S’porean handcyclist going on 31-hr ultramarathon for org that finds jobs for people with disabilities

Dr William Tan will only pause for brief breaks for liquid meals or to go to the loo.

Anna Cheang | February 18, 2018 @ 09:35 am


“There are so many things we will find within ourselves, to be able to do regardless of our family background, regardless of our physical inhibitions, and regardless of ability; that we all have that ability to overcome, and that ability to turn setbacks into opportunities.”

A living example of his words, Paralympian and leukaemia survivor Dr William Tan has defied the odds again and again in the past 61 years of his life.

His awesome backstory

After contracting polio at the age of two, he was paralysed from the waist down, but he had never let his physical disability hinder him from achieving his dreams — both in the medical and sports fields.

Currently a full-time neuroscientist and physician, the Asian-Pacific Games triple-gold medalist represents Singapore in para-cycling marathons and wheelchair badminton tournaments abroad.

Since 1986, he has been handcycling marathons to raise funds for various causes for the worldwide eradication of polio. Even when he was diagnosed with stage 4 leukaemia back in 2009, he advocated for other cancer patients who could not afford the high costs of cancer treatment in Singapore, returning to marathons shortly after his bone marrow transplant.

Photo courtesy of Bizlink

Now in his 10th year of remission, Dr Tan is about to fulfil a promise he made 10 years ago to an old schoolmate named Alvin Lim.

Back then, Dr Tan met Lim at a function, and shared that he was extremely interested in Bizlink, the non-profit organisation Lim heads as CEO, and its cause of helping and training people with disabilities to find suitable employment.

Why? His great passion for this cause stems from his strong belief that employment gives people with disabilities dignity and a sense of self worth.

“We want to live a life of independence, a life where we do not rely on handouts. Employment would equip us to look after ourselves and we can inspire others to be gainfully employed.”

31 hours for 31 years

This month, Bizlink turns 31, and is holding a challenge run on Saturday, Feb. 24. Dr Tan’s end of the deal: to take on a 31-hour ultra-marathon that will see him handcycling multiple laps in East Coast Park before concluding his journey at Serangoon Junior College, where Bizlink’s run is slated to finish.

Needless to say, even for the accomplished and bemedalled sportsman, especially after his battle against cancer, this is going to be one heck of a physically and mentally strenuous endeavour.

Dr Tan tells Mothership he took a “calculated risk” in committing to this because it had been at the top of his bucket list for many years now.

While Dr Tan says he took part in the Larapinta Trail challenge in Australia last year, taking on rough terrains and desert conditions, this ultra-marathon will be one to remember as a true test of his endurance and mental strength.

To avoid any distractions and to focus on the marathon, he will not be eating anything throughout the entire 31 hours and will only take short 5-10 minute breaks to go to the toilet or have liquid meals.

Intensive preparation

With the heightened awareness of the “second chance at life” he has been given, Dr Tan has nonetheless been training very hard for the event, alongside his preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.

Photo courtesy of Bizlink

But how does a full-time doctor manage to find time to train so much?

Dr Tan says he gets only five hours of sleep each night, and maximises the rest of the waking time he has, rarely stopping for breaks during his training sessions that run between two and two-and-a-half hours, for instance. It might sound a little harsh, but he also regards idle chit-chat as a waste of precious time.

Through Bizlink’s challenge run, Dr Tan hopes his effort will inspire not just the participants present but also the public:

“I would like to send the message that no matter how much we are affected by our physical disability, we can be very strong in our spirit, in our mindset, that we can still make the best of our lives and that we can still go about our lives with a great attitude.”

Dr Tan will be starting his 31 hour challenge on Feb. 23 at 4:30 am and will end on Feb. 24, at 11:30 am, at Serangoon Junior College.

Members of the public are invited to join Dr Tan from 8am to 11:30am for the final three hours of his challenge to support him and his fundraising efforts. Funds raised from this event will be used to meet the needs of Bizlink’s beneficiaries and assist Bizlink in its operational costs.

You can still sign up here to join Dr Tan in the last leg of his marathon. For a S$20 registration fee, you’ll also get a running pack with sports merchandise worth S$75.

Sign-ups close on Monday, Feb. 19. Should you miss this window, you can also donate to their fundraiser directly, here. For more information, do check out Bizlink’s official website.

Top photo courtesy of Dr William Tan & Bizlink

About Anna Cheang

Anna aspires to be a journalist but is stuck in a mundane and stressful school life where her only pleasures are going to church, listening to k-pop, reading and writing. In her free time she attempts to learn Korean in the hopes of marrying a Korean guy in the future.

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