by Izyan Nadzirah
It may be a delayed reaction, but the once-mischievous Prasatt Arumugam (RI, 06; RJC, 08) will be using his pent-up energy to trek the Pacific Crest Trail that extends from the Southwest to the Northwest of USA to raise funds for the Children’s Cancer Foundation. Come July to December, the 25-year old, whose life was once affected by cancer when a close family member was stricken with it, hopes to be the first Singaporean to complete the trail and while inspiring children affected by cancer to press on with their trek to better health.
What made you decide to support the CCF?
It all began when my aunt, who was like a second mother to me, passed away from cancer. She was loved by many for her kind and gentle nature. When she was first diagnosed with breast cancer, she took the news hard. Family and friends rallied around her to ensure she stayed positive, and with good medical care, her cancer went into remission.
Unfortunately, her cancer relapsed a few years later. The cancer cells were even more aggressive, metastasising to various parts of her body. She was all but overwhelmed and it was painful seeing her become a pale shadow of her former loving self. She eventually succumbed to the illness, leaving the day of her passing etched deep in my memory.
While taking some time to get over the loss of my aunt, it struck me that there were many other individuals and families who were not only physically but mentally affected by cancer. I wanted to do something to help, in my own small way, ease the pain of other cancer patients and their families and started volunteering with the children at CCF as a playroom personnel in memory of my beloved late aunt. Imagine how much more difficult the struggle against cancer is for a child as compared to an adult!
How have the children at CCF touched you?
In my short time as playroom personnel at CCF, I’ve met many children who have touched me in their own way. In fact, they’ve taught me a lot about life. One boy that I often play with goes for infusion in the treatment room at scheduled timings. Although the infusion is a painful process, he often manages to remain bubbly and upbeat, excitedly sharing with me the games and movies he watched while undergoing the infusion. Recently, however, he underwent steroid treatment which caused bloating.
You would think that children, at such a young age, are not as conscious of their appearance as adults, but this particular boy was and he began to look more tired and downcast. This particular incident reminded me that even the strongest child has his or her down moments. It further spurred me to step out of my comfort zone to show these children that they are not alone in their fight against cancer, hence the decision to do a long-distance trek.
Why a trek?
The children at CCF are on their own road to recovery, and it is undoubtedly an arduous path filled with more downs than ups. I felt that in some way a trek, particularly one of such ‘With my fellow Dramafeste crew members from MR (where we came in first place!)’ immense distance, varying elevations and changing climates, is an appropriate symbol of that road. It also provides the public with a more tangible scale to understand the mental and physical struggle of these young men and women.
Why the Pacific Crest Trail?
It’s not easy to explain it, but in so many ways, the trail spoke to me. I had heard about it during a university exchange programme in the USA and knew almost instantly that I would return to trek it someday. Spanning 4,280km from the tip of Southern California at the US/Mexico border, through three states to the US/Canada border the trek provides elevation gain and loss equivalent to 16 Mount Everests. The PCT also has varied terrain – snow, desert, mountain passes and stream crossing made risky by snow melt. It is a challenging trail where statistically, more than 50% of hikers with the intention to go the whole distance fail to complete it.
Also, if my research is right, I will be the first Singaporean to attempt to trek the whole trail – and that’s a bonus that I hope will attract even more to donate.
What will your training programme will be like?
There are two things I need to prepare – my body and my equipment. For the past few months I have been working on bringing my overall pack weight down. On a long trek, every bit of weight adds up and can increase one’s susceptibility to stress injuries. To ensure the best chance of success, my equipment has to be light and functional. There is no space for extraneous items like extra shirts to change into if wet, or books to read. I have to get suitable ultralight gear, plan my food choices wisely, including coming up with a good resupply strategy at any outpost along the way.
Of course, no matter how good the equipment, an unfit individual will have little success in conquering even a section of the trail. To ramp up my fitness and endurance level, I have taken advice from a friend from the Singapore Women’s Everest Team. My training hours are filled with stair-climbing with a loaded backpack, long runs, and conditioning session at the gym. Admittedly it has not been easy to be consistent in my training as I have to focus on my fundraising campaign too, but I try to squeeze in as many workouts as possible whenever I have free time!
What memories in your time in RI and RJC will keep you smiling as you trek the PCT?
I wasn’t the best-behaved student in RI and got involved in all sorts of shenanigans – fire extinguishers have been involved! Once, my Chemistry teacher had to chase mercury droplets after I broke a thermometer in the lab. I’d like to chalk all my mischievous acts to excess pent-up energy as an adolescent.
Other memories include my involvement in the Indian Cultural Society’s Cultural Night. All of us seniors and juniors rallied each other to put up a concert. The camaraderie and leadership skills I learnt were invaluable. Also, I once represented my house Morrison at the inter-house Hockey tournament and came up champion! That was definitely memorable.
In RJC, I picked up beatboxing and performed at concerts and during talent time. At that time, I had picked it up as a hobby but the skill has stayed with me since. Most importantly though, is the friends I still keep in touch with all these years from both RI and RJC!
We wish Prasatt well on his trek through the PCT and look forward to his updates on social media! Do cheer him on through his rigorous training and challenging hike through TrekInvicta’s Facebook page and hashtag on Instagram.
Please support his fundraising campaign for the Children’s Cancer Foundation via trekinvicta.com. A little goes a long way in empowering children stricken with cancer to fight for better health. All donations above SGD$50 will be tax deductible.