"Everything that I do in sports, ministry and motivational speaking is because I believe God's purpose for me is to use my life as a testimony to His love and grace," said Daniel Lee. All photos courtesy of Daniel Lee.

In the 33 years of his life, Daniel Lee has broken his bones over 30 times.

Born with osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bones disease, he stopped walking as a toddler and had to be carried around until his family could afford a wheelchair for him at 10 years old.

As a young boy, the Malaysian was called a cripple by classmates and still remembers a comic strip that they drew to mock his condition.

“It was only when I became a Christian that I realised my life was not a mistake,” shared Daniel, now a motivational speaker, athlete and advocate for all-ability sports.

“This is the last known picture of me standing as a child,” Daniel shared. He stopped walking when he was around two years old.

In 2013, Daniel successfully completed a 100km ultra-marathon in his wheelchair with two friends, raising RM169,000 (about S$48,000) for a refugee non-governmental organisation in Malaysia.

That same year, he represented Malaysia at the Asian Youth Para Games in the sport of sitting volleyball.

His life today is a far cry from what anyone would have expected for the young man who faced many challenges growing up.

Tough times

Daniel grew up in a small Pahang town. His grandfather had Type 1 osteogenesis imperfecta, as did his father.

His sisters also live with the condition, but Daniel was the only one who required a wheelchair.

“It was only when I became a Christian that I realised my life was not a mistake.”

“We grew up without much, having to pay for hospital stays and surgeries. Dad was an English tutor and worked odd jobs. Mum stayed home to take care of the three of us. They’d borrow money from loan sharks for my hospital bills,” Daniel recalled.

At one period, six loan sharks would show up at their doorstep every day asking for payment.

“Although it was a tough life, my parents never treated us as if we were different. My father taught me to never settle. I competed only against myself,” he said.

By 14 years old, he had undergone a number of surgeries for his condition. But on one occasion, disaster struck.

“It was four days after my birthday, the day I was to be discharged. Dad had come to the hospital to pick me up, but he started vomiting and collapsed. He was brought to Emergency for a heart attack,” Daniel said.

That day, Daniel’s father died. Life changed overnight.

Daniel pictured with his father, who passed away when Daniel was 14, and his mother, who had to single-handedly raise three children with Type 1 osteogenesis imperfecta.

“From being a stay-at-home mum to children with chronic illness, Mum now had to find work. So she moved us to Jerantut, Pahang, to work with my aunt,” he said.

At first, Daniel sank into a cycle of self-blame, wondering what he had done wrong to receive such ill fate.

But God had His loving hand upon Daniel’s life. With the move to Jerantut came something new.

Built up by God’s love

In Jerantut, Daniel suddenly found himself in the company of Christian friends. His group of gung-ho friends often invited him to church and urged him to accept Jesus as His Lord and Saviour.

“So many shared the Gospel with charisma and charm, but I stood my ground. In the end, it was an emotionless, robotic delivery by a visiting youth leader that brought me to tears,” he recalled.

“I felt the Holy Spirit and the Gospel overwhelm me, and I knew I had to accept Jesus as my Lord and Saviour,” said Daniel, who was 16 when he accepted Christ.

That year, he obtained a scholarship and moved to Kuala Lumpur to begin his studies in psychology. Again, God’s timing was perfect, as it was here that he found opportunities to grow in his newfound faith.

“My college CF (Christian Fellowship) president, Wen Lin, gave me my first-ever leadership role as an Alpha facilitator. For the first time, I was seen. It built me up greatly,” he said.

Daniel credits his involvement with his university’s Christian Fellowship and its then president, Wen Lin, for building up his confidence and identity.

It was also in CF that he experienced love in practical ways.

A group of leaders from Acts Church who visited his CF regularly had observed his old, tattered wheelchair and offered to raise funds to buy him a new one for Christmas.

That year, he received his first sports wheelchair and joined his first 10km race. Competitive by nature, he realised how much he enjoyed racing against others and challenging himself to do better.

He later connected with Alex Au-Yong, a seasoned runner who would go on to be one of Daniel’s partners and encouragers in the sport. It was with Alex and another friend, Kyle, that Daniel completed the XtraMile, a 100km ultramarathon, in 17 hours.

Empowerment through sports

During his time in Alpha, Daniel noticed that he had the gift of leadership. When he spoke, people listened.

At first, he had thought God was calling him to be a pastor, but after discovering the world of sports, he realised that he could use his voice to inspire others.

In 2013, Daniel successfully completed the Xtramile 100km ultra-marathon with his friends, Alex Au-Yong and Kyle Tan. Together, they raised RM169,000 for a refugee NGO in Malaysia.

“When God gives a vision, He always refines it. But sometimes, He redefines it,” said Daniel, who believes that people with disabilities are empowered when they participate in sports.

“In church, it’s often compassion ministries that manage people with disabilities. You’d rarely see someone in a wheelchair leading worship, or think of people with disabilities being involved in sports ministries,” he explained.

“For example, during sports days or carnivals in churches, many people think they’re being compassionate by allowing us to ‘sit out’. But that’s not empowering,” he added.

Last year, Daniel led a team to organise the KL AllAbility Run 2023, a 3km run, walk or jog to raise awareness for people with disabilities and promote an inclusive society.

Today, he works with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes as an All-Ability Sports coordinator. He is also a global facilitator for ReadySetGo, a global Christian sport ministry movement.

He hopes to normalise all-ability sports in churches and Christian ministries by building an inclusive environment for believers of all abilities.

“I enjoy sports because it allows me to challenge myself. However, the ultimate goal is to inspire others to fulfil their God-given potential in life,” he said.

Wheelchairs that inspire

Daniel is so passionate about this cause that he founded – Push to Inspire – a movement that champions the God-given potential of people with disabilities. He has since spoken to over 10,000 people through his speaking engagements.

Today, Daniel is using his voice and life to inspire others. He has spoken to over 10,000 people through his motivational talks.

“I came up with this name because I had to push (my wheelchair) to inspire others,” explained Daniel, who has also served in the children’s ministry at Acts Church for more than a decade.

“When we know our purpose, it becomes easier to make decisions in life.”

By sharing about the successes of those in his community, he hopes to inspire other people with disabilities, he said.

“One of my friends, when I met him over 10 years ago, was an obese man in his forties. Wheelchair-bound too. He knew he needed to change his lifestyle, so he joined our wheelchair marathon group. Today he’s lost over 20kg and, at 56, is one of the fittest and fastest among us,” he shared.

But more importantly, he hopes to use his platform to conduct and raise awareness on all-ability sports events.

“Motivational speaking pays very well, honestly. If I was chasing money, I’d just do that. But when we know our purpose, it becomes easier to make decisions in life. I know God has called me to this ministry (of all-ability sports),” said Daniel.

Made with purpose

Through all of his work, his heart’s desire is for people of all abilities to know that their lives are made with purpose by God.

“We’re all chasing this sense of purpose, which suggests Someone gave us each a purpose. A hammer can be a good paperweight, but only its maker can reveal its true potential. So we must start by looking to our Maker,” he said.

“A hammer can be a good paperweight, but only its maker can reveal its true potential. So we must start by looking to our Maker.”

Daniel cited Isaiah 40:27-31 as reflective of his journey, from someone being frustrated with a seemingly uncaring God to realising His majesty, whose “understanding no one can fathom”. (Isaiah 40:28)

The passage could have ended there, but it did not.

“Instead, it ends with the corrected revelation of who God is and what His character really looks like: A God who cares for us and renews our strength,” he said.

It is this God – a personal God who knew each of us before we were born – whom Daniel hopes to share through his ministry and work.

His life is a living testimony of his words, which makes this young man’s voice so powerful.

“It all began when I realised that I was not born a mistake. Then Jesus showed me the giftings He’d given me and helped me realise that my life could inspire others and point them to the same saving grace I received,” he shared.

“Everything that I do in sports, ministry and motivational speaking is because I believe God’s purpose for me is to use my life as a testimony to His love and grace.”


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About the author

Michelle Chun

Michelle believes in the power of the pen (or keyboard) to inspire conversation, influence change and impact people. She believes that everyone has a story, and her prayer is for every heart to discover the joy of knowing God.