Wheelchair trek commemorates terrorist attacks

by Christopher Cox
Tuesday, September 10, 2002

He had arrived in the United States just two days earlier but when the twin towers fell William Tan reacted as best he could: He and three other students at Harvard's School of Public Health set up a table and solicited money, food and clothing for the American Red Cross.

It was just the latest charitable endeavor by the modest Singapore native, 45, who said he was inspired by the sacrifice of New York City firemen and passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93.

``I'm a person who believes that we are one global family,'' said Tan, a medical researcher. ``I value qualities like bravery, reverence for life.''

In remembrance of those who perished, Tan leaves this evening to push his wheelchair from Boston to New York City, then on to Washington, D.C. He intends to arrive at the Washington Monument by Saturday afternoon.

It is just the latest challenge in a life that has seen many uphill struggles. Tan lost the use of his legs to polio at age 2. His father struggled to make ends meet selling fried bananas from a pushcart. Tan couldn't afford a wheelchair until high school. ``All this was character-building,'' said Tan.

``It taught me to be resourceful. It also brought about a tough, stubborn personality in me.''

Tan plans to leave the Parkman Bandstand on Boston Common at 7 p.m.. His support team, three Singaporean students from MIT, will travel in a wheelchair-accessible van provided by Veterans Taxi of Waltham.

To arrive at Ground Zero by 8:46 a.m. tomorrow, Tan will have to travel part of the distance by van. He intends to push his wheelchair the entire way from New York to Washington, where he will be met by Singapore's U.S. ambassador.

``This project is not an exhibition of my athletic abilities, to wheel from Boston to New York every single mile,'' he said. ``It's more of a symbolic push of commemoration.''

For further information on supporting Tan's wheelchair push, contact the United Way at 617-624-8267, or visit the Web site www.uwmb.org. Make checks payable to: United Way of Massachusetts Bay/Wheelchair Push, 245 Summer St., 14th floor, Boston, MA 02210, Attn. Katie McGivern.