By Cheah Wenqi
In 2012, Mr Eugene Tan was 22 and at his fittest. He ran every day, pushing himself to go faster at every run. He had already completed four marathons and two ultra-marathons by then.
At the Individual Physical Proficiency Test, he consistently scored gold.
But at a test later that year, Mr Tan, a former Sports Science and Management undergraduate at NTU, failed his standing broad jump and shuttle run.
“I had been getting gold all my life, so failing was quite shocking to me,” said Mr Tan.
And failing meant he might have the same genetic disorder as his brother Kenneth, then 24 — hereditary spastic paraplegia (HSP), for which there is no known cure.
HSP is a rare genetic neurological condition that affects the transmission of information from the spinal cord to the legs, making it difficult to move.
Soon, it was confirmed that Mr Tan too was suffering from HSP. Doctors explained that his parents were carriers of the gene that were passed to their sons where they manifested.
Apart from his elder brother, Mr Tan knows of only one other HSP sufferer here. She is seven.
About two in 100,000 people suffer from HSP globally. The illness can show itself in children or adults, and it worsens progressively. Some HSP sufferers need canes, walkers or even
wheelchairs, while others manage on their own.
For Mr Tan, it meant the end of his running.
His fiance, Ms Tan Ci Hui, 26, a manager at the Health Promotion Board, has stood by him throughout. “Our dates used to be going for runs.
“He used to say that if I wanted to spend time with him, I needed to run with him,” she recalled.
But they have made lifestyle changes. “Going through this makes us more sure of our decision to stick together,” she said.
Meanwhile, Mr Tan has not given up on regaining control of his legs, and hopes alternative medicine will help him.
“I will have to try my best. It is a never ending search for a cure.”