When Tan was a senior in high school, he lost his mother, Vicky, to colon cancer.
“It was tough, but we kind of saw it coming because two years before, she had been diagnosed with it,” Tan said. “They gave her a set time to live and during that time, she really did a good job of preparing my brother and me to deal with the situation.”
Despite all the preparations, however, Vicky’s death still took its toll on her youngest son.
“It wasn’t a huge surprise, but at the same time, emotionally, it was hard to take,” he said. “It kind of messed me up for a while, both inside the gym and outside the gym.”
Tan says that his mother’s death put things in perspective and made him realize how special life is. He is close with his father, Peter, a computer programmer, and his older brother, Kai Yuan, a chef in San Francisco. With their help, Tan realized that he needed to take advantage of every day.
At first, gymnastics was a way for Tan to earn a college scholarship and to take the financial burden off his parents. But what he then realized is good advice for everyone, no matter what the situation.
“When you put your mind to something, you have to follow through with it. You have to try your hardest to get to where you want to be and there aren’t really any shortcuts or any ways around it.”
His family focus also is evident in his life choices after gymnastics. A 2004 graduate of Penn State University, Tan plans on using his finance major and economics minor for some type of business career. To make money, of course, but not to have an expensive car or take long vacations. His career aspirations run deeper than materialistic motives.
“I’m really focused on finding a secure job where I can make enough money to raise a family,” he said.
And that job does not necessarily include the sport he has done since he was a little boy.
“I hated it,” he laughed. “I couldn’t stand it. I’m pretty sure I cried the entire time.
“Then four years later, I decided I wanted to go back and do gymnastics. I was a hyperactive kid and I think my parents were happy to see me lose all my energy.”
Tan has always dreamed of competing in the Olympic Games or World Championships, but it wasn’t necessarily his first goal. Gymnastics was his way of getting into a good college and earning a scholarship to take the financial burden off his parents.
As he competed through college, he realized that his window of opportunity to compete in those two competitions was getting smaller and smaller, and that now was his time to capitalize on those opportunities. He has already competed on two U.S. World Championships Teams and the 2008 Olympic Games are just 16 months away.
“Now that it’s getting so close, I’m sort of perplexed to go. But it’s very exciting.”