Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Doctor attempts wheelchair odyssey -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

Doctor attempts wheelchair odyssey

Reporter: Lorna Knowles

KERRY O'BRIEN: It's a seemingly impossible mission, a wheelchair odyssey from the North, or what's
left of it, to the South Pole, with every continent in between. The man about to attempt this world
record is Sydney doctor and wheelchair athlete William Tan. The 50-year-old Paralympian is hoping
to raise half-a-million dollars for rehabilitation patients at Sydney's Saint George Hospital,
where he works. William Tan will take part in marathons around the world, clocking up a gruelling
400 kilometres in four months, but the real journey began 50 years ago. Lorna Knowles reports.

HOSPITAL VISITOR: He is compassionate, he's selfless, he's humble, caring, attentive, just like an
angel, and he's touched our hearts.

DR WILLIAM TAN: 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.

LORNA KNOWLES: It's been a long, hard road for William Tan. Born into poverty and crippled from
infancy, he's turned adversity to advantage, pushing himself to achieve international acclaim.

DR GREG DAVIS, ST GEORGE HOSPITAL: I think we were all a bit overwhelmed by what he'd achieved in
his lifetime, really.

LORNA KNOWLES: The son of a street vendor in Singapore, William Tan was just two when he lost the
use of his legs to polio.

WILLIAM TAN: I became paralysed from the age of two and I was rehabilitated in a hospital for
several months. It was a very, very difficult time of my childhood.

LORNA KNOWLES: Using crutches and leg braces, he was able to drag himself short distances, but his
early school days were a struggle.

WILLIAM TAN: My fellow classmates were not very accepting. They called me names, they bullied me.
They came around and pulled my ears and some of them were very daring. They came and hit my head
and run away. I became so furious and I was not about to just sit there and do nothing about it. I
caught their hands and bit them. I have bitten so many hands that I upset so many parents. I was
expelled from the kindergarten, became a kindergarten drop-out.

LORNA KNOWLES: His family fought hard to have him enrolled in the local primary school.

WILLIAM TAN: I wanted to show it to them and prove it to them I am good academically. That was my
way of fighting back.

LORNA KNOWLES: He became dux of the school and went on to study life sciences at the National
University of Singapore. After a stint working at the renowned Mayo Clinic in the United States, he
studied medicine at Newcastle University, then won scholarships to study at Harvard and Oxford.

WILLIAM TAN: Many of my classmates went to Harvard and Oxford and in my heart I desired to do so,
but with my dad being the sole bread winner, selling fried bananas along the street, it was very
difficult to afford me.

LORNA KNOWLES: The 50-year-old doctor now works at Sydney's Saint George Hospital. Dr Greg Davis is
Director of Clinical Training.

GREG DAVIS: The outstanding thing about him is that he manages to fit, with all his extra needs, he
manages to fit in so well into the hospital environment.

LORNA KNOWLES: Not content with his stellar career achievements, he's also excelled in his other
life's passion - sport.

WILLIAM TAN: I was very sheltered when I was young. There was always a concern that William might
fall and hurt himself.

LORNA KNOWLES: William Tan got his first taste of wheelchair athletics when he was 15.

WILLIAM TAN: I was like a bird out of a cage. I went round and round the track non-stop, first time
experiencing the sense of speed.

LORNA KNOWLES: He went on to represent Singapore at the 1988 Paralympics in Seoul, then used his
remarkable talents to raise money for people in need.

WILLIAM TAN: I came up with an idea - I could use sports, my passion, for something of a greater
good. Instead of just winning medals, trophies, records, I could use the wheelchair to raise money,
to raise awareness of the needs of these people.

LORNA KNOWLES: Since then, William Tan has completed 60 ultra marathons around the world, raising
almost $16 million for charities. Now he's set his sights on a new world record, his boldest
fundraising attempt yet.

WILLIAM TAN: Well, the forthcoming challenge will be the biggest world record attempt for me -
North Pole, South Pole and all the continents, a marathon in each of them, 42.2 kilometres.

LORNA KNOWLES: He plans to push his wheelchair from one end of the world to the other in four
months, his aim to raise half-a-million dollars for the rehabilitation unit at St George Hospital.
The wheelchair odyssey begins in Morocco, then it's off to the US, New Zealand, Egypt, Japan,
Antarctica, South America, Cyprus, Malaysia, Australia, South Africa, the Arctic and finally
England. William Tan's boss says the expedition took everyone at the hospital by surprise.

GREG DAVIS: The other thing really that's unavoidable with William is just this incredibly
indomitable spirit that he's - in spite of all those things he's just gone straight over the top of
them and confronted all life's problems head on.

LORNA KNOWLES: Whether he makes it or not, William Tan gives the impression that he's already won.

WILLIAM TAN: It's not just about the record. It's not just about the marathon. It's about the
people that I care for and the cause that I am passionate about, which is rehabilitation.

KERRY O'BRIEN: I don't think he'll have too many rivals for his marathon in the South Pole. A
fantastic story. Lorna Knowles with that report.

(c) 2007 ABC