Running to save lives

Gerrard Lin, 31 and his mother Madam Na Su Lan, part-time cleaner, 71.
PHOTO: Running to save lives

Having taekwondo skills shored up Mr Gerrard Lin's confidence when he was growing up.

"Compared with other kids, who seemed so well-off and had nice houses, and because I was not doing well in school, I was a sad little kid with low self-esteem," says the 31-year-old former national taekwondo champion.

From Bukit Ho Swee Primary School, he progressed to River Valley High School, where he scraped by with "lots of Cs".

It did not help that he was beaten often by his father. Mr Lin, now a freelance martial arts instructor, says "small things" such as not switching off the light or not sleeping at bedtime - at 9pm - triggered fits of anger from his usually quiet dad, a retired storekeeper, now 71.

"He had a temper. These things set him off and he used anything he could grab - a cane, belt, anything," says Mr Lin, recalling how he and his 29-year-old sister, an office executive, were then punished in their three-room HDB flat in Bukit Ho Swee.

The beatings lasted until he was 14.

His 70-year-old mother, Madam Na Su Lan, a part-time cleaner at a supermarket, says in Mandarin: "I tried to stop the beatings and scoldings. My husband was cooped up at home and angsty."

Her husband, who still lives with the family, was retrenched in 1998.

Around that time, Mr Lin picked up martial arts and went on to become a three-time Pesta Sukan national taekwondo champion from 2007 to 2009.

From March 2 to April 1, Mr Lin, a Bone Marrow Donor Programme volunteer of six years, ran 31 marathons in 31 days.

He did it in hopes of recruiting 1,300 people - one each for the 1,300km he ran - to do two-minute cheek swabs. It was to raise awareness for the programme and to encourage more people to step up as donors. The odds of finding a donor are one in 20,000, so he hopes to get as many people on the register as possible.

He says: "People know about cancer or leukaemia but they may not do anything about it. If you can do a quick cheek swab that can save a person's life, why not?"

How did you feel about your father then and what do you feel now?

Mr Lin: I felt resentment. Murderous intent. What kind of feeling would anyone in my situation then have? Not good, I reckon. It was a tumultuous period.

Today, those feelings are gone. Whether it is due to the therapeutic passage of time or that I've come to enlightenment is a question that I would love to tackle. One thing is for sure, hate certainly shackles. Yet forgiveness is hard and definitely easier to say than act upon.

Now, I regale my friends with tales of my past from a humorous angle.

What was the toughest period between you and your father?

Mr Lin: I was 14 when we had a ferocious quarrel. I was really angry, went to the kitchen, took a chopper and hit the sink. My mum and sister were crying in the living room.

Madam Na: I don't remember him taking the chopper. I was in the living room.

Mr Lin: It wasn't a good time for the family. She probably has selective memory.

What kind of a dad do you think you would be?

Mr Lin: I wouldn't be a friend but I'd be someone who guides my child on the path he chooses and supports him. I wouldn't cane him.

Madam Na, why did you and your husband start a family only when you were almost 40?

Madam Na: I was 38 when I married. I was then a seamstress and relatives introduced me to my husband.

Mr Lin: My parents married at an older age for their time.

Madam Na: We were both working hard, me as a McDonald's aunty and my husband as a storekeeper. My sister-in-law, who lives in a flat above ours, helped to look after our children.

Could you confide in your mother then?

Mr Lin: If I was unhappy, I kept it inside.

Once, when I was about eight years old, I confided in mum that my grades were not as good as a classmate's. She asked how come my friend could do better. So I decided not to say anything after that. Now, I just confide in friends.

Madam Na: I can't remember that incident. I was focused on working so he and his sister could go to university.

Mr Lin, what is your relationship with your sibling?

Mr Lin: We have a cordial relationship. That doesn't mean I don't care. If there's any trouble, I'd be the first to defend her.

Madam Na: He should take of her as he's the elder child even though they are just a year apart.

If the parent-child roles were reversed, what would you do differently?

Madam Na: If I were Gerrard, I would lay the groundwork now for the life that I would want to live in the future. The best job is an office job; I would get a nine-to-five job.

Mr Lin: If I were mum, I wouldn't change things. That's the way it was, but I'm happy with the way things have turned out.

However bad things are, they will get better.

For details on the Bone Marrow Donor Programme, call 6340-1040 or e-mail

This article was published on April 27 in The Straits Times.Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.