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From Volunteer to Competitor

There are two very different worlds that manifest on a RacingThePlanet event. There is the competitor’s world—a solitary space of inner-discipline and endurance, where the entire landscape is refracted through one’s internal struggle to complete the course. And then there is the volunteer’s world—a space on the outside, where others become the focus.

Zhou Mi and Zhen Long Lim are two friends in their mid-20s from Singapore who have been comparing these two worlds on their recent trip to Madagascar. After being volunteers at the Gobi March in 2013, they came here this time as competitors.

“I was inspired as a volunteer and wanted to experience it for myself,” explains Zhou Mi when we talk to her during the Roving Race. She admits that it’s been a real challenge to be a competitor for the first time. “It’s tough, I feel under-prepared because of the sand and blisters.”

Her friend, Zhen Long Lim, on the other hand, says she is enjoying the pace so far. “So far so good,” she says. “It’s pretty smooth and better than expected–but I came here with no expectations.”

The pair has a common goal here in Madagascar. While they attempt to complete the 250-kilometers, they are also raising funds for the Singapore Nanyang Technological University’s NTU Bursaries. They both work at the American firm Proctor and Gamble in Singapore—and are helping one another through the challenge.

When asked to compare the two experiences, they agree that one of the main benefits of being a volunteer is how it allows you to really admire the setting. “As a volunteer, I have time to observe scenery at the checkpoints,” explains Zhen.

“As a volunteer, I feel closer [to the landscape],” agrees Zhou. “As a competitor, I am focused solely on finishing. I enjoyed the scenery more as a volunteer.”

She also points out that being a volunteer is—in many way—more tiring than racing. “Volunteers spend more hours and are busy more and it is more tiring. As a competitor, the mental pain is to push through to finish the race.”

The volunteers certainly do remain busy during the race; helping to get into checkpoints early, and helping around camp long after the sun sets. “Competing is isolating and more about self-discovery,” concludes Zhou. “Versus volunteering, which is more about observation.”

Either way, they agree that one common thing that is viscerally experienced in both worlds is the incredible friendships that form as the days progress. “The best experience is the people you meet,” says Zhou. “All these nice, interesting people who have come here to experience the same thing.”

By Clare Morin

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