Sandakan Rugby’s Nathanael Creates Double History Against The Odds

AUT Blue Award winner Nathanael Tan flanked by proud parents KH Tan and Winnie and uncle Sagaran, right.

KOTA KINABALU: If winning the University Blue Award from the Auckland University of Technology (AUT) once was tough and saw Sabahan, Nathanael Tan Aik Ming, create history, he has gone a step further by winning it back-to-back and with odds stacked against him.

The 26-year known as the ‘The Little Giant of Sabah” because he stands at 1.90m (6ft 5in) in a frame of 122kg, won the prestigious award last year to become the first Asian rugby player to receive the award.

Nathanael, who joined the University four years ago in New Zealand, to attain his diploma in sports and recreation, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in the same field majoring in exercise science a few months ago.

The circumstances in which Nathanael attained his degree and went on to be awarded the blue award for the second time, was indeed a display of nerve of steel and determined character.

Nathanael Tan receiving Auckland University of Technology BLUE AWARD from Professor Dr. John Cronin witnessed by ERC President Vela Tan, right and KH Tan.

The national rugby player since 2009, was seriously injured when he returned to play for the nation in the Asian Premier championship in April this year, when he suffered a broken jaw in two places, in the opening match against South Korea.

He was all wired up and returned home to Sandakan to recover and undergo rehabilitation for three weeks, missing valuable study and examination preparation time.

He was under tremendous pressure to attain his degree but his father, Dr K.H. Tan, a former rugby player and now the vice-president of Eagles Rugby Club, Sandakan, just told Nathanael to give his best shot.

“He was under tremendous pressure to pass with flying colours because he was a good student. But the unfortunate injury took away valuable studying time and the process of healing took a toll on him too,” said KH as he is affectionately known.

Nathanael Tan, proud winner of Blue Award from Auckland University of Technology.

“I just told him to do his best and if the results were not satisfactory, he can stay on for another year to get his degree, although it was going to cost a bit.

“But Nathanael showed tremendous determination to overcome all the obstacles and odds to come off with flying colours in the end.”

The AUT Blue award is the highest sporting accolade attainable at university level in New Zealand, which is given annually celebrating the achievements of high performance athletes and recognising their commitment between studies and sports.

The university rated as the top sporting university in New Zealand excels in 25 sports and has 22,000 students under its wings. Only 33 were awarded the AUT Blue awards and for Nathanael to be among them is indeed a great and proud feat.

But Nathanael is his modest self. “I would not have achieved anything without the support, encouragement and belief of my parents, the club and my rugby friends. Each one of them has played a key role.

“This award is for them. And to have won it back-to-back only underlines their continued support and belief in me which spurred me on despite the serious injury which nearly derailed me,” said Nathanael who is now a coaching staff of the Eagles Rugby Club in Sandakan.

Nathan started playing rugby as a 14-year-old and gained admission to AUT because of his rugby and studies. He had also played for North Harbour while in New Zealand, besides featuring for Sabah Eagles in the Cobra 10s.

His blue award was handed over personally by Professor John Cronin, the Sports and Exercise Science – Strength and conditioning Director at AUT – and International Relations Director on Monday at the Eagles Rugby Club premises, in the presence of club president Velayuthan Tan, who is also the Sabah Rugby Union President and Malaysia Rugby deputy president and an Executive Board member of Asia Rugby.

Also present were Nanthanael’s parents – KH and Winnie – uncle Sagaran Tan, close family friends and his club teammates and coaching staff.

Cronin, an authority in strength and conditioning also conducted a day and half course for the coaching staff of Eagles Rugby Club.