|By: Janice Tai
Sportsman Md Shariff Abdullah takes marathon races in his stride, beating many others. What sets him apart is his prosthetic left leg.
Furthermore, he is poised to be Singapore’s first blade runner, just like South African Paralympic runner Oscar Pistorius, once he gets a special prosthetic leg designed for running.
He has been wearing an artificial limb since the age of five. Despite his handicap, his passion has always been running.
As a boy, he could even keep up in outdoor games and running activities with his classmates.
They affectionately called him the Six Million Dollar Man, after the TV series about a bionic man.
Today, aged 40, Mr Md Shariff is a sportsman with a dream. He said: ‘I want to be the first handicapped person to climb Mount Everest.’
This, despite a recent operation to further amputate his stump.
He has run four marathons since the operation in December last year. He also won the gold medal in javelin at this year’s National Track and Field Championships.
In the months ahead, he plans to complete the 10km Safra Singapore Bay Run and The North Face 100 race where he will run 25km.
In preparation for his Everest quest, scaling various mountains in Malaysia is next on his list.
The athlete was all decked out in sports attire when Mind Your Body met him.
His steady smile belied his long journey – one heavy blow was when he was fired from his site security job after his boss found out that he wore a prosthesis.
Mr Md Shariff had, since starting work, always worn long pants and never told his employers or colleagues about his condition. Now he makes the deliberate choice to wear shorts every day.
‘I feel proud to show the world my leg. I am no longer ashamed of my disability and I am doing this to show others who are like me that there is nothing to hide. We can still live our lives fully,’ he said.
He has been married since 1992 to Madam Rozana Shariff, 47, an administrative assistant. They have three children aged nine to 15.
He is without his left leg from the knee down but does not know if it was a birth condition or the result of an amputation when he was young.
The turning point in his life came when he had to further amputate his leg last year. This was because he kept having an excruciating pain which he described as ‘needles poking my stump’. On some days, it was so bad he could not go to work.
The Singapore General Hospital doctor he saw said there was a growth on the stump but the biopsy result could not determine its cause.
He was then advised by the doctor to cut off a small part of the stump to remove the growth.
He needed medical leave for the operation and that was when his employer found out that he was disabled and fired him.
During his stay in hospital, a depressed Mr Md Shariff contemplated suicide but gave up that thought when he saw others in conditions far worse than his.
While recuperating at home, he saw a video on YouTube that showed Mr Pistorius at a sports event. Despite having two amputated legs, he is the double amputee world record holder in several events.
The press dubbed Mr Pistorius ‘blade runner’ because his prosthetic legs looked like blades.
‘I asked myself, if he can do it, why not me? Singapore has no prosthetic leg runner, why not be the first so I can encourage others to join me?’ said Mr Md Shariff.
One month after the operation, he was already running on his prosthetic leg. He said that the doctor predicted it would be six months before he could run again.
His achievements are no small feat, considering his tough childhood.
He was born in 1968 to a Malay mother and a Eurasian father, but his mother left the family soon after.
Subsequently, he lived with his father and Indian foster mother. When they died, he was shuttled back and forth between various distant relatives. It disrupted his studies and he attended a total of four primary schools.
In 1980, he was reunited with his mother. However, she could not afford his school fees and so he quit schooling at the age of 15, juggling various jobs as a caddy, cleaner, waiter, messenger and even a private investigator.
He met his wife through a mutual friend at the friend’s house. It was love at first sight for him.
However, as he was wearing long pants then, she was unaware of his disability. It was only on their first date that he told her about it.
‘Her reaction? She did not mind it at all. Instead of piling me with questions, she just told me it is more important to have love and trust, and the rest is secondary,’ he said.
‘Even though it is tough on her, my wife is very supportive and wants me to pursue my sporting dreams,’ he added.
He is thankful to the National Council of Social Service for sponsoring 65 per cent of the cost of an Ossur flex-run leg, a type of prothesis that is specific for running. The parts, made in the United States, will be assembled in Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
Mr Pistorius wears the same prosthetic parts made by Ossur, a global company that designs and produces high-tech orthopaedic devices.
With this prosthetic leg, Mr Md Shariff will be the first blade runner in Singapore, said Mr Trevor Binedell, a senior prosthetist at the department of prosthetics and orthotics at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
It costs about $8,000 and Mr Md Shariff is still raising the rest of the money.
He is also testing another specialised sports leg called the GC1 leg from Gener8 Composites, a local composite manufacturing and design company run by an ex-Paralympian that aims to provide prosthetic limbs to developing countries. The prosthetic leg that he is testing is the first one to be used in Asia.
Meanwhile, he sticks to a punishing training regimen. He runs 20km four times a week and trains as a thrower with the Singapore Disability Sports Council thrice a week. He has also found a new job as a part-time sales assistant in The North Face stores.
This article was first published in Mind Your Body, The Straits Times.