Reflections On Finishing The Race With A Disability

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2nd Dec 2016

4 min read

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Lessons from going the distance

For as long as I could remember, I have been breaking bones. Born with a condition called Type 1 Osteogenesis Imperfecta, my bones are extremely brittle. Everyday impacts like falling down, which usually do not affect normal children, meant broken bones for me. My fractures were so frequent that I stopped walking when I was two years old; every time I tried standing up, my bones would give way.

Despite what seemed to me an impossibility a few years back, I started participating in marathons with my wheelchair in 2012, completed a 100-km ultramarathon in 17 hours to raise funds for underprivileged children, and represented Malaysia in the 2013 Asian Youth Para Games in the sport of sitting volleyball. My involvement in sports, especially in marathons the past four years, has helped me learn valuable lessons and principles that I hope will help others to live their lives more fully.

Discover and develop your strengths

I started doing marathons out of curiosity because I admired the mental and physical strength of marathoners. It was only in 2012 that I had the opportunity to participate in a 10km run.

After multiple 10km runs, I moved on to half marathons (21km), full marathons (42.195km) and eventually a 100km charity ultramarathon called The XtraMile Day. This only became possible when I decided to keep training and developing the muscle endurance that I need to go the distance.

Daniel Lee at the XtraMile run in 2013.

Lee (centre) at the XtraMile run in 2013.

Being born with a disability, it was easy to focus on what I lacked rather than what I had. My classmates in primary school used to laugh at me and called me budak cacat which meant “crippled boy”. You can imagine what that does to someone’s self-esteem while growing up. I did not think that I had many strengths to talk about, and only focused on what my weaknesses were.

At one point, I was interested in being a school prefect but the teacher thought I was not a good candidate because I was wheelchair-bound. I only took on my first leadership role in college when a mentor of mine empowered me to be a facilitator for a weekly group discussion in our Christian Fellowship. I realised over time that when I spoke, people listened. That helped me discover that I have a talent for sharing stories and inspiring people.

Just like in sports, I knew I needed to continue building my skills and experience once I found something I’m good at. Today, I work with youths and help them discover their leadership potential and develop their strengths to become better leaders, all thanks to someone who first believed in me and helped me discover and develop my strengths.

Who you run with is important

A favourite African proverb of mine says, “If you want to run fast, go alone. If you want to run far, bring a friend.” This is another very important lesson I received from my experience in doing marathons.

In my 100km ultramarathon, my two partners – Alex Au-Yong and Kyle Tan – ran alongside me the whole way. Our goal was to raise funds for the education of underprivileged children. Although the three of us ran the whole 100km stretch, we couldn’t have done it without all the people who joined and ran alongside us in shorter distances throughout the whole journey. Never once were we just running on our own. We also had a wonderful team of traffic police, paramedics, nutritionists, drivers, etc. to support us along the way. Without everyone participating on that day, we would not have been able to complete our journey.

Who are the people who journey alongside us today? The friends and mentors that we choose to have in our lives will impact our journey in life. People with similar vision and values empower each other to grow and improve ourselves. If you want to do well in life, have a mentor and some friends who will be your support system in life.

Pushing through pain brings you further

Lee after his first 10-km marathon.

Lee after his first 10-km marathon.

An athlete is often pushed to the edge of their mental and physical limits. Without being able to push through the pain we experience in training or during a competition, we would not be able to grow and improve. Imagine a boxer who gives up the moment he takes a punch from his opponent. In all my marathons and my training, pain has been part of the process. Being able to push through the pain was the key to going the distance.

Growing up with brittle bones, pain was a very familiar sensation for me. On a good year with very minimal fractures, I suffer roughly two to three broken bones annually. In school, I’ve been bullied and alienated and there were times when I wondered why I had to go through more pain than I should. Now, in hindsight, I would never trade any part of it for anything. Because of the pain I’ve endured, I’ve developed the resilience to go push through other challenges I may face in the future.

You are born to be an overcomer

Often times, the struggles we face in life seem too big for us to overcome, more so when we’re right in that moment. One of the most important realisations I’ve developed growing up with a disability and being involved in sports is that we are all designed to overcome challenges. When I really wanted to go to music class on the third floor in school, I learnt how to pull my chair up while going up one step at a time. It is in our nature to “figure it out”. So if you are facing a challenge today, take it one step at a time and remember that you are born to be an overcomer!

Daniel is a Youth Programmes Executive in Leaderonomics Youth. He is passionate about nurturing and inspiring young people to be the best that they can be. He aims to train and do well as an athlete and represent Malaysia in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.

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