Most supportive group award Rajvithi Running Club

Race for Vision

Against all odds, APAO 2019 Charity Run returns stronger for its fourth year

One Friday morning in March, over 300 runners participated in the 2019 Asia-Pacific Academy of Ophthalmology (APAO) Congress Charity Run at Benchakitti Park in Bangkok, Thailand. At exactly 6:30 a.m., the runners took off on the 5.4km course, circling the park’s beautiful lake. 

Themed ‘Run for Sight, Run for Life’, the fourth APAO Charity Run aimed to raise funds for two organizations: the Thammasakon Hatyai School for the Blind in south Thailand and the Indonesian Ophthalmologists Association (PERDAMI). Funds raised for the Thammasakon Hatyai School will be used to refurbish their kitchen and upgrade the overall cleanliness of the school, which educates 80 students; while funds for the latter will be directed towards the September 2018 earthquake relief efforts in Central Sulawesi.

This year’s organizing committee was led by Dr. Somkiat Asawaphureekorn from Srinagarind Hospital at Khon Kaen, Thailand, about 440 kms from Bangkok. Due to the distance from Bangkok, the glaucoma specialist requested that APAO 2019 Congress president Dr. Paisan Ruamviboonsuk enlist the help of Dr. Rattiya Pornchaisuree, a pediatric ophthalmologist at Rajvithi Hospital in Bangkok, as co-organizer. Together, the two became the force behind this year’s Charity Run.

“Dr. Rattiya and the Rajvithi Running Club were key behind the success of the Charity Run. This year, we wanted to give runners the best experience, best impressions and the best memories,” said Dr. Asawaphureekorn. 

Going the Extra Mile

With meticulous planning and thoughtful details, the organizing committee’s effort paid off. This was evident in the specially designed T-shirts and finisher’s medal. “We wanted to design a unique T-shirt that the runners would not only want to wear, but would also remind them of this run,” shared Dr. Asawaphureekorn. 

“We also want people to know at a glance that the T-shirt is from Thailand. Made from breathable nano fiber technology, the T-shirt’s special indigo or ‘khram’ hue is one of the 168 Thaitone colors used historically in traditional Thai arts,” he added, noting that it is something not found in the standard printing color system. The ‘eyebrow’ of the ‘iris’ on the T-shirt is derived from a Thai art pattern called ‘kanok’, which can be found in Thai art and temple mural paintings.

The highlight is perhaps the APAO 2019 Charity Run finisher’s medal made from laser-cut teak wood, which can also be used as a key chain or bag decoration.

Dr. Asawaphureekorn shared that as a runner, the medals collected over time usually just end up being unused. “I wanted to design a non-traditional medal with Thai art, which is also practical and functional.” 

So, for the medal’s design, he chose the flower-like ‘Prachamyam’ traditional Thai pattern, which has four similar shapes originating from the center into four directions. “This represents balanced growth into all directions, symbolizing the sharing of knowledge and wisdom in ophthalmology throughout Asia-Pacific,” he explained.

Initial Setbacks

Amid the challenges of organizing the run, Dr. Asawaphureekorn said they had learned that Benchakitti Park was to be closed in March 2019 for a major renovation. This caused a nervous committee to research three other Bangkok parks, even going as far as to test the traveling time between each park and the conference venue via public transport. It would’ve all taken too long, making the logistics not feasible.

The conference committee then proposed to cancel the run. Dr. Asawaphureekorn and his team felt despair, as it was just two months before the event. But after a long discussion, APAO 2019 Congress president, Dr. Paisan Ruamviboonsuk, agreed to mediate with the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration authority. Two weeks later, the authorities finally agreed to postpone the park’s renovations just for the run. 

Overcoming More Obstacles

Two weeks before the run, only 50 people had registered. This got them to quickly create convenient registration forms online, advertising through banners and booths, and even dinosaur mascots – anything to spread the word to APAO delegates about the run. Eventually, 336 people registered, which was well above their target of 300. Dr. Asawaphureekorn credited Rajvithi Hospital Intern Dr. Vorarit Jinaratana for his contributions, especially in producing the run’s promotional video on the APAO website.  

As days neared, they also found out that their T-shirt suppliers could not produce the zip pocket. After discussions, the T-shirt production company finally worked on the promised zip pocket by hiring extra workers and delivered them only a day before the run.

As if those weren’t enough setbacks, on the day of the run, the person in charge had forgotten to bring the air-horn for the VIP to signal the start of the run. Fortunately, he made it back and got it within a five-minute dash to his vehicle, while the emcee quickly led the waiting crowd through a photo-taking session.

“I learned that Murphy’s law stands true, so you need to be prepared to solve these surprises,” shared Dr. Asawaphureekorn.

All Smiles at the Finish Line

Ultimately, the run went on and ended without incident, complete with a breakfast session after the prize-giving presentations. Among the winners were Prof. Clement Tham, the secretary general and CEO of APAO, who won second runner-up in the Ophthalmologist category with an impressive time of 30:58. 

“The highlight of the run for me was when I saw all the runners with their happy faces,” he said. “Imagine all from 27 different countries and nationalities gathering to ‘Run for Sight, Run for Life’. They all took selfies and group photos with one another, made new friends, and enjoyed the food. This made me and my team very happy.”

At press time, Dr. Asawaphureekorn said they are still finalizing the total of donations from different sources. “We hope to finish and give the donations to the two charities very soon. Thammasakon Hatyai School for the Blind in Thailand is very thankful and very excited to get the donations,” he shared.

Incidentally, the Rajvithi Running Club won the Top Most Supportive Group Award, while the Indonesian Ophthalmologists Association won the Most Participating Group Award. Top contributing individuals and corporate sponsors were also acknowledged. The winner for Top Individual Fundraising Award, Ms. Watcharee Trongmethirat (who raised USD $606), also flew all the way from Khon Kaen to join the run.

“My biggest satisfaction in organizing this run came from appreciating how 50 volunteers, about 40 of whom were from the Rajvithi Running Club, came together and worked hard to ensure all runners experienced the very best while running in Bangkok for a good cause,” he said, thanking a long list of individuals and groups for their help.

“I hope the APAO charity run will continue as a tradition and become one of the anticipated events for all delegates,” Dr. Asawaphureekorn said with satisfaction. 

Editor’s Note: In conjunction with the APAO 2019 Congress, the APAO 2019 Congress Charity Run was held in Bangkok, Thailand, on March 8. Reporting for this story also took place at APAO 2019. Media MICE Pte. Ltd., CAKE Magazine’s parent company, was the official media partner at APAO 2019. For more information on the run’s overall results, visit www.racez. net/result/index/6.

Benchakitti Park2

Medal Backdrop

Most participating group Indonesian Ophthalmologists Association PERDAMI

Prof Clement Tham finished 3rd

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Dr Somkiat Profile picture 1

Dr. Somkiat Asawaphureekorn

Dr. Somkiat Asawaphureekorn is an associate professor in Ophthalmology of the Glaucoma Unit and the vice chairman of the Clinical Epidemiology Unit, Faculty of Medicine, Khon Kaen University, Thailand. He obtained his M.D. with honors from Mahidol University in 1984 and his master’s degree in Clinical Epidemiology from Chulalangkorn University, Thailand, in 2001. He completed his Certificate of Glaucoma Fellowship from the University of California, San Diego, California, USA, in 1995. His subspecialty is in glaucoma with a special interest in angle closure glaucoma, clinical diagnostic and surgical gonioscopy, ocular biometry and imaging in angle closure glaucoma, surgery in angle closure glaucoma and goniosynechialysis in angle closure glaucoma. Dr. Asawaphureekorn is an avid runner who has completed his first full marathon in 2009 and has since then completed three full marathons. Email: somk_as@kku.ac.th.