Paralympian's 500km feat nearly came to nought

From Sept 17 to 20, Paralympic athlete and cancer survivor William Tan handcycled 500km from London to Paris to raise funds for lymphoma research and needy patients.
From Sept 17 to 20, Paralympic athlete and cancer survivor William Tan handcycled 500km from London to Paris to raise funds for lymphoma research and needy patients.PHOTO: BLOODWISE

He battled high slopes and cold rain to get from London to Paris in four days but, ironically, it was a broken shower chair that nearly cost Dr William Tan the chance to cross the finishing line.

From Sept 17 to 20, the Paralympic athlete handcycled the 500km between the English and French capitals to raise funds for cancer research and patients.

But disaster struck while he was taking a shower on his first night at a hotel in Calais, France, when his shower chair broke and he fell hard onto the soapy floor. The 58-year- old recalled: "The pain of this nearly killed the remaining race."

He had to resort to taking codeine tablets as painkillers the next morning and, at one point, contemplated giving up and sitting in the support vehicle.

Accompanied by 250 able-bodied cyclists, Dr Tan handcycled from Greenwich Park in London to the Eiffel Tower in Paris during the race organised by British blood cancer charity Bloodwise.

Paralysed from the waist down since the age of two due to poliomyelitis, he was diagnosed in 2009 with end-stage leukaemia and given only nine to 12 months to live.

Dr Tan, who at the end of this month will mark six years as a cancer survivor, said he considers the London-Paris race his hardest challenge since his bone marrow transplant in 2009.

Although he achieved a similar feat last year, this year's race came less than a month after he pulled off a gruelling SG50 endurance challenge at Temasek Junior College, where he handcycled for 50 hours non-stop and raised $60,000 for charity.

The funds from the London-Paris race will go towards lymphoma research at the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), where Dr Tan is a resident physician, and needy cancer patients at National University Hospital and Bloodwise.

Donations can be made online via the SG Gives website and Dr Tan's Bloodwise fund-raising page.

NCCS community partnership manager Flora Yong said: "This ride is gruelling and I salute (him) for (his) tenacity and commitment in raising funds for NCCS."

The four days saw Dr Tan conquer slopes more than 1 km high in chilly rain. "The four layers of clothing I was wearing, soaked with perspiration, made it worse," he said.

His brake cable unexpectedly snapped on the third day while he was descending a steep slope, forcing another cyclist to sprint down to stop the runaway handcycle.

Despite such tribulations, Dr Tan said he was determined to press on to Paris, a place that holds special meaning for him. He intended to propose to his wife after finishing a Paris marathon in 2009. During the race, however, he began bleeding from the nose and mouth, and was later diagnosed with leukaemia.

Dr Tan said: "I owe my life to doctors and nurses, and I want to translate their kindness towards helping needy cancer patients."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2015, with the headline 'Paralympian's 500km feat nearly came to nought'. Print Edition | Subscribe