Cambodia's Ly runs against the odds
Cambodia's first female Olympic marathoner hopes to inspire future generations
Nary Ly's sports career followed a road less travelled.
She was Cambodia's first female athlete to compete in an Olympic marathon.
In Rio last year, at the age of 44, she made her debut as one of the oldest athletes at the Games.
During the race, she sustained a foot injury, and finished last in 133rd spot, although 24 runners dropped out due to the hot conditions.
In an interview with The New Paper yesterday, she recalled: "I know that I cannot win a medal, but to finish with a decent time (3:20:20) even if I was at the back of the pack, that was enough for me.
"I saw a lot of runners who couldn't finish the race during the Olympics. My feet was hurting, but I told myself to go at a slower but steady pace.
"And I did it, I completed the race."
Even her life story has been one against the odds.
A survivor of the Khmer Rouge genocidal regime, Ly is lucky to be even alive.
She escaped Cambodia when she was nine, and grew up with a foster family in France.
It wasn't until she was in her mid-20s that she returned to her homeland with a PhD in biology.
I just want to show people that if there’s no exception, be the exception.Long distance runner, Nary Ly
Ly, who is in Singapore to compete in her second Great Eastern Women's half marathon tomorrow, said: "It's only small flashes of my childhood that I can remember, probably because of the trauma and fight for survival back then.
"When my relatives tell me stories, it opens up things of the past like when I almost drowned in a river, or when I escaped from the children's camp.
"We were all separated into different camps, the children were together. But I don't remember much."
Now a professor at the University of Health Sciences in Cambodia, it wasn't until 2006 that she signed up for her first half marathon at Angkor Wat to raise money for Cambodian children with HIV/Aids.
And when she did, she was met by stunned looks from the organisers.
She said: "When I wanted to sign up, the federation was surprised I signed up for the half marathon.
"They told me there was no Cambodian female running a long-distance race. I was shocked because I was only in the study of HIV/Aids.
"That got stuck in my head, because they told me that every year, there would be one male and female from Singapore to run the half marathon, but no Cambodian female."
For Ly, however, the running turned from a fund-raising activity into passion.
In 2008, she learnt about the first Cambodian man to run in the Olympic marathon in Beijing, and the seeds of her Olympic dream were planted.
"I thought, why not a first (Cambodian) woman too?" she said.
The dream turned into reality last year, when she received a wild card to participate in Rio, as Cambodia did not have a track and field athlete who qualified for the Games on merit.
For Ly, who set her personal best of 2:59:12 at the Valencia Marathon in Spain in 2015, she had more than just pride as her motivation.
She said: "I want Cambodia to progress. I want to show the world that we can do it too.
"If I don't do it, then future generations won't be inspired to. I just want to show people that if there's no exception, be the exception."