It was the dawn of December 30, 2018, at SRK (C) Kg Sg Lembu when I first met him.
On that day, I joined a new group of runners for the first time for my trial run of Penang ECO 30km. With the morning sun barely awoken, I apprehensively scanned the unfamiliar faces in the dim light cast by the adjacent street lamppost. From amidst the sea of strangers, a guy with a smiling face approached me.
“Hi… I’m Hau Chern!” he introduced himself with a soft-spoken voice to break the ice.
And that was how our friendship started and that was how I would always remember him – Hau Chern, the smiling runner with the soft-spoken voice!
I still vividly recall that first day. After a brief introduction by our team leader Tham, our group of 16 hikers soon made our way up the small hill towards Taman Eko Rimba Cherok Tokun. Along the trail, we took a break and admired the panoramic view of Mengkuang Dam. Then we resumed our journey to explore the jungle paths, up the steep hills, down the treacherous slopes, while admiring the cascading waterfall and warily eyeing the durian orchards.
As the day progressed, we huffed and puffed, sometimes cursing, most of the time laughing, but we never gave up! During the trip, we exchanged life stories, sharing our running passion and dreams. We discussed at length about past and future trail events and we even joked about why we tortured ourselves when others were still sound asleep.
Yet deep inside, all of us knew that this was something we really enjoyed – the refreshing morning air, the breath-taking scenery from the peak, the great adventure of exploring Mother Nature, the never-say-die determination to take on the seemingly impossible and the satisfaction of staying the course!
That 11-hour journey naturally brought us closer at the end, as we faced various challenges together during the 30-km hike. Whether it was those moments of shared hardship, the mutual encouragement to each other not to relent, the thrill of taking a group photo at the summit of Bukit Seraya or the group’s collective sigh of relief upon seeing the chicken farms at the end, these highlights brought camaraderie and a sense of togetherness among all of us.
Throughout the period of the next few months, we had several more hikes together, usually with the same band of ‘trail running brothers and sisters’, sometimes with a few newcomers. These hikes further strengthened our bond, as all of us learned more about each other.
During the 2nd trial run of ECO30 (Jan 2019), 28km Utara Runnaz LSD ECO Trail Run (May 2019) or ECO Global Running Day (June 2019) or other runs, whenever Hau Chern was there, he was always smiling, no matter how hard the challenges were, no matter how tough the going got!
Somehow he struck me as a guy who was as tough as nails when he ran the trail, yet as gentle as a dove when he talked!
Finally came the day that all of us were eagerly waiting for – June 23, 2019! All our preparation would be tested during Penang ECO 2019. Though we registered for different categories (100km, 50km and 30km), most of the early finishers stayed back to cheer those still running.
I still remember our applause and greeting, when our smiling friend crossed his 30-km finishing line with a sense of achievement and contentment. The mutual feeling was that the extra satisfaction came from our hard work and joint training that we had undertaken over the last few months.
Despite the recent COVID19 MCO lockdown, our running paths crossed again in May 2020. Somehow we were recruited as the members of RunXi team to join the virtual “Fourth of May 24H Team Ultra” run. Together with other 28 runners, our team collectively ran 846.7km and won 2nd place for the event.
When the fateful news of his demise arrived on the evening of May 31st, 2020, it certainly shocked all of us.
We have lost a great runner, but more importantly, we have lost a great friend! We were lost for words – how do we even make sense out of this?
But let us remember Hau Chern for how he has truly lived!
For me, he lived a full life, exploring his potential, fulfilling his dreams and going where his heart took him! He was a kind person, an inspirational athlete and a great buddy to have during hikes!
To our dear smiling friend, with the soft-spoken voice:-
Thanks for sharing part of your life journey with us! It has been great knowing you as a runner and as a friend! Though fate has deprived us of you, your memories will live on inside all of us!
The moments we enjoyed, the challenges we overcame, the jokes we laughed at, the running goals we dreamed!
May you run with the angels now, Hau Chern!
Farewell my smiling friend, but not goodbye,
You will always be with us!
By Chian Min, Liong
On behalf of The Band of Running Brothers & Sisters in “UTOP Trail Training Group” & “Fourth of May 24H Team Ultra – RunXi”
June 2nd, 2020