The Battle of Church Hill

In recent years, the annual activity day in Singapore, hosted by the Norwegian and Swedish Church Society, has taken place at a sports stadium. But this year, on Saturday 11 April 2015, they will host it at home and a special event has been added: a race on the steep hillside.

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By Søren Engelbrecht

It’s with a racing heartbeat and a sweaty back that I shake her hand and say hello. As she finishes up her meeting with the co-organizers, I praise myself that I didn’t wear a grey shirt today.

Along with a group of volunteers at the Norwegian and Swedish Church Society in Singapore, Helen Engelstad Kvalem, who is a diaconal employee at the church and the pastor’s wife, is organizing and facilitating their annual activity day event. But this year is different. This year, they are hosting the activities at home on the church hillside instead of using the Jurong Stadium, which they couldn’t rent this time. That means less professionalism and more alternative activities with a local twist – both Scandinavian and Singaporean.

“We are not going to have the traditional disciplines we used to. The 60-metre run is replaced with a 60-metre backwards run up the hill. Instead traditional high jump, they are going to jump creatively into the pool and get style points,” Helen Engelstad Kvalem says.

She lists all the activities, one by one, without looking at notes. The hesitations are short and few.

Long jump into the pool, tandem skiing, and mango toss are some of the new disciplines. And synchronized swimming, which is kind of traditional.

Up and up they run
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The hill, Helen Engelstad Kvalem is referring to, is actually the main event. And the reason for my sweaty back.

The church is located on top of a very steep hill with Alpe d’Huez-styled hairpin bends, and they have decided to take advantage of that. A hill race will be the grand finale of the activity day. A race, where all the registered contesters – no matter the fitness condition or age – run up and down the hill as many time as possible for one hour.

“Then you get a personal sponsor, who sponsors an amount of money for every time you run up and down. But there is also a family run where you pay one amount to enter. For those who just want to get up the hill – running, walking or crawling,” Helen Engelstad Kvalem laughs as she explains the concept of the race that ends the activity day. She adds that all the revenue from the race will be donated to an orphanage in Batam, Indonesia.

Breakeven is not important
The budget is lower this time but the enthusiasm and the dedication seems unchanged – if not even higher. As Helen Engelstad Kvalem shows me around at the church area – including a walk down the hill and up again – her hands is in constant movement, pointing out where the different activities will take place.

I don’t want to spoil the good mood, but I have to ask; what if the sky cracks – as it does from time to time in Singapore – and the rain pours down?

“Then we will have something to drink inside until it stops. But the activity day ends at 2 pm, so it won’t be raining until afterwards,” she says with such a natural confidence that it almost seems logical.

The mood is intact so I try one more; does a certain amount of people have to show up for the finances to breakeven?

“If 100 people show up I’m happy, if 150 people show up I’m excited, and if less than 100 people show… then we will figure it out,” she says with a tenacious and worry-free smile.

The activity day is Saturday from 10 am to 2 pm, and people at every age are invited.

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