National University of Singapore (NUS) student Samuel Tan Wei Han’s pursuit of his passion in wushu, the Chinese martial arts, is fraught with challenges. The medical student and recipient of the Chan Ah Kow Scholarship shares his road from recovery after a surgery to a podium finish at the 2017 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games , and how the opportunities and support given by the University and the people around him were pivotal to his success.
How did you feel about receiving the Chan Ah Kow Scholarship at NUS and what is its impact on your life?
The Scholarship has lightened my financial burden and empowered me to focus on my studies and my sport. I am very thankful to Professor Roy Chan for setting up the Chan Ah Kow Scholarship and I feel honoured to be a recipient as I feel that the scholarship is a reward for the past, motivation for the present and opportunities for the future.
Describe the challenges you had to overcome leading up to the 2017 SEA Games.
Just as the national wushu trials for the 2017 SEA Games were approaching, I was diagnosed with a slipped disc and unable to train properly due to the pain in my leg. It was a rather distressing time as I knew that I was not able to perform to the best of my capabilities during the trials. However, the Singapore National Olympic Council and the National Wushu Federation still gave me the opportunity to compete despite my medical condition and I managed to do just enough to get through the trial.
Despite knowing the risks involved and knowing that the average recovery time after surgery was estimated to be a year, I decided to go ahead with the surgery as I felt that this still gave me the best chance to compete at the SEA Games.
I went for a partial discectomy surgery in February, leaving me with six months to recover and prepare for the competition. I knew that I had to quicken the process of recovery, rebuild my fitness level and improve in my wushu skills. With my doctor’s approval, I started on physiotherapy and rehabilitation exercises in March and went back for wushu and physical training in April. It was rather challenging to get back to where I was before as my muscles had already atrophied and my wushu moves and techniques had changed quite a bit. There was also this constant fear of a relapse whenever I was executing difficult movements during my routine. However, I did not give up and continued to strengthen my core and back muscles to prevent a reoccurrence of a slipped disc. The people around me – my parents, friends, coaches and the medical team – were always there, encouraging me and giving me the support I needed to continue.
During this edition of the SEA Games, I managed again to clinch a silver medal again. It felt really satisfying as I recalled the adversities I had to overcome to reach this point. As an athlete, I was finally able to fully appreciate the saying that the body can achieve what the mind believes.
What lies ahead?
I want to continue to represent Singapore in wushu and bring glory to the nation. My dream is to become an orthopaedic surgeon as I see it as a way of integrating my sporting experience with what I have learnt in medical school. This would allow me to help many groups of people – the young, old and definitely, athletes. I am extremely thankful for the opportunities given by the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine and the donors of the Chan Ah Kow Scholarship and I see my contribution as a way to show my gratitude.
The Chan Ah Kow Scholarship
The endowed Scholarship was established at NUS, with gifts received from the Medical Alumni Association, family and friends of the late Dr Chan Ah Kow. It is awarded to NUS Medicine students who excel in both the academic and sporting arenas. The late Dr Chan Ah Kow was a swimming coach noted for his experimental training methods. He trained his children extensively and his tireless and dedicated efforts enabled them to dominate the South East Asian swimming world in the 1960s and 1970s.