vinson Massif and Europe’s Mount Elbrus in Russia,” says Ong, who runs a consultancy firm.

Besides outings with his wife Inky, 63, and daughters Cindy, Lindy and Mindy, Ong’s trips up Mount Kinabalu are based on invitations from friends, corporate organisations, community clubs and charity homes.

So far, he has led over 3,000 climbers up to Low’s Peak, a handful of whom were over 70 years old.

They include Ambank Group chairman Tan Sri Azman Hashim who celebrated his 71st birthday on Low’s Peak in 2010; former Culture, Arts and Tourism Minister Tan Sri Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir; and Wushu Federation of Malaysia past president Datuk Seri Kee Yong Wee. Abdul Kadir and Kee were in their early seventies when they scaled South-East Asia’s highest mountain.

“Each climb with these senior citizens was a fantastic experience. Although they were in their 70s, they went against all odds and showed tremendous strength and perseverance, and made it to the top,” explains Ong, who is used to leading teams of more than 70 hikers up the mountain.

To inject an
element of fun
in each climb,
Ong gets
everyone to
join in the
sing-along, all
the way to the
top. To inject an element of fun in each climb, Ong gets everyone to join in the sing-along, all the way to the top.

Looking back on all the climbs, Ong holds the charity events involving the disabled, closest to his heart.

In the Cheshire New Challenges Mount Kinabalu Climb organised by the Rotary Club of Bandar Utama and Selangor Cheshire Home last August, Ong led a team which included 23 disabled people.

“Climbing any mountain is not easy, let alone for the blind and the disabled. We took precautionary measures to prevent any accidents along the trail. While it may be challenging to lead blind and disabled climbers up the summit, it’s always rewarding when they make it to the top. This shows that there’s no obstacle that one cannot overcome.

“Since climbs that involve the disabled take a longer time, I encourage senior citizens to join in such climbs so they don’t feel pressured by the fear of being left behind,” says Ong, who usually assigns a volunteer and a guide to assist a disabled person during each climb.

In a charity climb organised by Rotary Club USJ and Bandar Utama in 2010, Ong led 18 disabled persons – four blind persons and 14 others with celebral palsy – up Mount Kinabalu.

To inject an element of fun in each climb, Ong brings along his guitar and gets everyone to join in the sing-along on their way to the top. It’s one way for climbers to forget about their aches.

“The whole climb is an exercise in encouragement. The climbers are divided into teams and they are encouraged to spur each other on. There is a huge sense of camaraderie and many end up as life-long friends after the climb,” explains Ong.

Ong’s lean and sculpted physique belies his age and status as a grandfather of seven. The secret to keeping fit is a healthy lifestyle, disciplined training and eating right, says Ong.

“I loved the outdoors even when I was a kid. Back then, I collected butterflies and spent hours in Gopeng Hill and Gua Tempurung in search of new species,” says Ong who grew up in Ipoh.

Ong has a track record in sports, too. The all-round sportsman represented Malaysia in table tennis at Australia’s Arafura Games in 1994 and clinched third placing at the World Veterans Championship (table tennis) in Tianjin, China, in 1995.

Ong (fourth from left) with friends during their climb up Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, South Africa, last
September. Ong (fourth from left) with friends during their climb up Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, South Africa, last September.

Two years later, he was named Sabah State Open Singles table tennis champion.

Ong has also taken part in marathons, including the Sabah Marathon, Sabah Interbank Athletics Meet, Malaysian Interbank Athletics Meet and KL International half marathon.

To stay in shape, Ong is very careful about his diet. Diuretic drinks like coffee and tea are kept to a minimum; oily food is out. He also refrains from smoking and drinking.

“I have a personal campaign against smoking and drinking. Diet-wise, many people have a tendency to overeat and this can result in health concerns such as obesity, high cholesterol and diabetes. It is important to eat a healthy and balanced diet, in moderation,” explains Ong.

Ong practises what he preaches by engaging in numerous exercises, including 6-8km jogs, and 30-minute step-ups which to him is the best cardiovascular workout.

On weekends, he leads a team of over 20 people, ranging from children to senior citizens, on jungle trails around the Klang Valley. Some of his popular haunts include Bukit Tabur in Gombak, the Forest Research Institute Malaysia in Kepong and Gasing Hill in Petaling Jaya.

The experienced climber is a firm believer that exercise and a good diet provide the fundamentals to staying fit.

He encourages older people to include exercise in their daily regime as an investment for good health.

“Senior citizens need to change their outlook concerning exercise,” says Ong.

“Go for a medical checkup to ensure there are no health issues at stake and get involved in outdoor activities. Instead of doing nothing at home, gather a group of friends and enjoy the outdoors. Or join me for a jungle trek or scale up a mountain.”

Game for it, anyone?

For more information on Ong Hock Siew’s inspiring climbs up Mount Kinabalu, go to climbmountkinabalu.blogspot.com.

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