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Access & Impact
May 1, 2023
By: Niki Kapsambelis
It started as a fleeting conversation three years ago between colleagues about their mutual bucket lists, back when Viatris was first formed as a company: someday, Anita Chan thought, I would like to attempt the Oxfam Trailwalker – one of the largest fundraising sports events in Hong Kong.
An avid hiker, Anita – who is Viatris’ general manager for Hong Kong and Macau – thought it might be a good way to interact with people in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Everyone is so home bound, working from home for quite a long period of time. We’re missing out on a lot of personal interaction,” she recalls thinking.
Eddy Hui, Viatris’ head of hospital care sales in Hong Kong, agreed with her. Like Anita, he had hoped to participate in the event, a rigorous undertaking that requires teams of four hikers to complete the mountainous 100-kilometer MacLehose Trail within a 48-hour time limit.
But during the pandemic, the race – which had been running since 1986 to raise money for Oxfam Hong Kong’s poverty alleviation and emergency relief projects – was canceled for three straight years, so the idea moved to the back burner.
When race organizers announced that an in-person event would happen the weekend of February 24-26, Anita and Eddy decided to try it. Entries are selected through a lottery system, but Viatris was able to field two four-person teams of colleagues ranging in age from 24 to 54, a 30-year age gap. A second team of 50 colleagues formed to provide support, whether in the form of offering food and water at designated checkpoints or walking alongside them for part of the trail.
Under ordinary circumstances, participants would train for six to nine months, Anita said. But after learning they had been selected, the Viatris hikers only had nine weeks to prepare. They scheduled three training sessions a week: Tuesdays were for building strength, Fridays were for running, and Saturdays were for hiking portions of the trail they would follow in the race so they would learn the route and not get lost.
At first, the participants were laid back, joking that they would plan naps along the route. But as they trained, they became more cohesive and focused on their goal of completing the trail in 40 hours, said Priscilla Wong, Hong Kong’s head of corporate affairs and market access, who served on the support team.
The training helped them form a bond, and the hikers became committed to one another, Anita said: “Eight pairs of legs, we walked every step together. We wouldn’t leave anyone behind.”
The race also became a metaphor for their work at Viatris: by working together, across age groups and job functions toward a common goal, they were developing resilience and perseverance that empowered each team member while broadening access to health for the beneficiaries of Oxfam Hong Kong. Their efforts raised more than $80,000 HKD (about $10,000 in the U.S.)
It wasn’t easy. Anita, who once lived in the United States’ notoriously chilly Chicago, recalled the day they practiced on Tai Mo Shan, the highest of the 23 hills and mountains on the route. It felt like the coldest she had ever been in her life, her cheeks frigid from the wind. Loose rocks crumbled under her feet. But she pressed on.
“No matter how happy, how sad, how powerless you are, you need to be strong internally,” Anita said. “You need to hang on, using your own two feet to move forward.”
John Ng, a Regulatory Affairs associate, said when he first saw the elevation of the mountains he had signed up to climb, he was somewhat apprehensive about his ability to complete the race. But the experience changed his mind.
“I know more about myself, that nothing is actually impossible,” he said. “It’s important to make that first step and try.”
For his part, Eddy – who worried that he wouldn’t be able to complete the training – learned how valuable the support of the team was. Each hiker and members of the support team took turns leading the group, a key factor in their success.
“We learned a lot from each other,” Anita said. “When we are weak and vulnerable, we do need a shoulder to lean on.”
In addition to Anita, Eddy, and John, the other hikers include Raymond Fu, head of specialty care – private/ethical market; Barry Young, product specialist; Jerria Chow, key account manager; Gary Wong, product specialist; and Andrew Kwok, head of business strategy and business operations.
During the race, hikers moved continuously, stopping only for bathroom breaks. At the eighth checkpoint, Priscilla felt a rush of adrenaline when she saw them approach: “It was not just them doing the walk,” she said. “They put everyone in the organization in the same perspective of achieving this goal.”
In the end, the hikers completed the race in 28 hours, far exceeding their original target. Priscilla said the experience was “transformational” for the entire Hong Kong office.
Anita agreed: “We are one agile, resilient team in Hong Kong.”