Tan Hun Boon's phantom limb pain is unlikely to ever go away, but an honour will also follow him for the rest of his life. On his 40th birthday yesterday, the para-cyclist and left-leg amputee won Singapore's first medal at the Kuala Lumpur Asean Para Games (APG).
Tan clocked 1min 48.672sec to finish third in the men's kilometre (C1, C2, C3) final at the Nilai Velodrome, behind Malaysia's Adi Raimie Amizazahan (1:17.232) and Yusof Hafizi Shaharuddin (1:18.735).
The bronze marked another milestone in the debutant's road to recovery. A Public Service Commission Overseas Merit Scholarship recipient, he was involved in a road accident in 2011 that led to the amputation.
He developed severe phantom limb pain, which occurs when nerve endings at the amputation site continue sending pain signals to the brain, making it think the limb is still there.
Tan, who was awarded $1.23 million in damages by the High Court in July, said: "It was a dark period of my life - both figuratively and literally. I was on medical leave for eight months, so I would be cooped up at home in my room, with curtains drawn. There were bad days when I had a sense of feeling lost and being unsure where my life was going to go from then. I had a job that I knew that I might not be able to continue, so what's next. It was a confusing time for me."
A senior consultant with Accenture at the time of his accident, he eventually set up Coachcraft, a career and executive coaching company, in 2014. Of his old job, he said: "I tried to return to work part-time for about six months but I could not handle the workload."
He used to rollerblade, run, swim and scuba dive and took time to "learn to let them go".
ROAD TO RECOVERY
I had to accept that there were some things that I could no longer do, and explore new things I could do instead. It's like looking for new open doors.
TAN HUN BOON, Singapore para-cyclist, on picking up new activities following a road accident in 2011.
He added: "I had to accept that there were some things that I could no longer do, and explore new things I could do instead. It's like looking for new open doors.
"There's no point in wasting my energy on being frustrated with the things I cannot change.
"I see life before the accident as one trajectory, then I had a period of lost. But now my life has a new direction and I've fully accepted my condition."
He picked up para-canoeing in late 2012 because he thought it would help him to cope with the physical pain. But he realised that it would not alleviate the discomfort, which he describes as "extreme pins and needles with pressure on the missing leg". Sometimes, there are "sharp, shooting pains".
He takes 10 tablets of medication every day, with the dosage increasing over time. He wakes up at one- to two-hour intervals at night to take the medicine to control the pain. He said with a laugh: "If you look closely at photos of me, you will see eyebags."
Last September, Tan, who has two daughters, one-year-old Alynna and three-year-old Alyssa, tried handcycling because he wanted to build his upper-body strength for canoeing. But by the end of the month, he was cycling. "I was a bit sceptical that I could cycle with one leg, but I realised afterwards that I could make good progress at it," he said.
Tandem cyclist Emily Lee - paired with sighted pilot Sarah Tan - added a silver in the women's sprint and bronze in the kilometre event later yesterday. Her husband Jessen Ng, partnering KL SEA Games gold medallist (men's omnium) Calvin Sim, bagged two bronzes in the men's sprint and kilometre races.
Apart from hoping to close the gap on the Malaysians, who swept all seven cycling titles yesterday, Tan hopes to see more para-cyclists in Singapore.
He said: "I hope more disabled people would come forward to try sports."