Brush with death gives cancer fighter idea to help people drive dream cars
It was a near brush with death that got this man into the business of giving people the chance to drive their dream cars.
Mr Shawn Low, 33, had it all once.
Back in November 2012, his automotive business was doing so well that he was able to buy a pre-owned Lamborghini that cost about $400,000. It was quite a jump from his previous car, a Nissan Silvia S15.
Speaking to this correspondent, he says with a boyish smile: "I had always dreamt of getting one, even as a young boy."
But mere months into driving it, he got news from his doctors that his rare brain cancer had returned.
It was just after Chinese New Year last year, he remembers. "It was devastating."
He was first diagnosed with cancer of the pineal gland, which is located in the brain, in 2008. The tumour was, at the time, the size of a ping pong ball.
He battled it and thought he had won: He was months shy of the five-year mark - a milestone when doctors consider cancer to be in remission. But it came back with a vengeance.
And it didn't help that he was making plans to marry his long-time girlfriend Marilyn Teo, 29, but doctors were telling him to prepare for the worst as the cancer had spread to the spine.
"They were not optimistic that I would make it. I was afraid of dying. I didn't want to die," he says.
It marked the start of eight intense months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy sessions, each lasting between six and 12 hours a day. He also had spine surgery.
It was during the worst of the chemo, lying in a bed in Singapore General Hospital, with a chemo drip attached, that he cottoned on to the idea of helping people live their dreams.
As an auto nut, he thought about how he could bring the joy of driving a supercar to the masses - at an affordable price.
So Dream Drive, which offers a pay-for-ride service in a Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder, a Maserati GranTurismo and an Audi R8, was born in April this year. The cars can cost in the range of $1 million in the current market.
He says: "The doctors ordered that I rest and I was resting. But I also needed to 'work' on something to distract myself."
Fees for the rides are priced between $238 and $788. Mr Low reveals that his partners were not confident of the business model when he sounded the idea to them. But he went ahead because of his own love.
"To me, the Lamborghini is a fun car to drive and I want to share that joy of a supercar experience," he says.
"I want to make it affordable for the masses because it does not have to be a car for only the rich. I am fortunate enough to get that opportunity and I want to help others with the same passion but not the wealth, realise that dream."
About 70 per cent of Dream Drive's customers are tourists, the rest locals.
And it is not just men who are taking the supercar for a ride. There are two groups of women buyers, says Miss Teo.
One group buys the rides as presents for their boyfriends or husbands. Another group, says Mr Low, are those "like some of my friends", who own a supercar "but don't want their wife or girlfriend to drive the car in case she crashes it, so they send the women over to us to experience what it is like to drive one".
Mr Low concedes that there are plenty of criticisms tagged to supercar drivers or lovers. And there are those who feel that he is a spoilt, rich kid, since he was able to afford a Lamborghini in his early 30s.
But his success was not a handout. Though his father is the general manager of an engineering company, and mum runs a lighting company, they did not bankroll his cars or business, which he started from scratch.
Mr Low says ruefully: "I wish it were true that I can stretch out my hand and get my dad or mum to give me the money to buy a car.
"But the truth is, the first car I owned was an old Honda Civic that I bought with the $10,000 my dad lent me.
"I asked him then, what car could I buy with that kind of money, and he told me to go and find one on my own."
Mr Low has stopped wondering when he will be given an all-clear by doctors, but he says: "Each day when I wake up and see the sun, I am grateful for another day of living."
He is better now and has resumed planning for his wedding. He also hopes to get involved in charitable initiatives, especially to raise more awareness or funds on brain cancer.
But first, he has this message for cancer patients: "Don't give up. We can always fight and beat it even though it is easier said than done. Learn to lean on your loved ones. I am fortunate to have them. I wanted to give up a few times, but my friends and family pushed me to keep going.
"I made three new friends while undergoing chemo but none of them pulled through. I am blessed to make it this far."