Home>Service> Awardees of Fervent Global Love of Lives Award> 9th Fervent Global Love of Lives Award 2006> Wheelchair Doctor ─ Dr. William Tan
Move around the big love; challenge the limit.
      Dr. William Tan, a Singaporean citizen, is a Ph.D. in Medicine from U.S. Harvard University and an expert in cranial nerve. He studied cranial nerve and cancer prevention in Harvard University, and public health policy in Oxford University. As a physician scientist in Singapore Leader Research University, he spends his winter and summer in an Australian hospital for research. When off-work, he travels around the world to raise funds for disadvantaged minority. He is very proud of being an Olympics gold medalist with disability. In 2005, with his strong willpower, he finished 10-game ultra-marathon within 70 days in seven continents of Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa, America, the Antarctic and the Arctic. He beat the record of a British, Tirm Rodgers, who set a Guinness record in 1999 when he finished 7-game ultra-marathon within 99 days in seven continents.

      Since 1987, he has worked on fund-raising project for disadvantaged group worldwide. He has raised more than 14 million U.S. dollars. He often says to people: “I am not sorry what I lost, and I want to use what I still have. Although I lost both legs, I still have my hands and brain.” Dr. William Tan challenges his disability with an open mind; he cares for the disadvantaged people and motivates those who struggle in life. He deserves to be called “wheelchair doctor”.

      Born 1957 in Singapore, Dr. William Tan was diagnosed with Polio after he had high fever at the age of 2. The family originally thought it was common cold; so, it was too late to treat the disease and caused permanent disability. Then, he went to hospital every day and finally tried his difficult first step when he was ten years old. His mother and sister took turn to carry him on the back to schools. After he finished elementary and secondary education with excellent academic achievement, he got into National University of Singapore Medical School Department of Life Science. Later on, he received full scholarship to finish doctor’s degree in cranial nerves from U.S. Harvard University. During the time of his study, he was tutored by Singapore Wheelchair Sports Founder Wahid Baba and became Special Olympics gold medalist. Not only did he bring honor to his country, he challenged the sport limit. The fund he raised for disadvantaged group has reached more than 14 million U.S. dollars. He is regarded as the “Wheelchair Hero”.
The difficult first-step at 10 years old
      Dr. William Tan had to crawl on all fours instead of walking for a very long period of time because his family could not afford wheelchair and cane, in addition to skin disease on the entire body caused by poor hygiene.

      Doctor recommended sending him to Red Cross, but his parents wanted to raise him by themselves no matter what. When he was old enough to go to school, parents were fighting for the right to send him to regular school instead of the school for children with disability. “My mother thought I was as capable as the other kids except my legs. She insisted I went to school like a normal child. She believes education can change my life and give me an opportunity to be independent.” 

      It was not easy to get him admitted into a kindergarten. Dr. William Tan’s disability was the target for other students to make fun, call him bad names and hit him on the head. He was angry with the person who hit him but he did not cry; holding his tears, he bit the person on the arm. “You see…, I have strong personality since I was young and I know how to overcome tough situations. It is not right to bite people; so, I paid the price dearly”, he said. 

      Dr. William Tan was suspended from school. He laughed: “Have you heard someone got suspended when he first got admitted in the kindergarten I did; is it funny” 

      After he dropped out of school, his parents signed him up for an elementary school. Many schools rejected his application except the ShiLiJi Elementary School. It is the tallest school building in Singapore with seven-floor construction and elevators. Dr. William Tan was carried to school back and forth every day by his sister and mother. 

      He knew his parents worked hard to get him admitted into school. He did not want to fight with other students anymore; he decided to study hard for showing the gratitude to his parents. After the semester ended, his academic performance was the first in the same class year. His sister carried him on the back to accept the award which was a storybook of .

      After he grew up, it was getting really difficult to carry him around. His parents who always live with dignity decided to apply for disability welfare from the government. They applied for a wooden cane and a crutch which can support both legs; then, he started to walk by himself at the age of 10.
      “You can go to Raffles Institution like Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew”, his older sister said.
      On the way to school every day, Dr. William Tan would pass by the Raffles Institution on Bras Basah Road. His sister told him: “If you work hard, one day you may go to this school like our Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.”

      He did not disappoint his sister; after graduating from elementary school, he got into Raffles Institution with excellent scores. Because his outstanding academic performance, he relied on the scholarship from Ministry of Education and Ngee Ann Association and the money he earned from working as a private tutor. At graduation ceremony, both Dr. William Tan’s mother and sister cried because they were proud and happy for his achievement.

      After graduation, Dr. William Tan convinced his mother for him to study abroad. He then got the doctor’s degree in cranial nerves and worked several years in New Zealand Oakland Medical School. Later on, he received financial support for working on a research in famous Mayo Clinic in the U.S. Afterwards, he went to Australia to study medicine.

      “I got very sick when I was a little kid. Many medical staffs cared for me with patience and love; from that time, I was determined to become a doctor.”

      First day at school, the professor did not approve of him and thought he was wasting his time when they first met. “I did not get frustrated because of this. The professor only saw my wheelchair without noticing the person on the wheelchair. It is not a barrier for me that I cannot walk. I believe that where there is a will, there is a way.”

      When Dr. William Tan graduating from medical school, his professor congratulated him and apologized to him.

      Dr. William Tan said: “I know I am different since my childhood. That is only a physical barrier. My parents have great expectation for me. They did no allow me to do nothing at home because of my disability. At home, I need to clean the floor, wash dishes. Looking back, I think they really know what they are doing.”
      New melody starts to sound when he sits on wheelchair.
      Although Dr. William Tan never felt inferior because his disability, he still got depressed when he saw everyone was having fun to enjoy sport lesson in school. 

      At 17, he read a story on the newspaper that a handicapped ex-cop Wahid who got injured on-duty founded Singapore first wheelchair sports. Dr. William Tan was excited by the news and he run to Farrer Park from home in limp to meet Wahid.

      Watching at this passionate young fellow, Wahid pointed at an empty wheelchair and said to Dr. William Tan “Sit; try it out”.

      Because of financial difficulty, Dr. William Tan could not afford wheelchair before then. This was the first time he got into a wheelchair. He took a deep breath and slowly pushed forward the wheels; on the runway, circles after circles, there was a new melody sounding in his ears. “That was another turning point in my life. For the first time, I experienced speed. What a wonderful feeling to be able to run!”

      Dr. William Tan decided to take training lessons from Wahid and become a special athlete. In 1980, he was the first marathon athlete to finish 42.2 kilometer distance on wheelchair. He said: “It took me four hours to get to the finish line. People say I am crazy.”

      A series of challenges followed such as Asian Pacific Games and Commonwealth Games; and he had won several medals.

      “I need to practice continuously and prove to everyone my potential. My motto is to never give up. I used to do 50 push-up everyday, but now I can do 450; and I will possibly do 600 in the future. It depends on your willpower.”

      Since 1987, Dr. William Tan has done many charity works using his special sport talent. His first charity event was a 16-hour marathon contest on the runway at Raffles Institution. Since then, Dr. William Tan got many similar invitations. He has, so far, raised more than 14 million dollars for several charity organizations.
      In addition to running, Dr. William Tan has tried many sports for fund-raising events such as swimming, horseback-riding, canoeing and sky-diving. He even did that on a 14-floor building with rope tied on him.
      “My body is confined on this wheelchair, but my spirits get beyond the wheelchair. I am like a bird flying out of a cage”, he said.
      For charity, he donated the medal he received from seven-continent marathon contest.
      Dr. William Tan’s seven-continent challenge includes the locations in Thailand, Argentina, South Africa, Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, U.S. and the South Pole. In order to maintain the best physical condition, Doctor Chen applied for a one-year vacation without pay to prepare him for the competition. The event started from February 2005 and ended in May in a range of distance 400 kilometers within 70 days. It is hard to imagine the difficulty, especially in a rigid weather and geographical condition in South Pole. Running is not an easy task on a snowy and steep hill, not to mention sitting on a wheelchair. Dr. William Tan still has many bruise and cuts on him from that trip.

      Dr. William Tan said that he once wanted to give up. Nevertheless, he was motivated by the thought that another cancer patient can be helped by his success. He repeatedly reminds people that: To express love in time; to love without intention. Human is basically in good nature. Try to help other people when you are healthy.