NUS Science Alumni: Distinguished Alumni Award 2005



Dr William Tan personifies both passion and compassion. Born in 1957, he contracted polio at the age of two and was paralysed from the waist down. Notwithstanding his disability, he has shown outstanding strength in overcoming adversities. From a kindergarten drop-out, he topped Selegie Primary and went to Raffles Institution on a Ministry of Education Scholarship for his secondary and Pre-University education.

The NUS Alumnus who majored in Biology and Psychology joined the Civil Service after graduation in 1980. In pursuit of his dream to become a scientist and medical doctor, he ventured abroad for postgraduate studies in 1989. Holder of a First Class Honours in Physiology, this Harvard University’s Fulbright Scholar and Oxford University’s Chevening Scholar has also trained at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic in USA.

Dr Tan is an accomplished wheelchair marathoner and Paralympian. As a social activist par excellence, he chairs various Foundations and committees, and propelled his wheelchairs in ultra-marathons across the lengths of New Zealand, Malaysia, Thailand, United States and helped raised more than $14 million for charities locally and internationally, over the last 18 years.

He has received several accolades, including the Reader’s Digest Inspiring Asians’ Award, Commonwealth Youth Award, and the Outstanding Young Persons of the World Award.

He is strongly rooted to his alma mater. He spearheaded and helped establish the NUS Alumni Chapter in Boston. In 1993, he wheeled 100km across Singapore to raise funds for the Universities Endowment Fund. In 1994, he completed another ultra-marathon to raise funds for the NUS Students’ Fund, followed by another in 1997 for the NUS Carnival of Challenges.

In 2000, he spearheaded the Professorship in Geriatrics, securing a donation of $1.5 million from Parkway Group Healthcare. To improve the quality of care of children with cancer, Dr Tan has spearheaded the Professorship in Paediatric Oncology.

Towards raising $1.5 million for the Professorship, he recently completed gruelling wheelchair marathons in ten continents within 70 days. His amazing race to break the existing Guinness World Record of 99 days took him to Antarctica, Argentina, Egypt, Thailand, South Africa, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and USA between February and May 2005.

“There are no dreams that are unattainable for anyone who has the will and determination to redefine what is humanly possible!”