A determination to live life to the fullest after a near-fatal road accident propelled Alvin Lim on an inspiring journey to become Malaysia’s first national paralympic handcyclist.

Seventeen years ago, the former air steward from Melaka was travelling to Singapore on his superbike when he collided with an oil tanker.

The accident ruptured the then-25-year-old’s aorta and left him paralysed from the waist down.

That might have deterred most people from living their life to the fullest, but it did not stop him.

Lim, who is now 42, was selected to join Malaysia’s paracycling team in January this year.

He picked up the activity while visiting his sister in Brisbane, Australia, two years ago, and started handcycling in Malaysia last year. His goal is to reach the 2020 Summer Paralympics, with the SEA games hosted by Malaysia in August this year his first target. “This is my stepping stone. My performance in the SEA Games will determine my future in the sport,” he said.

“The upcoming SEA Games and Asean Para Games are going to have a major impact on our athletes.

Having the homeground advantage is such a significant factor, not just because of the familiar surroundings, but also the power that comes from the love, support, and energy from our fellow countrymen,” he said.

This is Lim’s first foray into competitive sports. He admits that he started late, used to be severely overweight, and was not fit, so it’s a two-fold task: to get himself into shape, and to become competitive.

Lim says he enjoys the freedom of cycling. “The wind in my face, the speed that I can achieve is a stark contrast to the wheelchair that I’m bound to, and it’s so exhilarating! I still feel it every time I get on my bike,” he enthused.

“I never imagined where cycling would take me. I first started this because I wanted to be healthy. Since that accident put me in a wheelchair 17 years ago, my weight has been going up and down, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that I was headed for serious health complications if I kept going down that path.

“Second, it stirred my passion for cycling again. I had forgotten what it felt like and the very first time I got on the handcycle, all the past feelings and emotions came back, and I fell in love again,” he said.

Lim said he has lost approximately 16kg since he started cycling, and is the healthiest he has been for a long time.

“Also, who would have thought that this would become a platform for me to compete and represent the country. In the six months since joining the national team, I’ve had the opportunity to wave our country’s flag in Singapore, the Middle East, and Europe,” he added.

“It’s really mind-blowing when you actually think about it. Just two months ago, I was cycling along the coastal road in Ostend, Belgium, preparing for my race the next day when it suddenly hit me! I’m cycling in Europe, preparing for a world race! Me – the fat kid who didn’t even have an athletic bone in his body – in a world race, representing the nation! How awesome is that?” he said excitedly. “It’s something that I never in my wildest dreams imagined would become a reality,” he shared.

Lim added that besides road cycling at the Guthrie Corridor Expressway, he also enjoys leisurely cycling at places like Desa Park City, Kuala Lumpur and Botanical Gardens, Shah Alam.

He cycles using a three-wheeled recumbent with a hand-powered crank, in a lying down position in the bike, facing the sky with his feet stretched out. The frame is unique but the drivetrain (what’s used to move the bike) is the same as a regular bicycle, with the only difference being: where a regular bicycle has pedals, his has hand grips to turn the crank.

“While the arms are not as powerful as the legs, and there is no motor assistance, just pure human effort, we do have gears that make the task somewhat easier,” he explained.

“Being so low to the ground and having the crank right in my line of sight, visibility may be somewhat limited compared to a regular cyclist. But if there is one trait that human beings have, it’s our adaptability,” he said with determination in his voice. “The body simply adjusts to the situation, and pretty soon, it becomes second nature.”

Lim trains six days a week, combining outside rides, cycling on trainers and gym sessions for building strength.

He believes that cycling is good and encourages more Malaysians to take up the activity.

Participants of Ride for Malaysia – an upcoming cycling event on July 30 organised by Star Media Group and Sunsuria Berhad – will get the chance to cycle with Lim, who said he will be taking part in the event.

Lim said cycling is not just good for health, but can also promote national unity. “The thing that brings people together is focusing on what they have in common rather than on their differences,” he added.