We Run HK: Rick and Thomas Smits

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 February, 2014, 9:45am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 February, 2014, 9:45am

The Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon, which started in 1997 with a humble 1,000 runners, has grown into a running festival for the city, with 73,000 racers expected to take part this year. To celebrate the city's passion for the sport, we'll be featuring one inspirational local runner each week until the race on February 16.

Suffering from cerebral palsy from birth, eight-year-old Thomas Smits can't walk or talk. But thanks to his dad, he can run. Richard "Rick" Armand Smits runs with his son Thomas in a stroller, much like famous running duo Dick and Rick Hoyt.

In early November, they took part in the Discovery Bay 10-kilometre Fun Run, where the local community cheered them both along.

Smits, a pilot with Cathay Pacific, has long planned to run an official Hong Kong half-marathon distance race with Thomas, but so far his plans have been thwarted by race organisers who've turned him away. Undeterred, Thomas and Rick ran their own private half-marathon on a cool day in January around the roads of Disneyland - the furthest they've travelled together yet.

If the enduring bond between the Hoyts is anything to go by, it's most certainly just the beginning for this Hong Kong father-son duo.

I got back into running and exercise a few years ago to improve my health, and as a means of getting out with Thomas. I don't think my return to running was as a result of a mid-life crisis, but I had put on some extra weight compared to my more active earlier years as a triathlete.

Since Thomas has never been able to move independently, we are always researching options to provide transport or movement for him.

The stroller was a result of that research. The internet is a wonderful tool and allows us to network with families in similar situations.

While no two kids with brain damage are the same, sharing experiences - what has worked and what hasn't - helps with the many and varied challenges that having a child like Thomas brings.

Most of the time Thomas enjoys getting out for a walk, a hike or a run. Like any kid, sometimes he doesn't, but I think he enjoys it after we have made him. He particularly enjoys it if his brother and sisters come along.

Pushing Thomas is hard work, but I know he enjoys it, particularly organised events where there are lots of people involved. So that is where I derive my own enjoyment.

My most memorable running experience was getting Thomas to the top of Tiger's Head on Lantau in February last year.

It was more of a hike than a run, but my family and another family managed to push, drag, jog and haul Thomas in his chair up the 465-metre peak.

All the approaches from the Discovery Bay side are too steep for a stroller so we had to go through Pak Mong along Cheung Tung Road.

The other dad who helped was Bruce Pye, who has completed 10 ironman events.

When we got to the top, Bruce gave Thomas one of his ironman finisher medals, which was a cool way to celebrate.

I have hopes of pushing Thomas in a half-marathon, or maybe even the full distance, but unfortunately, Hong Kong events do not allow me to participate and push Thomas. We had been hoping to try and set a world record for the half marathon pushing a stroller at the recent Unicef half-marathon at Disney, but the entry was not accepted.

We had "recruited" [local elite runner] Thomas Kiprotich, who has won the event many times, to do the pushing.

It is a shame it didn't happen, as it would have been a wonderful thing for all involved.

If I didn't run, I would sit around too much, put on weight, become less healthy and not enjoy life quite as much. I might not always enjoy running, but I know it is good for me.