Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Truly Amazing Race

If you have not already known this person, you would at the end of this article.

I read about Dr William Tan's illness in the Straits Times on 12 Jul. I was saddened but at the same time motivated.

Dr William Tan has an extraordinary life. At a young age of two, he contracted polio and that left him paralyzed from waist down. His family was too poor to afford a pair of crutches and he had to be carried around or 'walked' with his hands and dragged himself on the floor. It was not until he was ten that he was given an old pair of crutches.

As a kid, he was laughed at and that was to be the reason why he was expelled from Kindergarten while attempting to defend himself. His difficult childhood made him set up his mind that he did not want to be 'stuck' with such a 'diminished' life.

He studied hard and dreamed of becoming a doctor. He went to prestigious schools and scored straight distinctions for his 'O' and 'A' Level examinations. He wanted to do medicine in the National University of Singapore but was rejected due to his physical disability. He was asked to do life sciences instead.

After graduation, he did not forget his dream. He worked hard and saved enough for further studies in the United States. He went to Harvard University to study Medicine. He continued to do his Master and ended with a PhD in Neuroscience. He worked in world famous Mayo Clinic in the US and yes, he fulfilled his childhood dream of becoming a doctor.

Dr William Tan's great feats did not stop there. He raced on his wheelchair and in 1980, he became the first person in Singapore to have done a marathon in a wheelchair. He also became the first man in history to complete 10 marathons over 7 continents over 70 consecutive days. He has completed many marathons in many parts of the world and notably in the Antarctic under extremely harsh weather condition.

Besides his impressive sports records, Dr Tan is also no stranger to many charitable organizations. He has done a great deal for various charities, raised millions of dollars here and abroad. Watch this video which shows some of the events in his life.

Three years ago, I attended one of this motivational talks (bought the above book then) and was convinced that his man is truly exceptional. He was seated on his wheelchair on the stage, shared his life story and his philosophy. In a very moving way, he motivated and encouraged everyone to be courageous and learn to turn adversity into advantage. At the end of his talk, he remained seated (but of course) while the entire audience stood up, applauded and many were with tears welling in their eyes.

It seems that at times, life just has to play some jokes on us which are totally not funny. On 14 Apr, Dr William Tan was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, and his doctor told him that without treatment, he would not survive a year. Understandably, his world fell apart. He soon climbed up again and ever so determined, he is now fighting one of the toughest battles in his life.

I am saddened that this has to happen to him, someone who has done so much for the under-privileged and has given so many motivational talks and touched so many lives. On the other hand, I am also very motivated to see that he is fighting on, persevering the harsh side-effects of cancer treatment.

He is indeed walking his talk. This time, he is running the toughest marathon of his life and he is running a truly amazing race. This would definitely be another big chapter in his life from which many people are going to draw valuable life lessons.

From time to time, we may find the going tough and we whine. Very often, we forget to examine our lives in perspective. We forget to count our blessings and we even inadvertently let go what we already have while mourning for something less important.

Try to recall some events in the past, those that were so tough that you thought you might not be able to cope with. Now that you look back, with better a perspective of things, many of such events appear not so significant, right?

When we wallow in self pity, we tend not to see the big picture. The shrunk world would look gloomy and we cannot see how we could ever get ourselves out of it. However, if we were to stick our heads a little higher, out of the pit, we would realize that the world is much bigger and promising.

Life can be as bad as we want it to be and the reverse is also true. We get to choose.

By September, Dr William Tan would have completed his chemotherapy treatment and he would be ready for the life-giving bone marrow transplant then (he has found a match with one of his siblings). I sincerely wish him all the best.

Reflection: Very often, we are disabled by our minds, not our bodies.

Further Reading: News articles on his marathons.

CNA: "Dr William Tan first man to complete North Pole Marathon on wheelchair"

CNA: "Dr William Tan breaks world record for marathons across continents

The Straits Times blog "A true Singapore inspiration".

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal:
it is the courage to continue that counts."
~ Winston Churchill

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1 comment:

Leonny said...


Thanks for sharing this!
And I like 'Very often, we are disabled by our minds, not our bodies'. So true.

I'm inspired!