Not many people are permitted a third chance at life after dying twice on the operating table. Alvin Lim was riding his motorbike from KL to Singapore when he collided with an oil tanker causing his artery to rupture and blood to fill his lungs. The impact of the accident and the lack of blood flow to his spine resulted in the loss of the use of his legs. One might expect a person who has survived such experience to retire from social life and make do with their circumstance, but not Alvin.
Not wanting to let his condition determine how he lives, Alvin decided to go back to work and a make a living for himself. The opportunity came along where he was offered a position as a car salesman with some of automotive’s biggest names. Despite initial backlash from supervisors, Alvin’s optimism persevered and in 2013, he represented Malaysia at Volkswagen’s Retail Qualification World Championship. Through that experience, he found that he enjoys competing and with his new found passion for handcycling, he hopes to compete at the 2020 Paralympic Games.
After leaving the hospital, how did you move on with your life?
It came to a point where I decided my life has to go on. Initially, I was hopeful that I could find ways to recover and regain the use of my legs. We tried acupuncture, chi gong, Chinese medicine - all sorts. I did this everyday for the next two years. The driving force for finding these remedies was more from my dad. He was focused on figuring out ways to get me better, but then I realised I can’t be doing this forever. I can’t go looking for this ‘miracle cure’ for the next fifteen years of my life. This isn’t going to define who I am.
How did you start working again?
My dad was in the car industry for most part of his life. He’s always told me about how his salespeople earn more money than him, and he was in a managerial position! I thought about it and felt that was something I’d like to try. It wasn’t easy because a lot of people have preconceived ideas about what you can and can’t do as a handicapped person. I was probably the only person to have gotten a job with UMW Toyota as a salesperson in a wheelchair. It took about a year for me to get the job. I didn’t know how it was going to work, but I took it one day at a time.
It took about a year for me to get the job. I didn’t know how it was going to work, but I took it one day at a time.
I had lots of help and there were people who wanted to give me the opportunity to succeed. However, there were still resistance from some others. I know it’s not personal, it’s just their preconceived ideas. There were comments from managers along the lines of “I already can’t handle my able-bodied salesmen, now you want me to look after a guy in a wheelchair?”. People think that if someone’s in a wheelchair, he’s going to need help and they need to be spoonfed. But when I started talking to people, they begin to change their minds. When I first went for my interview they offered me an executorial role, but I had to respectfully decline because of who I am as a person; I wouldn’t grow being in front of the computer all day. Eventually I moved over to Volkswagen, and with the track records from both companies, I managed to find my way to BMW without any help.
What made you decide to pursue handcycling full-time and aspire to compete professionally?
I started off wanting to get into shape and handcycling was something I could do to live a healthier lifestyle. I didn’t really think about it until I met a friend of mine who’s also into cycling. At one of our rides, we met the para-cycling coach of the Malaysian team. We talked and suddenly it seemed like a real possibility of something happening. You reach certain milestones in your life and things that were important to you before seem less so now. I guess I’m in that place right now where I value experience over money. While I had a good go in a career as a salesman, somehow something in me has closed that chapter of my life. Whether I’m good enough to make it the 2020 Paralympics, I’m not sure; but you won’t know unless you try right?
You’ve been surprising people with your zest for life. What keeps your spirits up?
With anything that you do, you want to keep getting better at it. For all that I’ve done, it’s OK to not be the best as long as I have put in the effort. It could be on different levels with totally different things. The day you stop wanting to improve is the day you give up on life. At each point, there were key driving factors. When I first started out at Toyota, what drove me was that I couldn’t fail at this job. If I failed at being the pioneering salesman on a wheelchair, I’ll be closing the door to everyone after me with a disability, and that’s a weight on my shoulders! It’s a responsibility that you’ll have to be mindful of, not just to yourself but to others out there.
How would you encourage those who have recently become handicapped or are experiencing a major hiccup in their lives and feel limited to their circumstance?
Just do it. Those who are physically disabled tend to think of their limitations, when they should be focusing on their capabilities and how they can expand that. The world is not perfect, Malaysia least of all. If you talk about accessibility, it’s horrible compared to other countries. However, where we are today is much better than where we were thirty years ago. You need to go out and you need to claim what is yours. If you want to wait for the time when everything is set out perfectly for you, you’ll be waiting for the rest of your life unless you go and get it yourself.
In the course of preparing for this episode, we visited one of Alvin’s previous workplaces when he was still working as a car salesman. He was greeted by friends and former colleagues with excitement and smiles, as though he never left. The ramp that was installed for him on his first day still stands, albeit a little worn. His advice to focus on our capabilities instead of our limitations doesn’t just apply to the handicapped, but to everyone. He has a point, especially since we live in a generation where we tend to compare ourselves to our friends and the people we see on TV! It really goes to show that Alvin isn’t limited by the fact that he’s a paraplegic, and that life still goes on no matter what happens. Also, we are thrilled to say that Alvin is now training with the Malaysian National Paracycling Team!
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