When Mr Shariff Abdullah is asked to describe himself in one word, he instantly says “winner”.
This, despite growing up without a left leg below the knee and wearing a prosthetic leg since he was five.
A life of tears
Mr Shariff says his life story is full of heartbreaking events. After he was born in 1968, his biological mother abandoned him.
As a disabled baby, he was left in the care of his biological father and a foster mother in a kampung near Hougang.
“Life was so distressing as a child, as other children would throw stones at me because I had no foot, and I had to crawl around.
“My foster mother, who previously was a man, went for a sex-change and later married my father,” he recalls, with tears welling in his eyes.
Fitted with a $300 wooden prosthetic leg since young, Mr Shariff attended Rosyth Primary School. When he was nine, his father died, and a year later, his foster mother passed away.
At 19, he converted to Islam and took on his current name. Four years later, he got married and now lives in Yishun with his wife and three daughters aged between 14 and 20.
He says: “The doctor suspected my leg was amputated when I was a baby and there was massive skin infection.
“I had to undergo an operation to remove the five-inch stump.
“I was so depressed. I wanted to commit suicide at home while recovering because I was scared and could not walk.”
A life-changing video
The turning point came when he saw a video of South African double-amputee champion runner Oscar Pistorius.
“I was watching YouTube on how to commit suicide because I was very depressed with my medical condition until I saw Pistorius, who used Ossur carbon-fibre prosthetic legs,” recalls Mr Shariff.
Repeatedly watching Pistorius in action gave him a fresh perspective and inspiration.
Overnight, he took on a positive outlook and had a new focus.
‘Six Million Dollar Man’
Mr Shariff recalls that he had always had “sports in his blood” because even with a wooden prosthetic leg, he was able to climb trees, take part in sports day, go kayaking and trekking. He even received a black belt in karate.
“They nicknamed me ‘Lee Majors’, like the hero character from the iconic TV series, Six Million Dollar Man,” he says.
“I just wanted to inspire everyone. There’s always hope in life.”
Mr Shariff got fitted with a carbon-fibre transtibial artificial limb, Ossur Blade, which he named “Sahara”.
He says: “It’s the only one of its kind in Singapore. It cost $7,000 and it’s different from Oscar Pistorius’ blades, which are made for sprinting. This is made for longer distances.”
He took up competitive long-distance running in March 2009, covering a total of 157km in races as a professional athlete. In 2011, he ran the Boston Marathon, becoming the first Singaporean amputee to compete in the full event.
Now 46, he says: “I’ve achieved my dream as an athlete despite my condition. I now run to inspire people, and I give motivational talks to show that anyone can do it.
“I’ve always planned to be an elite runner, so I’m now doing what I can, given my lot in life.”
He is now a Positive Ambassador with sports gear brand The North Face and gives talks in schools and companies.
Last January, he qualified as a professional runner and this lets him earn a living by racing against regional mobility-impaired athletes.
He says: “From 2016, I will undertake coaching courses. I hope to be a coach with the Singapore Disability Sports Council and train physically challenged athletes. It’s a long way to go.
“Anyway, life starts at 40, and I intend to live up to my nickname as Singapore’s first ‘Blade Runner’. I have no regrets.”