Choose Your Location
By: Sarah Ramadan
August 21, 2023
Throughout his adult life, Wesley Chan avoided exercise. Always short on time, he thought he had better things to do, especially in the extreme heat of summer in his native Hong Kong.
Having lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for 15 years, he moved back to care for his aging parents. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, he suddenly found himself with more time on his hands. Like many people, he decided to become more active, starting with shorter walks before increasing his distance to 15 to 20 kilometers each day and eventually adding running into the mix.
As Wesley became more active, he noticed a difference in himself.
“It demonstrated to me the goodness of exercising,” he said. People around him also noticed that he was healthier and more energetic.
When Wesley joined the strategy team at Viatris in May 2022, running helped him connect with his colleagues. Later that year, when the office decided to form teams to participate in Oxfam Trailwalker, one of the largest sports fundraising events in Hong Kong, he decided to join.
“Why not? I mean you get to try it once, right?” he said.
The race covers 100 kilometers of mountainous terrain and raises money for Oxfam Hong Kong’s poverty alleviation and emergency relief projects. All team members must complete the course within 48 hours, which was part of the appeal for Wesley: it meant that everyone had to support each other to complete the task. Though normally held in the fall, the race was delayed by the pandemic before finally being scheduled for the weekend of February 24-26. Viatris entered two four-person teams of runners, including Wesley, who was a team leader. An additional 50 colleagues provided support in the form of food and water along the trail.
To train, the teams hiked through different segments of the 10 parts that divide the course, building up stamina and familiarity.
The trails are challenging due to inclines and declines of paths. During a training session, Wesley reached the peak of a hill. As he descended, he felt a pain in his right thigh.
“It wasn’t hurting to the point that I couldn’t exert force on that leg,” he said, but then he felt the pain persist. “It was really painful to go down … I did kind of like limping and then hopping.” He chalked it up to a simple muscle strain and continued his run.
The next training day, Wesley led his team on the toughest part of the trail. He descended from the tallest mountain and started to feel pain in his leg. Luckily, members of his team were there to help. “They were really patient,” Wesley recalled. “They accompanied me to make sure I went safely down the mountain. So after that, I went to see a doctor right away.”
Wesley learned that he injured his IT band, which is tissue that runs from the hip to the knee. His doctor recommended prescription medicine and physical therapy to alleviate his pain.
With the day of the race approaching, Wesley was determined to be with his team. He trained again, but after running for a short time, he felt his leg pain return.
“I talked to the doctor again,” he said. “He told me that given my condition, it would take six to eight weeks to heal.”
Wesley realized that he would not recover in time for the race, but this setback did not stop him from making sure his team was successful.
On the day of the race, he drove runners to the start site and then helped set up supplies at each checkpoint, supporting his team every step of the way.
The Viatris teams finished in 28 hours, raising about $80,000 HKD (about $10,000 in the U.S.) More importantly, they developed a lifelong bond based on their determination and endurance. Wesley’s unexpected injury was another obstacle for the team to overcome together.
He was so inspired by the experience that he plans to participate as a runner when Oxfam Trailwalker returns to its traditional schedule the weekend of Nov. 24-26, 2023. Medicine and his treatment plan have allowed him to resume training.
“I think that was quite life changing,” Wesley said of the experience. “Even as a supporter, that bond is there. It was like going through a war together.”