Climbing over age barriers

Climbing over age barriers

As the oldest woman to scale Mount Kinabalu, Madam Chee Moy Chun speaks to Priya Kulasagaran about how to keep fit and healthy well into your 80s.

“People just don’t want to listen to me when I tell them to move around more, they’re just so stubborn,” says Madam Chee Moy Chun, signalling her disapproval of such individuals with a wave of her hand. “Some of them are just lazy as well; all they say is ‘here pain, there pain’. They believe in their sickness more than do about exercising.”

The 82-year-old is offering her assessment of some of her peers, who have declined her invitation to be more physically active. “I have no joint problems or leg pains, I can still bend my limbs — I can still squat even. You must do some exercise to stretch your body,” she says. As she speaks, Chee drops to the floor to demonstrate a routine exercise she does at home, lifting and clutching her knees to her chest while her back is flat on the ground. “You turn left and right in this position, but vigorously. Then your spine will remain straight, otherwise it will become a question mark,” she explains in Chinese, as her son Oh Teik Oon translates her words with amusement.

Regardless of age, it might be hard for many people to keep up with Chee. After all, this is a woman who still scales mountains around the country — and even international ones — for fun.

Chee made headlines in March for being the oldest Malaysian woman to scale Mount Kinabalu’s highest peak, at 4,095m. According to The Star, the oldest Malaysian man to hold the record is Buatin Blandong, an 82-year-old Sabahan who is two months older than Chee. Interestingly, Chee did not realise till then that she was a record-holder, especially since she has been regularly going on mountain hikes for the past three decades.

For fresh air and friends

Raised in a New Village off Tapah town, Chee grew up surrounded by nature with the lush jungle greenery and rubber plantations surrounding her kampong — as well as views of the mountains of Cameron Highlands in the distance. As the second eldest child in a family of eight, she had to help the family out from a young age, working as a rubber tapper for a living. Now a mother of four and grandmother of eight, Chee appears to remain physically fit for the sheer joy of being active. “I just enjoy trying different hiking routes and treks. It is the hike itself that I enjoy, rather than the scenery or anything like that. And the feeling of breathing in fresh air,” she adds.

As she speaks about her physical activities, one notices a word Chee repeats is “friends”, referring to her buddies at the Hash House Harriers (HHH). HHH is an international social organisation well-known for its blend of physical activity, particularly running, with food and drink. Having been an active member of HHH’s Ipoh branch for the past 36 years, Chee feels that the group has played a significant part in encouraging her to go on mountain-climbing trips.

“I would still be doing my usual amount exercise, but I don’t think I would be running or climbing as much if not for my friends at HHH,” she says. “I enjoy the kind of lifestyle they have; going on treks together, and then meeting up for good food and drink.” While the ages of members range from their 20s to their 70s, Chee is the second oldest participant in the gang. “There was a man who was running with us until he was 92, and he passed away at 96 last year,” she adds.

“What training?”

With her friends from the HHH, Chee has been on numerous mountain trails many, many times; she has done the treks in Cameron Highlands at least 10 times so far. “I’ve also gone to Taiwan, Indonesia and China!” she exclaims, while enthusiastically showing pictures of her fellow Hash Harriers at various scenic peaks.

Chee’s recent trip to Mount Kinabalu was her fifth, although two of her previous climbs had to be abandoned due to foul weather. “The first time I got to the peak was in 1998, on my second trip there,” she says. “I was so happy to have finally reached the top! It made me feel very good.” When asked about the kind of preparation she had to undergo to scale these mountains, Chee offers a quizzical look: “What training?”

As she shares her weekly routine for the past 36 years, it becomes apparent that her whole life has been one in training.

At least once a week, Chee will go on a jog or brisk walk around the Sultan Abdul Aziz recreational park, which has a track of around 1.3km. She also goes on climbs in the nearby hills and mountains on HHH-organised trips twice a week. These climbs typically start at 6pm, and depending on the route, end from anywhere between 8pm to 10pm. “When we come down, we go for good food and drink — this includes some good beer too! The more you climb, the more you can drink!” adds a gleeful Chee.

If you wondering whether Chee has a special diet or consumes particular ‘superfoods’, this is her menu of a regular meal: “Half-boiled eggs, rice … and everything else”. With none of the issues that typically come with age, like diabetes or high blood pressure, Chee is under no advice to abstain from any kind of food. “My LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol is a bit raised, but that is normal at my age. I can afford to even eat fatty foods, because I walk and exercise so much,” she says.

Her key message for older adults who want keep healthy physically and mentally is a no-nonsense one: Move more. “Go outside more, do more exercise, and take more morning walks. If older people have filial children, their children can also take them to parks and encourage them to walk more. Also, being healthy to me is also to be ‘open-hearted’. Don’t hold on to sad and bad things in your heart and in your mind too much. Forget and let go of them,” says Chee.

Chee also has a simple retort when faced with people who say they’re too old to do something – “No lah”. “The no lah is very important to counter the mindset that you are ‘too old’ for something. Don’t just listen to what other people say. If you feel like you can do it, just do it.”

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