Dhanya: I was talking to my friend Jun Wei about Real Leaders and he thought I should definitely meet Shariff. Md Shariff Abdullah, nicknamed as Singapore Blade Runner (SBR) is an athlete by profession. Read on to be inspired by change from within.
Every interview teaches us something new! We have usually stuck to a Q & A format. This time around it’s more of a story. It is a story of a man who was born without his left foot. It is a story of a man who changed his life!
As he narrates..
I was born without a left foot to a Malaysian woman and a Eurasian man. They separated after my birth and I was left with my father. My father got married to an Indian woman after that. My stepmother took care of me till 1977. She has her own story by the way. She was born a man as Govindaswamy. She underwent an operation to become a woman – Govindama. I have been to a lot of temples and took part in Hindu traditions with her even though I was an Eurasian.
People were very uninformed those days in a village. They liked to throw stones at me and call me by names whenever I walked down the street. They loved to make fun of me whenever I fell down. Somehow as a child though it did not seem big. I ignored their comments and went on with life.
In 1977 my father passed away and my mother had to take care of me by herself. It was a very tough phase because the next year my mother passed away as well. I had to perform her final rites as her only son. It was an experience I will never forget.
I was passed on from one family to another, as people did not want to keep me for long. It was a superstitious belief that you would bring bad luck to the family as a handicap.
In 1980 I found my biological mother. She was married to a man and they had two kids by then. She agreed to take care of me. I was left some money by my father and stepmother. Grabbing that money was a motive for some people who agreed to take care of me.
I stopped schooling that year and had to earn some bucks even though I was living with my mother. I used to sell curry-puffs to make some money. There were times when people used to steal my food. I was 13-14 years old and I was fed up with everything that was going on. I decided to run away from home.
The best place to go to, when you are lost is Changi Airport! It was built in 1981. It has air-conditioning and you can see a lot of different people all day. I learnt to go to Pulau Ubin after a while. I was at this for a while before the police found me and took me home. I did this 4 times! I could not get along with the family.
I was 16 and I took up my first job at Changi Airport. I left the airport job soon and went on security jobs in and around Singapore. I wore long pants to hide my handicap. When they would ask me questions about my fitness and why I was limping, I would lie about how I played soccer the previous night and hurt myself.
That lie has helped me get CPF and get a house. I kept switching jobs as well. I could not stay in one place for too long else they would find out about my leg. I have been a bouncer, site security specialist and a salesperson. I was ignorant of the sports world those days.
In 1992 I decided to get married. I have been married for 19 years now. I have an 18-year-old daughter and two others – 15 years and 12 years old. I kept at my routine of job jumping. I needed to survive and help my family.
In 2008, I was working on a construction site. My leg was hurting with a pricking sensation. I went to see a doctor. After a lot of tests, he said that my stump was infected and that it should be amputated. I went ahead with the operation but I felt like ending my life after that. Nobody would hire me after that.
I did not even know how to kill myself. I tried Dettol and a lot of Panadol. Nothing worked. I decided to try YouTube to see if they can help me. Somehow thought the first video I saw was that of Oscar Pistorius. He does not have two legs but he sprints. My mind started following this train of thought.
I researched more and found a lot of people like me who were athletes. I only saw Ang-Mohs. I did not see any Asian men who were at this. There were sprinters but no marathon runners. I decided to do it!
I wrote to the Singapore Disability Organisations for help. Three weeks after my operation I went to the stadium to try and run. I was only wearing the standard prosthetic leg. At the Yishun stadium I ran a little bit and wounded my stump. It started bleeding and the officials there told me off.
I started going to the gym to take care of my fitness after three months of recovery. I prepared for my first 2.5 km charity run. I understood the pain of a runner after that run. I decided to start a blog!
I wrote to a lot of bodies like NCSS in Singapore for funding for a proper blade leg. NCSS gave a certain amount and my donor, Madam Beatrice Tan helped with the rest. She just offered to help without knowing who I was!
I got my blade leg together with a lot of help and I completed my first marathon. I went crazy over running and completed 157 kms in running in 2009. In 2010, I ran 315 kms just in race. In 2011 I finishes 417 kms. This year I am still counting.
I have another mission now – I want to be the first disabled Asian to climb the Everest. I have learnt to start pushing beyond my borders. I ordered a prosthetic leg for climbing purposes. I have also set up a gym called ‘Gym Singapura Everest’. I want to celebrate the 50th anniversary in 2015. I also want to inspire people around the world and show that it is possible! I went to climb Mount Kinabalu with a team. After that trip I decided to quit training with able men. The schedule is completely different for someone with a disability.
I went to climb a mountain in Malaysia. Right behind me there were two Indonesian blinded men climbing. When we reached the vertical climb portion, I instructed them both to hold the rope tight as there were crocodiles below. They believed me and climbed all the way. After they completed though, I told them that there were no crocodiles but that they would have taken a very fatal fall.
I went to Boston this year to participate in the marathon! You must have a very good timing and also must be invited to participate. It was also my first time in the US. From the beginning to the ending of the race, there were people cheering you up. I am going to continue with this running until my Everest mission.
I am planning to climb a couple of mountains next year. I also cover Manali in India. I have made a budget and it seems like a lot of money. 165 000 in 2015, 88 000 in 2014, 65 000 in 2013 and this year I am spending 8 500. I am looking for sponsors to raise some money.
I have taken little initiatives to encourage the sponsorship. I am giving inspiration talks to people/corporate. I am working with ex-offenders as well.
When asked about his initiative to inspire others..
I believe in myself and in focusing on my task. I don’t like to give up. From my childhood I have been grooming to ignore others remarks. I want to educate the young generation about positive thinking!
I simply like to share. I also want to help other disabled people. On Saturday the 22nd of September I am running 100 kms for that cause. Please come down and support!
When asked for a message for our Real Leader audience..
Keep at what ever you are doing. Don’t ever give up. Never encourage negative thoughts or the people who talk so. If it’s your dream and your wish, you can make it happen. If it does not come now it will come in later. I don’t use the word difficulties; I think it is more like challenges!
Please feel free to contact Shariff @ email@example.com if you want to help him or want him to help you. I have not met a more friendly man!
Thank you Shariff for an absolutely inspiring story. We often forget what we are capable of doing if we set our will on it. You are a living example for that truth!
Thank you Jun Wei for the idea!
Real Leaders Team