Last year, Wira Sudepja Rabu, 48, crossed the half marathon finish line at Kuala Lumpur Standard Chartered Marathon (KLSCM) while pushing his daughter Nur Wadihan,15, who has cerebral palsy, in her stroller in the final 500m.
Afterwards, he made a promise to himself to push her throughout the race in 2023, all 21km of it.
And early this month, hours before haze started to envelope the city skyline, the logistics manager ran the distance while pushing Dihan – as she is fondly known – in her stroller.
For the final 100m dash towards the end, he carried her in his arms, and father and daughter finished the half marathon in 3:47, amid cheers and applause from spectators who lined the stretch.
“When I carried Dihan, who weighs 30kg, for the final 100m sprint, the loud cheer and encouragement gave me the strength to finish before the cut-off time,” says the father of two.
Although he didn’t shed any happy tears, Wira says the feeling was beyond what words could describe. “Honestly, this was the first time in 15 years that I really felt like she was running with me to cross the finish line.”
The father-daughter team is a regular at fun runs and cycling events and the KLSCM 2023 half marathon was part of Dihan’s 15th birthday celebration.
“For the last three years, we celebrated her birthday month by going on cycling expeditions to hills like Fraser’s Hill and a few others in Selangor, Terengganu, Negri Sembilan, Kedah and Perlis,” says Wira, who also has another daughter, Nur Wirdani.
This year, the duo planned to take on two activities – an uphill cycle at Bukit Sumpitan in Lenggong, Perak and the KLSCM half marathon. The cycling trip, however, had to be put on hold due to Dihan’s health.
“We will complete Bukit Sumpitan next year together with Bukit Bendera in Penang and Gunung Raya in Langkawi, and the KLSCM half marathon will be our annual event,” Wira says.
Bundle of joy
Dihan, the second daughter of Wira and his wife Nur Murni Dona Mohd Nordin, 49, was born prematurely on Sept 18, 2008. Her heart didn’t beat for more than 10 minutes.
“The doctors told us to let her go when the time comes, but Alhamdulillah, she pulled through. However, she became completely bedridden, like a five-month-old baby,” Wira says.
Unable to walk, move, talk or feed herself, Dihan requires daily care, just like a baby does. It was her condition that forced her mother, who was then an administration executive, to quit her job and become a stay-at-home mum.
The first three years of life saw Dihan going in and out of the hospital frequently due to her weakened immune system. She was easily infected when she was in an enclosed space and crowded area, and especially so during Hari Raya celebrations.
“We were very vigilant so we didn’t go out as much as we used to. No thanks to that sedentary and inactive lifestyle, I began having anxiety and my wife showed symptoms of prehypertension,” Wira says.
Eventually, things took a turn for the better. When Dihan turned six, her condition stabilised.
“We decided to take her out for fresh air at gardens and lakes around Putrajaya, and we noticed that she miraculously started to smile and laugh at each passing cyclist. That was how our cycling adventure began,” he adds.
In 2018, after about 100 cycling events, Wira decided to participate in a duathlon in Bagan Serai, Perak.
“And that was the starting point of our running adventure,” he says.
On Aug 26, 2018, Dihan and her father completed a race that required them to run and cycle for a combined distance of 42km and her feat made it into the Malaysia Book of Records (MBOR). It endorsed Dihan as the first person with cerebral palsy to complete a duathlon.
“Running and cycling make Dihan happy. Sports improve her emotional condition,” Wira says.
To date, the duo have joined more than 200 events and creatively turned the medals they received from these events to decorate the walls of their home in Seri Kembangan.
“Since we were more into cycling than running – which only began five years ago – we were careful in our preparation for the half marathon,” Wira says.
When he ran the 21km distance last year, Wira, together with his friends, studied the route, running conditions and time and took in the vibes and atmosphere at the finish line.
His friends, who were his schoolmates at Sekolah Menengah Sains Teluk Intan (Semesti) in Perak, are Dihan’s strong supporters. They would escort Wira and Dihan during competitive or long distance races.
“We then mapped out our one-year plan on training, getting the right equipment for Dihan’s stroller and finding and booking a hotel,” he says.
Since the standard kid’s stroller is meant for a six-year-old child, Dihan’s was customised to fit her size and is equipped with a custom-made seat that follows wheelchair specifications.
“It’s a convertible model that can be used for cycling and running. We call it the trailer-jogger,” Wira says.
They also installed eight portable mini fans and additional roofing and front net to ensure Dihan’s comfort and safety throughout the race.
The stroller also carried Dihan’s ration – fruit juice, prebiotic beverage and water – that had to be dispensed using a syringe pump, a process that took almost an hour.
“This was where my running buddy came in. He would help push the stroller while I slowly feed Dihan,” Wira says.
For special needs children
The MBOR endorsement shot Wira and Dihan to fame. Many families started to follow their activities which they shared on social media.
“This pushed me to form a community club called Bikeisable to empower special needs children through running and cycling activities, including joining events together,” Wira says.
The club collaborates with the Malaysia Advocates For Cerebral Palsy (MYCP) as its sports and recreation bureau.
“We hope in every race that we join, we can help spread the message of unity, togetherness and the importance of supporting families with special needs children.
“Personally, our goal is to make Dihan happy, to share her happiness with other special kids and the public, and to be grateful for the gift of life that we have,” Wira concludes.