Every now and again, we come across stories about sporting heroes who bring glory to the country.
These are professional athletes who train full-time and are paid by government agencies.
On the other side of the spectrum, we have individuals who are bankers, architects, and even some lawyers, who train on their own and compete for personal satisfaction, some at home and some overseas.
These are the athletes who remain under the radar and are never noticed. Not that they crave recognition.
One such athlete is Datuk Mohammad Arif Abdullah, who at the age of 51 has competed and completed six World Marathon Majors, a championship-style competition for marathon runners that started in 2006.
It comprises six annual races which take place in Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York City.
Arif, an architect, ran his first half-marathon in Singapore in 2008. Being new to the sport, he was not prepared and hardly trained for the half-marathon.
Today, through determination, grit and sheer hard work, he has become a six-star runner in the World Marathon Major circle.
It was a five-year journey of blood, sweat and more sweat before Arif could accomplish this feat.
Hour upon hour of training as well as the pain and sacrifices have finally paid off.
Over the years, Arif, whom I know personally, has competed in no less than 15 full marathons and close to 40 half-marathons.
“I have fond memories, sometimes painful ones, of my training and all things related to my running. But what stands out most are the numerous visits to my orthopaedic surgeon, chiropractor and physiotherapist to treat the pain and damages so that I could continue running.
“There were times when I was chased by dogs and wild boar during my pre-dawn runs. There were even some not very nice people who threw beer cans at me from their cars,” Arif recalled.
“I love running in the rain, sometimes in tropical storms which are quite regular in Malaysia. I will never forget the beauty of sunrise and how everything just comes to life around me during my early morning runs, the smell of freshly cut grass and sounds of chirping birds. Everything is so perfect, so balanced,” he added
Arif’s love for running has also allowed him to raise funds for various welfare organisations, namely Make-a-Wish Malaysia, Relate West Surrey, England and The Stepping Strong Team at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston.
“It is tough to do this alone. You need close friends to push you and help you achieve this dream. I am blessed to have met some friends who inspire me.
“Besides my family, they have played a big part in helping me achieve this success,” said Arif, naming Datuk Dr Nicholas Langley Boden, Datuk Aubry Mennesson, Datuk Razlan Razali, Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz and Christopher Dalton as his running buddies who are on their way to achieving their dreams at the World Major Marathon.
Arif spends about 18 weeks preparing for each marathon.
His daily running and diet regime has helped him achieve a more structured lifestyle.
“Every run has been unique and has provided many memories, sometimes joy and sometimes sadness,” he said.
“London in 2013 was special for me and needs a special mention here. It was held a week after the Boston Marathon bombing.
“That incident had a deep, profound effect on me. I was very angry. They (bombers) had no right to turn a sporting event into a bloodbath in order to impose their narrow ideology onto others.
“A week later, I was at a very emotional London Marathon start where we had a 30-second silence to honour the victims of the Boston bombing.”
Arif, who competed and completed Tokyo in 2014, Berlin in 2015, Chicago in 2016, and Boston and New York City in 2017, wrote in his personal page that “Strength doesn’t come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming what you once thought you couldn’t.”
We have many marathons in Malaysia and I am glad to find that over the last five years or so, the running culture has been on the rise.
Each individual runs for his or her own reasons and for those in search of a role model as a source of inspiration, the names I mentioned earlier might help.
Maybe someday soon, Arif could conduct classes on how to prepare for and run a marathon, helping others achieve their dreams.
The Jalur Gemilang is flying at the World Major Marathons and we hope more Malaysians will emulate what Arif has done.
Impossible is nothing.
Christopher Raj is chief executive officer of a sports public relations agency. Chris’ Twitter account is @chrisraj23