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Dr William

Neuroscientist, physician, Paralympian, World Records Holder


Known to many as the record-breaking “Singapore Paralympic Superman”, Dr William Tan personifies both passion and compassion.

He contracted polio at the age of two and is paralysed from the waist down. Notwithstanding his disability, he has shown outstanding strength in overcoming adversities. Dr Tan overcame incredible odds in pursuit of his dream to become a scientist and physician, He has First Class Honours in Physiology, and was a Harvard University Fulbright Scholar and Oxford University Chevening Scholar. He has also trained at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic in USA.

An accomplished sportsman Dr Tan is an Asia Para Games triple gold medalist, he has also competed in many international games including the 1988 Seoul Paralympics, the World Games as well as the Commonwealth Games. He holds six endurance marathon world records including the “Fastest time to complete Three marathons in Three Consecutive Days in Three countries”.

Current Work:

Since then, he has devoted to championing as well as fundraising for needy causes in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Africa, South America, Australia, New Zealand, China, United States and the United Kingdom. He has skydived, water-skied, sailed and even climbed a 14-storey building to raise money. Some of his ultramarathon endeavours included wheelchair pushes across the length of New Zealand, Singapore to Penang, Thailand to Singapore, Boston to New York to Washington DC and Australia's Larapinta Trail. He has helped raised more than $18 million on a voluntary basis for charities locally and internationally, over the last 22 years. Some of his humanitarian efforts include Polioplus for the worldwide eradication of polio and Operation Smile.

Dr Tan holds numerous world records. He was the first person to accomplish a marathon in a wheelchair in the North Pole and the fastest person in the world to complete 7 marathons across 7 continents on a wheelchair in 26 days, 17 hours, 43 minutes and 52 seconds.

In April 2009 Dr Tan was diagnosed with Stage 4 (end-stage) leukemia. Continuing to prove that he is unstoppable Dr Tan has transformed this adversity into an opportunity and cancer has become his cause. During his 6 months of chemotherapy followed by a bone marrow transplant, he championed for needy cancer patients who cannot afford the high cost of cancer treatment in Singapore.

On 26 September 2010, he staged an inspiring comeback and achieved his best time ever in para-cycling at the Berlin Marathon. One year after his bone marrow transplant, he accomplished two full marathons back to back on 7 and 14 November 2010 with finishing times better than his pre-leukemia days. On 5 December 2010, he won a gold medal at the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon's 10 km event.

His battle against end-stage leukemia has been his longest and most painful RACE. It has transformed him into a more compassionate physician and invigorated him to dedicate his new lease of life to doing more for humanity.

His journey of resilience and reinventing himself to scale greater heights in the face of adversity continues to inspire many individuals and corporate leaders.

Awards & Recognition:

- 1995 Singapore Youth Award

- 1996 Outstanding Young Persons of Singapore Award

- 1997 Outstanding Young Persons of the World Award (Humanitarian/ Voluntary Leadership) awarded by the Junior Chamber International, USA

- 1998 the Commonwealth Youth Award for Excellence in Youth Work

- 2000 the ASEAN Youth Award and the Public Service Medal

- 2000 the Reader's Digest Inspiring Asian Award

- 2007 the prestigious Special Recognition Award and the Singapore National Day's Public Service Star Award.

- 2008 Singapore Disability Sports Council's Sportsman of the Year and the FORTIS' HERO Award

Talking Points

Turning Setbacks into Comebacks

For individuals and organisations, the ideal destiny for any undertaking is a good finish like in a marathon race. In the context of many uncontrollable factors, the reality is very different.

For some, a setback kills the dreams, for others, the setback is transformed into a comeback. William chose to believe that tough times never last but tough people do�. His focus was on finding solutions rather than on problems. William harnessed the support of family and friends and survived the treatment and returned to sports and to medical practice looking after other cancer patients.

The Power of Possibility Thinking

Some push the boundaries, some are bound by boundaries, some disappear from boundaries. They see no limits to what they can accomplish except for the limits they place on themselves. The word impossible� becomes I M Possible�. To survive in these circumstances, companies need some of the skills and mind set of those who have truly faced life-and-death decisions.

William's unique struggle, personal survival and success in beating extreme odds reaffirm the messages about goal setting, risk management, about teamwork, hope, and the art of the possible.

Turning Adversity into Advantages

No one seems to be spared from challenges, adversities, setbacks, obstacles, defeats, downfalls or whatever form it may take.

Growing up with poliomyelitis which paralyzed William from the waist down at the age of two, he crawled everywhere as his parents could not afford leg braces, crutches or a wheelchair. He was regarded by many as one without any hope. William's parents taught him what it means to have self-belief, to win with less and to maximise his potential with what he had ie good arms and a brain.

Repeated rejections by medical school admission boards invigorated William to work harder and never to give up no matter how long it took. He was finally accepted into medical school after 21 years and became the first and only person in a wheelchair who is a physician in Singapore (just as rare an achievement elsewhere).
Just a quick note of thanks on your involvement in our International Conference in Singapore. You have certainly entertained, inspired and informed our people at a high level judging from the feedback received. I sincerely hope you enjoyed being part of our event. Thanks once again for being part of what is being heralded as our finest conference ever. LJ Hooker

I want to tell you that it was really an honour to have you among us. It was indeed a precious moment for our staff to meet you and to hear of you inspiring life stories. We are amazed by your resilience, determination and positive mind set which resulted in the many unbelievable achievements and world records you have created. We all wonder how you can achieve so much with you life. Your efforts spent in tailoring your speech to match our "Pilot Your Way" theme have shown us your usual professionalism and high standards you set for yourself. Your devotion to helping the underprivileged is another aspect we admire and look up to. You are a role model for our managers to emulate. I hope we can have you once again as speaker in our future staff event. I wish you all the best in your future endeavours. I am sure next time when we meet, you will have more life enriching experiences to share with us.


On behalf of everyone at PCA who participated in the Cebu Leaders conference please accept our sincere thank you for an outstanding key note address. I have to tell you I was curious as to how your life experiences could be related to issues faced by our top agency leaders but you connected the two extremely well. I am sure everyone who attended saw the linkage between the challenges you have faced and how they could use your story to their benefit as they strive to 'sustain their success'. Your message was moving, inspirational and certainly informative. I extend my personal congratulations to you on your perseverance, successes and contributions made to the lives of others and I wish you all the best in future races.

Prudential Corporation Asia

William's presentation was excellent... very inspiring, and he did a great job in linking it to Teradata's business. He was very well prepared.


To the person, we walked away awed by your achievements, and the unquenchable fire of motivation, perseverance, and personal discipline that burns inside you. Rarely have we had the privilege to hear first hand an inspiring story like yours. I myself am humbled by what more I can be doing, given that we both have the same hours and days of the week, and you have accomplished so much. Thank you for sharing your story! In addition to the story and message, I wanted to commend you on the authentic way that you shared your story with the large audience. It was clear, inspiring, and humble. There was a story for everyone. You organised the talk to hit on the key event themes that we talked, without taking away from the story. I especially appreciated you weaving in the key event link words to personalise your talk.

Procter & Gamble, Asia Home, Power, & Professional
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