YOU ARE N.O.T.
Daniel Lee is No Ordinary Thing.
He wants you to believe that you too, can be extraordinary.
Perhaps it is human nature to judge a book by its cover. People turn a curious eye towards this young guy in a wheelchair, when he appears at running events with gloved hands and a shirt that says ‘Powered by Jesus’. When he begins to run, people stare out of respect, not sympathy.
Daniel Lee may be different, but he chooses to be extraordinary.
Born with ‘brittle bone’, also known as Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI) Type 1, a hereditary condition from the paternal side of his family, Daniel stopped walking at the age of two. Having visited the hospital multiple times during his childhood, he admits that deep down he still holds the trauma of breaking bones.
“I wasn’t that well-behaved, that’s why,” he laughed. “If I stomped my foot, I would break a bone.”
It’s a wonder how someone who grew up different can shrug off the grey of his past with humor and confidence. Clearly, Daniel has come a long way towards patching up his identity since twenty years ago.
When Daniel first went to school, his family could not afford a wheelchair, so his mum carried him everywhere, even when he looked too big to be cradled. The kids laughed and said mean things behind his back, sometimes ganging up to put his name in the punishment list even when he had done nothing wrong.
It was a harsh step into reality – realizing that God made him differently.
Those were lonely and doubtful times. Daniel could barely lift his head when it came to socializing, he felt a strong sense of inferiority because others judged his physical disabilities.
Sometimes, Daniel couldn’t help feeling that he was a burden to his parents, who had to bear the cost of his medical fees on top of raising two other children. While they were the reason for his worry, however, they were also the source of hope, and the pillars that have supported him. He felt blessed to have loving parents who constantly reassured him that he could be someone, someday.
Daniel’s father was his best friend, and one of his biggest inspirations. Also born with the same condition, his father too lived life on a wheelchair, but that wasn’t a reason for both father and son to give up. Remembering his late father, Daniel said, “He was a person with a great tenacity for survival; I think I learnt that from him. He always forced us to make choices; he would say, ‘You make the choice, you take the consequences, that’s how life is.”
So Daniel decided to be extraordinary. Being born different was not a choice he could make, but to be extraordinary was — it was something he had to strive to achieve with his talents and abilities. He compares this with the philosophy of running – the start is important, but choosing to finish strong is what counts.
“I just refuse to be another person going through the motions of life. My aspiration is to change lives and be a positive change to the world.”
Changing the world, however, sounds like a daunting task. How does he begin? Daniel simply says, “I start where I am. That is how all changes in the world are made.”
Daniel started to make a difference through the act of running. He is currently an Ambassador and Mission Coordinator for Run for the Nation (RunNat), a Christian non-profit organization that uses the collective act of running as a platform for uniting faith and making positive change in the local community. Together with his team, Daniel aims to introduce RunNat to a global platform, making it scalable and adaptable in various contexts so that other countries can adopt the concept.
“It used to be simple, just run, pray and believe. But there should be an answer to our prayers through action. That’s when we decided to start RunNat G.R.A.C.E. three years ago.”
RunNat G.R.A.C.E. (which is the acronym for Greater Run And Community Engagement) works with partner churches and Christian organizations to raise funds for the poor, whereby people with specific needs are assigned to runners who run with support from the public through donations. Last year, with up to a thousand participating runners backed by a strong sense of community, RunNat managed to raise a total of RM73,300.
When asked about how he got involved in such a large community project, Daniel believes it is a part of God’s plan rather than mere coincidence. Shortly after being blessed with the faithful pair of wheels beneath him, he met Alex Au-Yong (whom he didn’t know was pioneering The XtraMile Run at that time) and casually mentioned about trying out marathons. Since then, Daniel has been involved in running events with the purpose of helping and inspiring others.
“I think actions are strong,” he said. “I have had someone come up to me after the run to say, ‘Very inspiring, thank you! I was about to give up when I saw you pass by, and I told myself I couldn’t lose the race just like that,’” he recalls.
Upon realizing that people were willing to listen to his story, Daniel took up motivational speaking. He decided to dedicate his life towards making a difference in the lives of others, to inspire.
With a clear focus on this greater purpose, Daniel aims to develop the confidence, skills, competency and character to be a good inspiration through speaking and taking action, something he continues to work on to this very day. He believes that committing to a greater purpose is an indirect form of self-development as it helps improve his character and personality for the better as well.
With all that Daniel is currently doing — community engagement, financial planning and motivational speaking – it is clear that he has set his eyes on changing the world, one life at a time. Hope and faith in God is what keeps him going, reaching slowly but surely towards his aspirations. He describes it as holding a lamp in the dark, saying “You can’t quite see what’s out there, but you take one step at a time and keep moving.”
“People around me have helped me in many ways while I was searching for my purpose in life. These people come in the form of good friends who were there for me when I needed them, or a good counsel who taught me how to see things in a different perspective, or even people who nurtured me to be a better leader. These people have one thing in common- they believed that I could be someone more, even when I couldn’t see it. They invested in me, shaping me into the person I am today.”
That is what Daniel hopes to do for the people around him, to give in return whatever he has taken from life. He strongly believes that every single person is born with greatness, a gift from God that many people waste years before realizing, while some never realize at all. And to him, not realizing one’s self-worth is such a shame.
“You are no ordinary thing (N.O.T.),” he says to everyone he believes in. “You should love yourself the way God loves you, that is, loving yourself for who you are, and not who you can be. When we love ourselves that way, the potential that we each have within us can be reached, we will be what we can be.”
Learning to love one’s self may be easier said than done, but it is in fact the key to living a quality life. According to Daniel, a quality life always involves living out one’s fullest potential, doing what each person was made to do, and living with a purpose greater than one’s self. For him, life is truly meaningful when he can do what he loves to do, while knowing that he actually contributes to the world by touching lives.
“I don’t have to be the best; I just have to be my best.” These were wise words from Daniel’s father, words he (and you) could take as advice for a lifetime. “Each and every one of us has different strengths and weaknesses; if we spend too much time comparing among ourselves, we lose out on being the best ‘us’ we can be.”
Like Daniel, all we need to do is add an extra to our ordinary.
Edited for ISSUE Magazine by Al Zaquan.