THE 29th edition of the SEA Games marked another special milestone in Malaysia’s history. The event had introduced many new talents with world-class potential and among them were three women athletes, who showed the international sports arena that they have what it takes.
Meet Tanalaksiumy Mahenthiran Rayer, Siti Nor Suhaida Jafri and Anja Chong.
SPRINTING TO SUCCESS
When she smiles, the world smiles with her — that’s our national sprinter Tanalaksiumy Mahenthiran Rayer, 23.
Jovial and bubbly, Tanalaksiumy, fondly known as Tana, won the bronze medal for Malaysia in the 4x400m women’s relay. She was also a top 10 finalist in the Miss Universe Malaysia 2017 pageant.
“SEA Games 2017 has been my proudest achievement so far,” says the Help University student. “And it was very meaningful for me because I almost had to quit the sport altogether when my leg was badly broken in 2015,” adds the mixed blood beauty who is from Penang.
Tana has always been active in sports since primary school. Initially, she contested in 100m and 200m before switching to 4x400m. She missed the opportunity to compete in the 2015 SEA Games due to that broken leg two months before the event.
“That was the first time I saw my parents, Mahenthiran Rayer and Teoh Lay Suan, cry. My father asked me to hang up my spikes, forget the sport and focus on my studies. But I’m not the kind of person who gives up easily. I took it as a challenge, worked to heal faster, got back on my feet again and went for my goal. And that bronze medal has proven it all,” she says.
She trains at Majlis Sukan Negara, Bukit Jalil in the mornings and afternoons, six days a week. During her free time, she is busy with her assignments, photoshoots and functions.
“There are days when I feel like just staying in bed and doing nothing. But I always think of what my mother says, that the early bird gets the worm. That keeps me going every day. I want to get the best of whatever the world is offering me,” she says, adding that her parents and sister, Priyalakshimi (coach for Perak’s shooting team) are her inspirations and pillars of strength.
Her advice to excel in sports?
“Passion, commitment and perseverance are important if you want to be a good athlete. And don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it when you know you can. When I competed in the beauty pageant, for instance, people said I didn’t fit the bill because I’m not feminine and whatnot. But I proved them wrong.
“At the end of the day, just remember that people should respect you for who you are and not what you are,” says the athlete who loves food, nature and evergreen music.
What if she really had hung up her spikes in 2015? “Maybe I would have become a pathologist or simply a crusader for a cause I’m passionate about.”
FROM MOTOCROSS TO SEPAK TAKRAW
Siti Nor Suhaida Jafri, 21, comes from Kampung Rahmat Padang 9 in Kuala Krai, Kelantan. Haida is shy, well-mannered and blessed with a sweet, childlike face. But, when she is on the sepak takraw court, her “tekong” prowess shines more than anything else.
Haida was in the national women’s sepak takraw squad which grabbed the silver medal.
“I knew that people made a hoo-ha about me because I was the only one wearing a tudung in the team. Perhaps, people thought it looked awkward in a so-called man’s game. But, as always, I didn’t care what people said because I’ve always been doing tough and rough sports like motocross since I was 8,” says Haida who started wearing the tudung during Ramadan this year.
The fourth in a family of six all-girl siblings, she is the only one who is into sports. She entered her first motocross championship in 2009. But she suffered several injuries in the sport that prompted her parents, Jafri Abdullah (a veteran motocross racer) and Roslenzalma Yussof to ask her to quit at 14 and think about other sports.
“Why did I take up sepak takraw? Well, I love the sport. I used to follow my dad to watch the guys in my village play the game. It may look tough and tricky but it is very interesting to play when you have the skills.
“I learnt to play sepak takraw from the people in my village and they’ve been supporting me ever since,” she says.
Haida was called up to play for the national team after the 2014 Sukma Games. Currently she is juggling her time between training at Majlis Sukan Negara in Keramat, Kuala Lumpur and studying for her degree in sports science at Universiti Tekologi Mara in Shah Alam, Selangor.
She trains from 6.30-7am, 9.30am-noon and 3-6pm and at other times is kept busy with classes and assignments. Her only time off is on Sundays — the day when she spends her time watching romantic movies, or just sleeping in.
“Yes, my schedule is hectic and there are times when I feel like not going for training. But I can’t allow myself to continue feeling that way because I have dreams and I want to succeed in whatever I’m doing now. Besides, my bodyclock is somehow ‘programmed’ to consistently wake me early in the morning and I usually regret it if I don’t follow my routine,” she adds.
Haida says to be a good athlete, discipline matters most. “In diet, for instance, I make sure that I follow the recommended diet and practise portion control when I’m not training,” she says.
Haida used to dream of joining the airforce but is now on a different path. “My dream now is to become a world champion. I want to make my family and my country proud.
“Ultimately, I want to succeed in both sports and education, just like Datuk Nicol David,” she says.
MALAYSIA’S ICE QUEEN
THE 2017 SEA Games marked a first in the events category as it hosted the first ever winter sports at the summer games. Anja Chong, 23, was among the athletes who made the country proud on the ice rink. Dubbed the Malaysian Ice Queen, the short track speed skater bagged gold medals in the 500m, 1,000m and 3,000m women’s relay.
Anja is currently training abroad for the World Cup Olympic qualifiers.
HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN AN ACTIVE PERSON?
When I was a kid, I would run around my neighbourhood every day. Running to me was like my sanctuary, the place I went to when I needed to de-stress or escape. Unfortunately, I had ankle problems and I was told to choose between running and skating. I took up figure skating and competed until I was 15. I was also into cross-country, touch rugby and cheerleading — I was the president of my cheerleading team when I was studying for my law degree at the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom.
WHAT MADE YOU FALL IN LOVE WITH SHORT TRACK SPEED SKATING?
The speed and the thrill of having to think smart and fast to execute race tactics, and to adapt and make split-second decisions. I love the competition and athleticism. I love how strong it makes me feel both mentally and physically. I love the strength short track gives me and the fact that it’s breaking gender barriers and stereotypes of what women should be.
WHAT IS YOUR DAILY FITNESS ROUTINE LIKE?
The life of an athlete is not as glamorous as it is made out to be. At the core of excellence of anything is just plain hard work. Usually I train up to four hours in the morning, two hours on ice and two hours off ice which can be anything from weight training, resistance bike training, skating imitations, stairs, sprints, box jumps, etc. In the afternoon, it’s another two hours off ice and then two hours on ice.
WHAT IS YOUR DIET LIKE?
When I’m in training, I follow a strict ketogenic diet which is high fat and low carb. I’ve had many problems with my diet and in trying to stay lean. The hardest part about maintaining my diet — like with anything — is to keep going! It can also be hard to find clean and healthy food options when travelling.
WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT OR YOUR PROUDEST MOMENT SO FAR?
My clean sweep of three gold medals at the recent SEA Games. I had a tough year riddled with many obstacles leading up to even the day of the SEA Games. Many people wanted to see me fail. So, when I was able to show the world what I could do and rise above it all, it was a very precious moment for me.
WHO INSPIRES YOU?
My mother, Sonja Chong. For me, she is a beautiful, strong woman. In my opinion, idols don’t have to be celebrities or people you have never met. Most superheroes don’t wear capes, they’re there in our everyday lives, being the glue that holds us together and sacrificing themselves for others every day. They go unnoticed and never ask for any recognition. For me, these types of people are the true inspirations.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO EXCEL IN THE SPORT AND AS AN ATHLETE IN GENERAL?
The same thing it takes to excel at anything in life: Hard work, grit, commitment, repetition, strength and heart.
WHAT IS YOUR MOTTO IN LIFE?
“Somewhere inside all of us is the power to change the world.” — Roald Dahl, British author and scriptwriter
COMPLETE THIS SENTENCE: IF I WERE NOT A SHORT TRACK SPEED SKATER ATHLETE, I WOULD BE …
Someone who would advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves or hopefully someone who can help others feel a little less alone and a little more beautiful and strong. And hopefully someone who can make just one person smile a little more and cry a little less.