YMCA Special Needs Inclusive Challenge 2023: Conquering all odds, reflecting on Mount Fuji

Standing atop Mount Fuji, we were overcome with a profound sense of achievement and introspection. The rugged path we had traversed to reach this pinnacle, both literally and metaphorically, had tested the limits of our physical endurance and mental resilience. As the sun bathed the summit in its golden embrace, it became clear that our journey up Mount Fuji had not only been a conquest of nature's grandeur but a deep exploration of our own capabilities and the bonds that bind us as a team.

In the hushed moments following our triumphant ascent, the YMCA Special Needs Inclusive Challenge climb team found solace in one another's company, eager to share the stories and emotions that had accompanied us every step of the way. Each member of our team had embarked on this adventure with their own motivations, dreams, and apprehensions. As we engaged in heartfelt conversations, we discovered that the climb had left an indelible mark on our souls, shaping our perspectives and leaving us with profound insights about ourselves and the world around us.

Here are some of our reflections of this transformative journey, capturing the essence of what it means to stand on the summit of Japan's iconic peak, forever changed by the experience.

Sharon (left), together with the YMCA staff team at the summit of Mount Fuji.

“Inclusivity was truly a core theme throughout the trip, as it went beyond being inclusive to the young adults with special needs, but it extended to include the other participants of the climbing group which was made up of caregivers who were of various age groups and mostly in their 50s and 60s, and inexperienced hikers. Despite the limitations of each individual, the collective support from the whole group contributed to the success of the hike, and made the trip truly an inclusive one.”

- Sharon Chan, Programmes Division Head, YMCA of Singapore

Coach Su Lin (in blue), together with the YMCA Special Needs Inclusive Challenge team.

“Our 10 Special Needs Ambassadors have not only conquered Mount Fuji, but also conquered limits that, themselves or anyone in the world, have placed on them.

It is with sheer hard work and determination, their positivity and the unyielding support from their caregivers that contributed to the success of this seemingly impossible mission.

YMCA of Singapore has been the bedrock of this expedition. For the perseverance of staff and commitment to see this project to its fruition, I am grateful for the support they have graciously provided. It is extremely invaluable for Singapore and the world to witness this incredible feat!

Finally, a last word to my very special team of youth, don't let anyone set limits on what you can achieve! Go forth with courage to challenge the impossible! Gambatte!”

- Tan Su Lin, Coach, YMCA Special Needs Inclusive Challenge 2023

Lia (left) and Wei Kang (right) persevering during the climb.

“I’m proud of my son Wei Kang. Despite his fear of heights, he pushed through to the summit. His determination inspired me to go on and on, side by side with him, all the way. Conquering Mount Fuji with him and the other Special Needs Ambassadors has been a good learning lesson for me. Now, I have become a much stronger person, mentally and physically. This experience also deepened the bond between Wei Kang and me.

Team YMCA at the summit of Mount Fuji!

I spoke to Wei Kang and asked him if he wants to climb Mount Fuji again. He said yes! I was surprised. His eyes brimmed and he was super proud when he received the certificate of achievement. It means a lot to him–his big smile told me a thousand words...

Thank you YMCA for giving this opportunity to Wei Kang!”

- Lia Marahusin, Mother of Toh Wei Kang (YMCA Special Needs Ambassador)

Janna (left) and Julian (right) on Mount Fuji.

“The trip to Mount Fuji was amazing! I am extremely glad and proud of Janna and myself for reaching the summit together. There were so many worries before the trip regarding our fitness, clothing to pack, weather uncertainties, falling sick before the climb and more… but we made it! Awesome! The training was worth it, the weather was kind to us, the team co-operated well and the guides from YMCA Tozanso were experienced. Many of us teared up when we reached the highest point of Mount Fuji.

Janna was happy about the climb. I asked her about the level of difficulty of the climb: “easy”, “okay” or “difficult”. Surprisingly, she chose “okay”! When asked if she wants to go again, she said “NO” right after the climb but now she replied “YES”–probably because her thigh and knee pain has subsided!”

- Julian Tan, Mother of Janna Chong (YMCA Special Needs Ambassador)

Sree, with the peak of Mount Fuji right behind him.

“The climb experience was exciting and scary at the same time, because the previous time I went up to 3,800+m in a cable car, I did feel a little uneasy. However, this time round, it was extremely satisfying to see all 26 of us summit Mount Fuji, which is a tough ask for any large group.

Weng Siong was one of the physically stronger Special Needs Ambassadors, so the physical part of summitting Mount Fuji was a breeze. It helped that I volunteered to be his climbing buddy and learned how to support him during our training sessions. The only challenge was that Weng Siong wanted to go even faster than the group leader at times when he got excited. Helping him exercise that restraint and making sure he eats and drinks regularly were my main responsibilities!

Personally, it felt great to be atop one of the largest volcanoes and the highest point in Japan, having achieved this together with the rest of the team.”

- Sreekumar N Sarma, Senior Manager, Deals Advisory, PwC Singapore

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