Helping neuro-divergent runners reach the finish line

Chan (fifth from left) with some of the volunteers/pacers. Photos: The Star/Azhar Mahfof

With the proper technique, practice and training, anyone can learn how to run or at least walk, says SpecialMe.MY Run Club coach Chan Chow Meng, 57 (better known as “Captain Meng”).

Chan says that says his aim is to help special needs runners reach their goals.

“My goal is to train these special runners to achieve their goals. I want to see them finish what they started, complete the runs they’ve signed up for, and be healthy,” he says.

Chan has been training the special runners for one and a half years, since the recovery MCO.

Chan wants to help the young runners reach the finish line.Chan wants to help the young runners reach the finish line.The factory supervisor reveals that he used to do ultra marathons and the furthest he has ever run is 100km. He has been involved in training people for sports – especially running – for about 16 years, and has trained people to run in marathons and ultra marathons, progressing from 10km to 100km.

Training for the SpecialMe.MY Run Club takes place during weekends, usually Sundays, at Universiti Malaya and sometimes, they go jungle trekking at Bukit Kiara. The training sessions are attended by about 20 people, including seven to 10 neuro-divergent youth, their family members (parents and siblings), and other volunteers/pacers.

Chan emphasises the importance of special needs youth and adults getting involved in sports such as running.

“It’s good for them to keep active. Not only do sports like running help them to be physically fit and healthy, but it also improves their mental health/strength,” he says.

“Physical exercise is good because you’ll feel good and more relaxed after it.”

“I encourage parents of special needs children to bring them to join the run club where they can meet those like themselves, and also others from the rest of the community because if you don’t bring them out to mix and have fun, their social circle will be limited. The more of such activities they join, the better it will be, because they will have a wider outlook on life,” he adds.

Lim wanted to support his mildly autistic and dyslexic nephew.Lim wanted to support his mildly autistic and dyslexic nephew.SpecialMe.MY Run Club volunteer pacer John Lim, says that a great deal of patience and understanding is required to help special needs individuals.

“We need to be there to guide them, yet give them the freedom to be themselves. We need to understand them, their needs, and build a relationship with them,” says the 52-year-old who works in human resources.

Lim, who has been a volunteer for run club since last year, joined because he wanted to support his nephew, who is mildly autistic and dyslexic, and runs with the club.

“As a pacer, my task is to guide them on the route and also motivate them on their running journey because sometimes, they can easily get distracted and lose their focus,” says Lim.

“We’ve to remember their capabilities and help them to focus on their run, guide them so that they can enjoy the moment. It’s not just about running a race, but also enjoying the fresh air outdoors, surroundings and environment, and being part of an event,” he says.

“My goal is to try to help them raise the bar for themselves, and to motivate them to focus. The most important thing is to let them enjoy their journey and help them to cultivate this healthy lifestyle,” he adds.

Metha says that volunteering with the club has been fulfilling.Metha says that volunteering with the club has been fulfilling.Another volunteer pacer Metha Tanggarajah, 47, says it’s important for neuro-divergent individuals to interact with the outside world in order to be healthy and well-balanced.

“Special needs individuals shouldn’t be ‘hidden’ or kept at home, they need to be exposed to the outside world. They need to learn to mix around with others who aren’t neuro-divergent, make friends, develop themselves, and not just stay at home,” she says.

The purchasing manager who has been helping out at the run club since August says that this will also help remove negative social stigmas about the neuro-divergent.

“They are also part of society and hence, should be integrated into the community. This helps to change any negative perceptions people have about them,” she adds.

“Those who don’t have any contact with neuro-divergent individuals might have a wrong perception or fear of them, and not know how to interact or talk with them. So if the neuro-divergent go out and mix around in their communities, it will help others realise they’re human too,” she says.

“When I first joined the run club as a volunteer, I didn’t have any knowledge about special needs individuals or even how to interact with them. But after I got to know them, I realised that anyone who has a heart can volunteer, no experience is needed, and you can learn on the way,” she adds.

More info: SpecialMe.MY Facebook

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