Inspiring True Stories: Aspire to make a difference.


Losing hope is a dangerous thing. So I’m writing to share the story of an incredible man who proves that the human spirit can triumph over incredible odds through perseverance and determination.

Success has got a lot to do with having the right attitude and the right influence. Learning about this man’s journey inspires me to push myself a little harder, dream a little bigger and work to create a difference that matters. His name is Dr. William Tan and I hope he can inspire you too.

I met Dr. Tan in a convention in Singapore. He wheeled himself right beside our table. He had an athletic build, and he was wearing a tight, black, long-sleeved dri-fit shirt. He reminded me of the professor in X-Men.

His wheelchair was special. It looked fast. Black discs covered the spokes and it didn’t look like any other wheelchair I’ve seen before. I figured he must race with it. He sure looked like he was built for it.

william tan

He reached out and handed me his card. It confirmed my deduction. The man was a paralympic athlete, a world record holder in fact. I was surprised to know that he was also a neuroscientist and a medical doctor. I had to Google over 11 other acronyms below his name from MBBS to Sc M just to figure out his other titles.

Wow, I was awestruck. William is the first paraplegic to complete 10 marathons in 70 days across 7 continents. It was chronicled in the book he gave me entitled No Journey Too Tough. One marathon is difficult enough for an able-bodied person, and there he was accomplishing the unimaginable.

The races he finished were held in Antarctica, Fin del Mundo (Argentina), Phoenix and Boston (USA) , Bangkok (Thailand), Cape Town (South Africa), Amsterdam (Netherlands), Queenstown (New Zealand), Canberra (Australia) and Vancouver(Canada).  One of the most amazing things about William is his heart. He has raised millions of dollars for children’s charities around the world through the marathons he runs.

“Winning medals, trophies or prize money should not be an end to itself. It should be a means to further goodness and to help people.”-Dr. William Tan
No Journey too tough
William’s message to my 3 girls. “You will achieve greatness. Aspire to make a difference!”

During the break, I looked through the book he gave me, and as I read excerpts from the book, my husband choked back on tears. William contracted polio when he was two and became paralyzed from the waist down. His parents were devastated, and because of his illness, his father lost his job as a clerk from missing so many days at work. His father survived his family by becoming a street vendor selling banana fritters on a cart.

Growing up, the doctors suggested to his parents to send William to the Red Cross home, but they refused because they were determined for him to grow up an independent person.  As a child, he was bullied in school. Other kids would pull his ears, hit his head and run away. When he decided to fight back, he caught someone’s hand and bit him. This got him expelled.

After a year, William was finally accepted to another school, he became determined and topped his class every year. This led to a strong interest in science and he decided that he would become a doctor one day. His determination paid off. William was able to receive a scholarship to study in Singapore’s premier school-The Raffles Institution.

William experienced many struggles, but he was very determined to pursue a medical career. He studied Life sciences in the National University of Singapore and throughout the years, worked hard and was also successfully able to attain his masters and PhD in New Zealand.

His journey in achieving his medical degrees was no easy feat. He saved up and worked part time to earn extra income by selling fish nets, and subscriptions to Reader’s Digest, he tutored English to foreign nurses after classes and in the evenings, he worked in a diagnostic lab examining feces and sputum. Then through his interest in wheel chair sports, he was able to start distributing racing wheelchairs.

Despite William’s humble beginnings, he wasn’t afraid of challenges. In his first week in medical school, a professor told him that he should not have taken up precious slots in the school, when it could have gone to some more deserving, able-bodied applicant.  The professor’s remark spurred him to perform well instead of disheartening him. He topped the fourth year class in that university and eventually won a Fulbright at Harvard and a Raffles scholarship at the University of Oxford. The two top universities in the world.

I asked William. “How did you do it?  What kept you going?” He said He owes his parents everything. He said, “They believed in me. They told me to focus on what I had and not what I didn’t have”. These were powerful words to me. It made me think how easily we take what we have for granted.

mom pic
William nominated his Mom for Persil’s Mother of the Year Award which won her a year’s supply of Persil detergent.

In his book he says “If my parents had sent me to the Red Cross Home, I would not have arrived at this achievement. I owe Mum and my late Dad everything”.

Often we complain and nurse entitled mindsets. We live in a generation where we can get instant gratification from a single click or swipe, where perseverance and hard work is becoming a rare commodity. William’s story is a reminder that the truths we believe can shape who we are.

He told himself that “I may not have good legs, but I have a good mind, and a good pair of arms.  I can make the best of whatever remaining abilities I have.”

In 2009, Dr. Tan was diagnosed with Stage 4 Leukemia. He was given 9-12 months to live. It was followed by an intensive treatment regimen followed by 6 months of chemotherapy as well as a bone marrow transplant.

When I asked William if God has touched his life.  he wrote to me saying ” I am a Christian and indeed by God’s grace I have survived Stage 4 Leukemia”.

2016 marks the 7th year of being in remission for Dr. Tan, a milestone he celebrated in the Boston Marathon last April.”I don’t know about tomorrow; I treasure every day.”

Dr. Tan continues to raise funds to help needy cancer patients. If you would like to support his cause and read more about his life. His book “No Journey Too Tough” is published by the National University of Singapore and is available by order through his website.

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