Friday, 18 April 2014

Get Moving! Septuagenarian goes to extra mile to encourage people to exercise

By Sheela Chandran

Datuk Sieh Kok Chi (second from left) taking part in the 2009 Olympic Run at the age of 71

Datuk Sieh Kok Chi is actively involved in Move Malaysia, a programme that aims to motivate Malaysians to be physically active.

Most senior citizens opt to spend their time caring for their grandchildren, tending their gardens, reading the daily newspapers or having a cuppa with friends at the corner coffee shop. But Datuk Sieh Kok Chi, 76, prefers to participate in activities that encourage Malaysians to lead a healthier lifestyle.

Sieh, who is honorary secretary of the Olympic Council Malaysia (OCM), is actively involved in Move Malaysia – OCM’s latest programme which encourages people to exercise.

Move Malaysia was jointly conceptualised by OCM and Coca-Cola Malaysia in 2012. The programme is divided into four components: OCM is working with the Academy of Family Physicians of Malaysia to train doctors to prescribe the right exercises for patients, introduce a course in the undergraduate medical curriculum so that future doctors can understand the value of sports for better health, introduce community activities, and methods to make the programme sustainable.

“Instead of encouraging Malaysians to only pay attention to their eating habits, Move Malaysia aims to motivate Malaysians to be physically active. It’s not what you eat, but what you do to stay fit that is equally, if not, more important,” says Sieh.

At the 15th World Conference on Sport for All that was held in Lima, Peru, last April, the International Olympic Council released a book, Get Moving! The IOC’s Guide To Managing Sports For All Programmes. The book serves as an informative platform for organisations and interested individuals to create a sports-for-all programme in the community. OCM went a step further by introducing Get Moving into Move Malaysia to ensure that sport activities are available for individuals from all walks of life.

Essentially, Sieh hopes to educate Malaysians with the tagline: Exercise is medicine. Yes, physical fitness helps us to stay healthy and is a key to longevity.

“Doctors should explain to patients the need for exercise, and prescribe appropriate exercises for their charges. It is equally important for the public to realise that exercising and leading a physically active life can prevent ailments and illnesses.

“Exercise is a form of medicine or health supplement. Move Malaysia’s programmes propagate the concept that if one does regular exercise or lead a physically active lifestyle, they needn’t have to consume too much medicine. Exercise is therefore a form of preventive medicine to ensure good health,” says Sieh, who encourages people to keep healthy by exercising 30 minutes a day, four days a week.

Sieh practises what he preaches; he goes for morning walks and participates in the Royal Selangor Club Hash section.

“Instead of driving around, I try to walk as much as possible. I also try to join the Hash programme once a month, depending on my schedule. Hashing is challenging and interesting, as I get the opportunity to venture into the hills around Kuala Lumpur. There are many outdoor sites and hills where one can hike and enjoy the natural beauty,” said the father of two, whose hobbies include reading, dancing and attending sports competitions.

According to Sieh, local authorities, town councils and schools can do their part to encourage people to exercise by providing sports facilities at very low or no cost, especially during weekends. Without facilities, it is difficult to organise activities.

“It is important to train events or activities organisers, be they volunteers or professionals, to organise sports or physical activities for the people. OCM had organised a workshop for potential organisers and will be organising another one later in the year,” says Sieh.

The concept of exercise and leading an active lifestyle isn’t something new to Sieh. The former water polo player represented the country in the 1960s.

“When I was a student at the Victoria Institution in the 1950s, sports was an important activity in the school. The expatriate headmasters placed lots of importance on sports, especially team sports, where students could develop teamwork and discipline. From there, I learnt that sports was fun. It gave me a sense of achievement and satisfaction, when one fulfils what one sets out to do,” says Sieh, who has been with OCM for over three decades. He is also honorary council member of the SEA Games Federation and member of OCM’s sports committee.

“When I was an athlete, many senior volunteer sports officials contributed their time and money towards my development. After retirement, it was only natural for me to contribute to OCM,” said the former engineer. “It is like passing the baton from one generation to the next. Without this concept of volunteerism and contribution, sports development would not be sustained.”

It’s not what you eat, but what you do to stay fit that is equally, if not, more important,’ says Sieh.

While Sieh may have a burning passion for sports and exercise, he admits that serving as OCM’s honorary secretary since 1992 has its share of challenges. His biggest hurdle is integrating and meeting the expectations of athletes and officials from different sports, backgrounds and training.

“Sports is a horizontal activity. People from all walks of life – different backgrounds, culture and education level – participate in sports. It is essential to integrate everyone involved to form a strong and united team so that sports can be developed effectively. It is dangerous to have a ‘one size fits all’ policy as sports is an activity that does not have one fixed rule. A swimmer and a gymnast can be considered ‘old’ when they are 19, while an athlete in another sport would be considered ‘young’ at 25 years. The most important principles to consider are performance and productivity; the substance of the person and not just the form,” he explains.

Besides Move Malaysia, Sieh is involved in other OCM projects such as the 128th International Olympic Council session which will be held in Kuala Lumpur in July next year.

“This is another challenging project which requires lots of planning, organising and co-ordination. There’s also the 29th SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur in 2017. It will be a massive responsibility not only for OCM, but also the national sports associations and the Youth and Sports Ministry, the National Sports Council and the National Sports Institute.”

Sieh is committed to the cause, and is constantly figuring out new ways to encourage Malaysians to exercise.

“Age is no barrier to pursuing new challenges,” says Sieh. His track record is proof that one can be just as productive in old age.

From the 1955 Victorian

Sieh Kok Chi (centre, back row), in the V.I. basketball team (1955)

VI The V.I. Web Page

Created on February 7, 2017
Last update on February 7, 2017

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