#TOGO817 saw John Koo, 52, walk away with the 6th ranking in the Top 10 Elite Finisher category. He had clocked 4,264 KM in 142 rides between 15th July and 3rd September 2017 to clinch the coveted position.
A chemical engineer, John’s presence was strong and energetic, passing off my questions with the air of a man at ease with the world and himself. However, this was not always the case for the cycling veteran, who was diagnosed with nose cancer in 2005. On 19 Oct, 2005, John bled through his nose. The excessive amount of blood shocked him; shortly after the hospital checkup, he was diagnosed with stage one nose cancer.
Then on, things took a dampening turn for John. Radiotherapy became a norm for him 6 weeks on; he lost about 10kg over the period. The adage “shadow of his former self” became very true for the cyclist; he was weakened, but not defeated. Because of his condition, John stopped exercising that period of time.
Came Christmas. The day of the Lord’s birth gave him his biggest gift: he had his last day of treatment, and things took a turn for the better. Set in “recovery mode”, a newfound appreciation for life took over John and he began to eat healthily. This included an abstinence from preserved food, canned food etc. He barred himself from sausages and bacon, and would only eat fresh food such as vegetables. 12 years later, John has been officially cleared of cancer.
Through the interview, John recounted his love affair with cycling. He started riding since primary school. One day, without formal training, he jumped on his mother’s bike and pedaled it. By fate’s design or a stroke of genius, he kept his balance, successfully completing the cycle in one go without falling! Seeing his success and exhilaration with cycling, his dad bought him a small bike to cycle to his primary school every morning 2km away. John continued this routine leisurely through secondary school out of pure love for the sport, but only formally came to terms with seriously cycling in year 2003 when he worked in London.
That fateful year, John undertook the 100km charity ride organized by British Heart Foundation, cycling untiringly from London to Brighton “over 7 hills” (so he said with a twinkle of pride in his eye). The ride ended on Brighton Beach, where he sat down and “had a nice beer” and savored the feeling of victory blazing up his heart. Subsequently, John returned to Singapore in 2004 where he took up offroad cycling in Bukit Timah for a year’s worth of weekends. After he moved to Seletar Hill area in 2005, John continued cycling on a mountain bike. Subsequently, he switched disciplines to road biking and bought a road bike in 2014 and another in 2015.
‘Asked about his relationship with cycling, John responded: “Cycling makes me happy and stress-free, and it also gives me the opportunity to spend quiet time with Jesus Christ in prayer. My job (as a chemical engineer) is quite stressful; cycling helps me to overcome stress and gives me the determination to live a healthy life (without cancer).'”
This love for cycling transformed into solid action and achievement: John has been the participant of all 4 #Togoparts km challenges: the #TOGO920, #TOGO1050, #TOGO517 and #TOGO817. His most notable achievements were 7th Elite Finisher in #TOGO517 and 6th in #TOGO817.
To aid in his cycling efforts, John formed a team called the Spin Doctors in the #TOGO517 challenge. Aided on by caring teammates and with their strong encouragement, he finished the previous challenge with the coveted 7th Elite Finisher placing.
To clock the hours needed for the #TOGO817 challenge, the cycling veteran made it a point to cycle everyday to office and back. He would undertake the 30-minute route to his office in Suntec City, cutting through Serangoon Road to the Singapore Flyer and looping the Gardens by the Bay till 8am before heading to office. Going back home, he would take a 2-hour route stretching the East Coast Parkway to Changi Airport and then finally, home. Being a stoic, he dutifully completed the two routes every day , thus clocking beyond the mileage needed to rank 6th, Elite Male Finisher.
As the interview ended, I felt a strange burning feeling in my chest and eyes. After we shook hands and the veteran walked energetically away, I came to realize what had been holding my breath throughout the interview: that past the challenges of cancer, here was proof of Man’s capability to regenerate himself, overcome bodily frailty, and score a streak of victory through life as if in defiance of it.
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