Long before infamous South African Blade Runner Oscar Pistorius made headlines, a charismatic man named Shariff Abdullah quietly went about becoming a star on the worldwide athletic scene. Like Pistorius, Abdullah requires a prosthetic leg since he was born without a left foot, but unlike the shamed South African, Singapore’s Blade Runner has distinguished himself as a role model and his fame is spreading!
At 45, his life story is compelling. He began dreaming big at age six and by the 1970s, he was competing in marathons, lifting weights, kayaking and trekking. No amount of bullying he faced as a child stopped Abdullah from pursuing goals that built his character, now as powerfully strong as his body. The popular motivational speaker is facing a new mountain soon. Literally. Mount Everest! Find out what drives him to the greatest height any man can achieve in his lifetime.
RS: You say that your dream of climbing Mount Everest harkens back to your late father’s Bukit Timah Hill experiences. Can you explain this?
Shariff: My father worked installing explosives to clear land for the Pan Island Expressway when I was a boy. This required him to climb Bukit Timah Hill repeatedly. I wanted to follow him, but having been born with only a good right leg, I never thought I could emulate him—until I heard about Mark Inglis, a double amputee. When he reached the summit of Mount Everest, my mind raced back to my father and the hill. I decided that I would not just climb Bukit Timah in my father’s honor but that I would walk in my dad’s footsteps, conquering other hills and mountains.
RS: Everest climbs are dangerous for people who have no disabilities; why do you want to attempt it?
Shariff: Because if I don’t challenge myself and inspire others, what kind of legacy will I leave? Sure, able-bodied people can scale the summit, but I’m twice as committed to doing it than most!
RS: Aren’t you worried about your safety?
Shariff: Only a fool would go into so difficult a marathon without some fear, but I worry more about my prosthetic blade than my personal welfare. To make sure I am better prepared than most, I take myriad precautions. For example, my weight could drop while training or climbing and my stump might shrink, which means that my prosthetic wouldn’t fit. This happened when I trekked in Manali, India. On Everest, I’ll bring extra sockets, tools, thick socks and medicated creams to avoid problems affecting my ability to keep going.
RS: Is your family supportive of your decision to undertake such a monumental a marathon?
Shariff: They are my biggest supporters; they will do anything to help me achieve my hopes and dreams. They always pray for my safety, and that I will stay well during the climb, so how can I not be victorious?
RS: You mention preparation. How long have you been preparing for the Tenzing-Hillary Everest Marathon?
Shariff: I have been preparing, in one form or another, since 2011. To build my endurance, I participate in races like the North Face Singapore series. I went to Sabah several times to run the TMBT Hasuu Tasu Trail Marathon, climbed Mount Kinabalu three times and also ascended Mount Ophir. When I’m not engaged in runs and climbs, I run long distances, rock climb, undergo rigorous staircase training and engage in gym workouts to increase my upper and lower body strength.
RS: You met Singapore’s first Everest expedition leader, David Lim. What advice did he share with you?
Shariff: How to acclimate my body for the climb. He stressed the importance of proper clothing, gear, advanced ice skills and stamina-building training exercises. He says that Mount Kinabalu is the best place to train and I believe him! He gave me a copy of his book and I turn to it frequently for inspiration.
RS: You’ve built a reputation for motivational speaking in addition to your physical triumphs. What motivates you?
Shariff: I self-motivate—just as I have been doing throughout my life. People told me, “You can’t do this” and “You won’t be able to do that.” I was out to prove that I could. If a sense of physical inadequacy creeps up on me, I’m quick to quell it, because I truly believe that if I set my mind to doing something, I can’t fail.
RS: You’re no newcomer to daunting expeditions, but Everest will be enormous. How will you keep going?
Shariff: The same way I keep going every time I face hard challenges: I tap the passion in my soul and call on my confidence to get me to my goal. I trust that I have the physical capability to succeed and rely on previous mountaineering experiences when things get tough. And thoughts of my family always keep me going!
RS: You have developed a big media and public following. Does this put pressure on you to perform well?
Shariff: No. My childhood dream, of successfully climbing every mountain I wish to climb—of taking my father’s memory with me to heights I imagined as a child—these are the only pressures I feel. As you can tell, my belief in my ability to undertake daunting challenges is very powerful.
RS: Is it true that you’re going against doctor’s orders by undertaking the Everest Marathon?
Shariff: At first, doctors were cautionary and sceptical, so it was up to me to prove to them that I could do this. Not only have doctors worked with me to prepare me for medical emergencies I could encounter, but they eventually gave the green light for my participation to the Marathon organisers. As long as I follow their advice and bring extra supplies for my prosthetic, I’m confident that I’m ready for anything.
RS: The Tenzing-Hillary is not an inexpensive marathon to undertake. How are you able to pay your expenses?
Shariff: You can’t believe how many ordinary people believe in me enough to make donations in my name, so I’m gathering the financial resources I need! My deadline to raise funds is 31st March 2015, so if your readers wish to help, they can visit my website. I’ve gotten big donations and small ones. Every one counts and I am so grateful for them all!
RS: Has your fundraising effort resulted in any surprises that left you speechless?
Shariff: Yes! My prosthetic blade has never been tested on extreme terrain like that on Everest, so I had to have faith that it would withstand the conditions I will face. My story began to circulate, and one day, I was contacted by an anonymous donor saying that a prosthetics company wanted to fund a new blade that is customised just for the mountain. My family will tell you that I’m never at a loss for words, but when I learned about this kind and magnificent gesture, I was speechless!
RS: Are any other fundraising efforts being made on your behalf?
Shariff: We have made available to supporters T-shirts and inspirational posters that say: “If you want to achieve a big dream, you have to be patient, pray to God, make it happen and do you best.” Anyone wishing to support my effort can find these items on my website, too.
RS: It’s hard to imagine a challenge bigger than the Tenzing-Hillary Marathon, but you look to us like a guy who thinks beyond the next mountain. Have you got something in works post-Everest?
Shariff: (Laughs) Of course, I have already begun thinking of what I will tackle down the road, but if your readers want to know what’s next on my calendar, they’re going to have to guess and keep track of me in the future. I like surprising people!
RS: Will anyone you know be undertaking Everest with you?
Shariff: Just my best friend and buddy, my state-of-the-art, newly-funded prosthetic blade! Also not forgetting the well wishes of my supporters. They will be with me during the race.
RS: Do you have any words of encouragement for runners who secretly want to climb Everest but don’t have the confidence to try it?
Shariff: It may sound cliché, but I hope anyone needing inspiration to challenge themselves will recall my words, “If I can do it, you can, too!” The biggest obstacle to any human being’s spirit is to live with regrets because one didn’t attempt to reach a goal. Everything is possible if one concentrates and surrounds himself with people who love and support them. How can you not succeed with this combination of faith, support and preparation?
The clock is counting down to the date Shariff Abdullah will do what people told him throughout his life that he could never do: Climb any mountain, much less Mount Everest! What advice would you give to Shariff to further inspire his journey and show him that more people than he can imagine are cheering him on?
You can pledge your support and be part of Singapore’s very own blade runner Mount Everest expedition success by donating. Find out more at his website on how you can do it.