Never forgotten

Personal best: Thaddeus Cheong's life suddenly ended after he completed a South East Asia Triathlon
Personal best: Thaddeus Cheong's life suddenly ended after he completed a South East Asia Triathlon

A nephew who tragically died after completing a time trial for the 2007 South East Asia Games lives on through the pages of a book penned by his aunt.

Copies of Running the Full Distance have been given to the Marlborough District Libraries by author Belinda Wee. She hopes her family's loss can help others realise that life can be short and each day needs to be treasured.

Belinda joined the Picton Medical Centre as a general practitioner in January last year. Five years earlier, she and her husband Lee Wee were living in Singapore, raising their daughter Benedicta and son Bennett.

They spent much of their childhood with Belinda's sister's two sons and the four cousins had become best friends.

The tie was particularly strong between Benedicta and the eldest nephew, Thaddeus Cheong. A year older, he always looked out for her.

"She felt helpless when her cousin just passed away," Belinda says from her doctor's surgery in Picton this week. In fact, the unexpected death of Thaddeus, 17, shocked everyone.

It happened on June 24, 2007, just after he had completed the South East Asia (SEA) Triathlon time trial. It had taken him two hours, eight minutes and 56 seconds to swim 1.5 kilometres, cycle 40km and do the final 10km run - a personal best and probably enough to qualify for the 2007 SEA Games.

His euphoria was short lived. Thaddeus passed the finish line, collapsed and was rushed to hospital where staff announced "sudden cardiac death".

There had been no warning signs, Belinda says, although the family learned later of a previously unknown congenital condition.

In the days leading up to his funeral, she started thinking about life and its meaning.

"I came to realise we need to live each day to the fullest and do all the good that we can.

"It's important to be happy in what you are doing - and not sweat the small stuff - because tomorrow may never happen."

Belinda says her family has a strong Catholic faith and believes in eternal life. It can surprise some people to hear a medical doctor acknowledge that, but it was the line she used when invited to speak at Hospice Marlborough about the cultural aspects of dying. She included the issue of life after death.

Readers get a taste of it in the book.

A chapter, titled Entering the Narrow Gate, provides a first-person account of Thaddeus racing the triathlon. Family members can be seen as he crosses the finishing line, then their faces become confused and he finds himself near large, decorative gates and hears a religious figure he recognises as "Mother Mary" welcoming him into Heaven.

Belinda wrote the script in three months, in time to have the 200-page book launched on May 24, 2008, the 18th anniversary of Thaddeus's birth. Proceeds from the first 3000 copies were donated to a new church planned for Sarawak and another 2000 copies were printed. Lots were brought to New Zealand by the Wees who are giving many away.

"Young people dying unexpectedly is not that uncommon," the doctor says.

"But as a Christian, I believe things happen for a reason."

Thaddeus was someone whose good humour and concern for others touched many people and Belinda hopes the book keeps his spirit alive so his support for others can continue.

Parents have told her that reading it has opened communication doors between them and their teenage children.

Teens can be "more genuine than adults", Belinda says.

"It's important for us, as adults, to treat them with respect . . . and to remember what we were like ourselves in our own teenage years."

The Marlborough Express