Osteogenesis Imperfecta or ‘brittle bones disease’, is a condition that made my bones vulnerable to the slightest falls as a child. It has also become one of the things I’ve learnt to be most grateful for in my life.
While this may sound counter-intuitive – being grateful for a condition like this – I have come to realise that being fragile has helped me discover my strengths and true potential in life.
I’ve broken my bones so often, that I stopped walking at the age of two. Trying to walk, or even stand up would snap the bones of my legs. Ever since then, my mother would carry me in her arms wherever we went until the age of 10, when we could finally afford a wheelchair of my own. I remember how much I hated Physical Education (PE) classes in school because that would be the time when everyone would go for sports, while I waited and watched them play – from inside the classroom.
Fast forward 15 years to present day, I am pursuing my goals – I strive to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics in the sport of wheelchair racing. So, how did I go from ‘disabled child’ who had no chance in sports, to aspiring athlete?
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Today, I’d like to share some personal lessons I’ve learnt from living with a disability, as well as from my experiences in sports.
Accept yourself and be assured of your own identity
One of the biggest challenges I faced, as a child with a disability, is not being able to accept what others think and say of me. My mother carried me wherever we went, because our family could not afford a wheelchair. I remember, in Standard Three, how she carried me into class on my first day at a new school. I can still picture the looks I got from people, and hear the whispers going back-and-forth between my young classmates as she carried me towards my seat.
Lee with his primary 6 school teachers.
Although it was hard for me to understand at the time, my father told me that what people said of me did not define who I was; I alone had the power to decide who I was and what I wanted to be. When I decided that my identity was not determined by external factors, I learned to gradually accept myself and be assured of my own identity. It is a lesson that I hold close to my heart till today. You are born with the potential to be whoever you decide to be!
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Dream, wake up and work!
I consider myself a dreamer. It could be a result of my habit of daydreaming as a child. Since I could not go outdoors to play, I always used my imagination to keep myself entertained. I would imagine myself as the hero when someone was in trouble. Or sometimes, I would imagine myself running, feeling the wind against me, as I ran as fast as I could.
One of the most monumental events that changed my life happened in 2008, as I watched the opening ceremony of the Beijing Paralympics. I was waiting for the Malaysian athletes to come out.
As they walked in front of an audience of hundreds and thousands – and millions more around the world – an overwhelming feeling came over me and I told myself that I will be there one day seeing it from the perspective of an athlete representing Malaysia. I wanted to be able to inspire others to also fulfil their potential in life.
Although it was hard for me to understand at the time, my father told me that what people said of me did not define who I was; I alone had the power to decide who I was and what I wanted to be.
Nothing much really happened after that moment, although I was very inspired by the Games. I had big dreams but I didn’t work on a plan to achieve it. And so, four years passed and I wasn’t anywhere closer to my dream of representing Malaysia in the Paralympics. Until 2012, when I graduated from college – I finally entered my first 10km using my wheelchair. I decided that I wanted to go further and train harder to complete further distances. One of my biggest accomplishments was completing a 100km ultramarathon event called the Xtramile Day with my friends Alex Au-Yong and Kyle Tan, to raise over RM168k for the Dignity For Children Foundation in 2013.
It was also about the time that I graduated that I got involved in the sports community. I took part in my first non-professional wheelchair race in Terengganu and won. I was introduced to the sport of sitting volleyball, and eventually represented Malaysia in the 2013 Asian Youth Paralympic Games. This year, I chose to pursue the sport of wheelchair racing and I aim to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. Dreams will remain dreams if you don’t wake up and work for it!
Choose the people who will journey with you well
It has been said: “Show me your friends and I will show you your future”. I have experienced a tremendous amount of growth from my time in college, simply because of the friends that I made and the mentors that helped me along the way. I realised early on that I thrived from sharing my thoughts and ideas with people who have similar values and vision to mine.
It was in college that I discovered my potential, nurtured my strengths, and learned from my mistakes. In the 100km Xtramile Day event, I saw first-hand how important it was to have a great team supporting you in your journey. I couldn’t have possibly completed the distance without the two other runners going the 100km with me, or the police officers, paramedics, nutritionists, and even sponsors who were involved in making sure that we had all the support we needed.
Lee at his inaugural run with Alex Au-Yong.
Now that I’ve just started pursuing a goal of qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, I am very grateful for the immense support I’ve received from the people around me; from emotional encouragement, to introducing me to the people who can help me achieve my goals, and even contributions to my crowdfunding campaign. If you have big dreams, you need to surround yourself with people who are also courageous enough to dream so you can empower and energise each other towards your goals.
Find your ‘WHY’ and you will make the HOW happen
The realisation of your own potential and the decision to pursue your dreams will come with challenges along the way. Although it is important to have the right people around you, it is you who will be the one overcoming the challenges at the end of the day in getting closer to your goals.
One of my favourite quotes of all time is by Friedrich Nietzsche who says, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” I believe we are all beings of purpose, whether we realise it or not. We have an innate need to do more than just survive. We strive to have a sense of purpose in life. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs psychology theory suggests that we ultimately yearn to achieve self-actualisation. Therefore, it is important for us to find out the purpose in our dreams and goals. The stronger your “why” is, the likelier you are to succeed.
The idea of Push To Inspire started with the mental image of myself literally pushing my wheelchair to inspire others. However, I believe that everyone can push beyond their challenges and perceived limitations to fulfil their own potential. In the process of doing so, they inspire others to do the same too.
You have the power to make a difference in the lives of others simply by pursuing your dreams and fulfilling your own potential. So, inspire someone with your journey today.
Push To Inspire!
Daniel is an inspirational speaker and aspiring athlete. His current goal is to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics and represent Malaysia in the sport of wheelchair racing. He believes that leadership is about making a difference in our own lives and in the lives of the people around us. To support Daniel in his journey, get in touch with him at firstname.lastname@example.org