Dr William Tan

Dr William Tan was born in 1957. He contracted polio at the age of two and was paralyzed from the waist down. Life was difficult for Dr Tan. His father, the only bread winner in the family was a street vendor in Singapore.

When he was in kindergarten, he was constantly bullied by his classmates who despised his disability. They would pull his ears and even hit his head. As a result, Dr Tan became so furious that he would catch their hands and bit them. He have bitten so many hands that many parents were upset with him. He was then expelled from kindergarten.

However, Dr Tan wanted to fight back by proving to others that he is good academically. He then went on to top Selegie Primary and to Raffles Institution on a Ministry of Education Scholarship for his secondary and Pre-University education. He wanted to become a scientist and a medical doctor and he went abroad for postgraduate studies in 1989. He studied medicine at Newcastle University and then won scholarships to study at Harvard and Oxford. He is now a neuroscientist and medical doctor.

When Dr Tan was young, he was very sheltered and protected. His family members feared that he would fall and hurt himself. However, he became a wheelchair athlete after meeting Mr Wahid Baba, an ex-police officer who was left paralysed waist down after being shot while on guard duty during the time of the Confrontation in the 1950s. Mr Baba recognised the talent in Dr Tan, who was 15 years old at that time, and introduced him to wheelchair sports. Dr Tan went on to represent Singapore at the 1988 Paralympics in Seoul and used his remarkable talents to raise money for people in need. Since then, Dr Tan has completed 60 ultra marathons around the world, raising almost $16 million for charities locally and internationally.

In April 2007, Dr Tan has become the first man to complete the North Pole marathon on wheelchair. The race is part of his global challenge to finish 17 marathons in 7 continents, including the Arctic and the Antarctic. Dr Tan hopes to raise S$2 million for "Global Flying Hospitals" in the races. "Global Flying Hospitals" is a humanitarian organisation that provides free medical services to developing countries, by turning aircraft into surgical hospitals.

Despite being born into poverty and crippled from young, Dr William Tan has turned adversity to advantage. He has not let his disability prevent him from pursuing his dream of becoming a doctor and a sportsman. Dr Tan said, “I don't have the use of my legs but I shall make the best of my brain and my arms that are not paralysed.”

Watch the inspiring video on Dr William Tan


Australia Network. (n.d.). Disabled doctor. Retrieved Apr, 8, 2008 from http://australianetwork.com/nexus/stories/s1894519.htm

“Dr William Tan”. Youtube Video.
(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_q90gJ7Nbc&feature=related) (Apr, 8, 2008)

Tan, V. (2007). Dr William Tan first man to complete North Pole Marathon on wheelchair. Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved Apr, 8, 2008 from http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/269768/1/.html

Will Power. (n.d.). From zero to hero: Overcoming all odds. Retrieved Apr, 8, 2008 from http://www.willpower.com.sg/

Woon, A. (n.d.). Dr William Tan: A doctor like no other. Singapore Disability Sports Council. Retrieved Apr, 8, 2008 from http://www.sdsc.org.sg/news_and_media/news_detail/318/