Frank neither had a Superman’s cape you could tug on, nor was he clad in full suit of armor. Holding a felt-tipped pen on the right and the softcover of the book on his left, he signed one title page after another for a queue of supporters.
Many call him a hero, saying he’s a fighter championing fighters. In his runs and campaigns, which he so throws in together to tell stories that inspire hope and imagination, he becomes the strength for those who wallow in its absence.
Running Malaysia witnessed the hero take his life onstage at the launching of his book, and sat down with him, only to uncover the story behind his story.
HE IS RUNNER 57056. The 6811th finisher of 16588 starters in the 2015 Comrades Marathon in South Africa.
The finish line arch saw Wei Siong 57056—Frank as most know him—cross, not for the first time, but his fourth since the 2012 edition, with the tall digits display reading 10:50:51.
Not only he broke his own record, but he finished bigger than he ever was, as a cancer activist and as an ultramarathon runner. And not only the bronze medal and the Malaysian flag make this man extraordinary, he ran the 87.7km length with his story and advocacy in mind, dedicating his life to something bigger than himself—hope.
The true sense of the word hope he learned through pain that only grew more debilitating after every scan and cycle of chemotherapy and radiotherapy—each session comparable to none. They say, it is only the first step that is difficult, but to the 12-year-old Frank, every step away from cancer was.
The first step made him brave through a six-hour surgery. ‘It’s just an unwanted growth,’ and he thought that by removing the swelling in his left wrist, he would be back to normal. By removing what the doctors referred to as tumour, explained as a type of muscle, bone and connective tissues cancer, and particularly called rhabdomyosarcoma, he thought he could return to his tugs-of-war, his badminton, his football, his mountain biking, his playing by the roadside—his simpler life. One without the horror of a thick, long syringe plunged in his back; one without his doctor’s brew of clear, colorless— sometimes red or yellowish—chemo drugs; one without painkillers to depend on. But he was wrong—for the next 30 months, he was.
Ten years after the treatment, annual check-ups were scheduled to watch out for any relapse. Now, at 35, and running ultras, he found the answer to the ‘Why me?’ question he kept asking himself, while he was fighting the big “C”:
I survived to tell my story.
HE CROSSED THE BIG “C” FINISH LINE. After almost two years of walking in public with a cap on his head and a period when his burnt and blistered left arm was wrapped up during travels, he made a recovery.
It was a battle of life and death he fought at such a tender age. He saw kids, as young as five, fighting for their lives until the end. There, in the children’s ward, he was not alone, yet it was the most saddening.
If there’s one thing that pain taught him, it’s this: pain, no matter how wrenching, is nothing compared to the feeling once it’s over.
Waking up to a syringe being inserted into his lumbar bone, and in the thick of a seemingly endless wrangle through pain and numbness in his fight against cancer, became his ultimate reminder to self during a gruelling ultramarathon that the fatigue and soreness of the grind are nothing compared to this bone marrow extraction incident.
‘Though it has been many years, it remains the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced.”
Since he made it out of the deep ‘hole’ of the big “C”, he voluntarily runs into the pain of unimaginable distances, and inspires others to keep fighting cancer.
‘I never regarded myself as an inspirational figure or a hero; I only wished to share my story with others.”
HE IS YOUR COMRADE. He took his running to greater lengths to advocate cancer research.
In less than 6 hours, he finished his first marathon—The 2007 Kuala Lumpur Marathon. A year of strategically planned training and a little guidance from colleagues brought him to strongly finishing it. This then led to his next marathon after another, and his fastest feat at 3 hours and 40 minutes at the Macau Marathon in 2009.
His momentum for running marathons came to a halt due to a cycling accident where he hurt his left knee. His fitness level went back to square one, but not his determination to try again. This time, he made the choice to run even longer distances than typical marathons, homing in on endurance and strength. Ultrarunning became his strong suit, and was made stronger when he was invited to run the Comrades Marathon, also known as “The Ultimate Human Race”, and is widely regarded as the world’s greatest and oldest ultramarathon with the distance ranging from 87 to 90km long, stretching from the capital of the KwaZulu-Natal province, Pietermaritzburg and the coastal city of Durban.
His decision to take part of the Comrades Marathon drove him to join hands with CARIF Malaysia (Cancer Research Initiatives Foundation) in creating a culture and a future free of the fear of cancer. This, in no time, led to building a fundraising campaign called “The Ultimate Race for Cancer Research”.
Came 2012, lo and behold, he was at the starting line of the Comrades Marathon, among other 14,000 runners. The excruciating cramps and pains from running the wicked hills of South Africa made some think he wouldn’t make it within the 12-hour cut-off time.
He proved them wrong, entering the stadium and crossing the finish line with less than 3 minutes left until the cut-off time.
He returned home, with many cancer patients waiting for him, to deliver his message of hope and celebrate life with them.
This experience turned over a new leaf in his running career and his continuous fight against cancer.
HE SHOUTS TO THE WORLD: BE FRANK! Running gave him a new direction in life: to run and share his story of hope to the world.
‘Running certainly brought me back to ‘life’.” This is what Frank wishes to channel to the rest of the world, especially the ones facing the big “C” journey. For him, “Cancer is not a death sentence. Hope is always there.”
Through the Be Frank outreach programme, he champions in raising awareness and funds for cancer research.
Today, Frank runs a specialty retail store for runners called Running Lab Malaysia. Aside from training for the 2016 Comrades Marathon, his fifth consecutive time, he organizes running events to strengthen the growing field of running.
We demand our heroes of invulnerabilities, as if some force field gives them so, but what we overlook is that a hero is no braver than an ordinary man who, in the face of weakness and doubt, never gives up and overcomes anyway.
As Frank Chong lives to tell, ‘Until then, I will keep running and living.’
- 4-time finisher of the Comrades Marathon at South Africa (Year 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015)
- Finisher of the Year To Year Circuit Race, 6 Days Challenge at South Africa in year 2012/2013, running 630 laps equivalent to 315KM
- 2nd runner up at Back 2 Endurance 2014 completing 90KM in 11:58 hours
- Finisher of 31 ultra marathons of distances 50KM and above including 1X 161KM distance
- Finisher of 25 marathons with a best time of 3:40 hours achieved at the 2009 Macau Marathon
- Finisher of 4 Powerman’s
About Be Frank
Be Frank is an initiative founded in year 2013 by Frank and CARIF. Frank was the inspiration behind this campaign, which sees him uniting his passion for sports and also in battling the disease. Be Frank hopes to support those that are affected by the disease from patients to family and friends as well. Be Frank also aims to raise funds for cancer research.
His first book, From Cancer to Ultramarathons, is now available at all major bookstores (MPH, Borders, Kinokuniya and Popular, among others), CARIF and Running Lab at Tropicana City Mall. All profits and royalties will go to fund cancer research.