It all started with having collected too many medals over the years from various running events, a problem faced by avid runners.
Rao Murugesh then stumbled upon a Facebook page calling for runners to donate their medals for charity.
“It popped up on my newsfeed and I thought, what a wonderful idea,” he said.
It was the page of a charity organisation based in America, set up as an avenue for runners to donate their medals to sick children and their families, with hope of giving them the courage to fight on despite the many challenges they may face.
Rao felt he could do the same and inspire local children. He shared the idea with his colleague Nur Syahirah Azali, who instantly agreed, and Medal4Awesomeness was born early this year.
“Syahirah has been helping various charities so I roped her in to help me,” said the informations technology manager.
His first task was to collect medals, not just the ones he owns but from friends and strangers alike.
“People were donating money more than medals, which was difficult for us as we needed the medals to get going,” said the father of two.
In March, a friend encouraged Rao and Nur Syahirah to set up a booth at the Malaysia Women Marathon expo. The response, he said, was overwhelming.
“We were so happy as many runners came with bags of medals,” said Rao.
In three days, they collected over 500 medals, allowing them to kick-start their initiative.
Instead of just giving medals out, they also designed a lanyard to go with it. The lanyard features encouraging words in four languages; Bahasa Malaysia, English, Tamil and Mandarin and the Jalur Gemilang.
To date, Rao and Nur Syahirah have organised 17 events and given out 920 medals to less fortunate children.
“We are not only choosing kids who are terminally sick but also the poor, to share with them how dreams do come true even if we are born without a silver spoon,” he said when met.
Medal4Awesomeness often partners with different non-governmental organisations to reach out to more children from different communities as well as meet volunteers from different groups to share their work with more people.
So far, they have visited children at the Selayang Hospital, Dignity for Children Foundation, Pulau Gaya in Sabah and PPR Kota Damansara, those from orang asli communities as well as the homeless.
To make sure the children understand their initiative, Medal4Awesomeness volunteers explain the journey of a runner and what it takes to complete a marathon in a short storytelling session.
“There are a lot of challenges when running a 42km race. You think a lot and you push yourself to the finish line.
“After a few hours in the race, you may feel like quitting but you remind yourself why you signed up for the race,” said Rao, an avid runner.
He tries to relate a marathon race to the situation faced by the children – whether it is an illness or living in poverty.
“We tell them that when they succeed, they will be rewarded – just like in a marathon.
“Then, we hand them a medal in hopes that it will inspire them to work hard,” said Nur Syahirah, who is an IT analyst.
The duo plan to keep their project small and manage it from home while keeping their day job.
Their target is to give out 10,000 medals within five years.
“Honestly, we do not know what will happen to this project in the years to come.
“Imagine if just one child grows up, becomes successful and remembers what we did, that would truly make our day,” said a teary Rao.
At present, Medal4Awesomeness does not have a fixed drop-off point but their friends at Grind 22 and the Cowboys Food Truck are helping out by placing a collection box at their outlets for people to donate their medals.