All-around cham­pi­ons

In con­junc­tion with milo’s Fuel For cham­pi­ons cam­paign, for­mer na­tional gym­nasts dr Far­rah Hani imran and Sa­rina Sun­dara ra­jah talk about how be­ing ac­tive in sports ben­e­fited them.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FAMILY - By GAYATHRI NAIR star2@thes­tar.com.my

STRETCH­ING the hours and jug­gling dif­fer­ent re­spon­si­bil­i­ties were a way of life for for­mer gym­nasts Dr Far­rah Hani Imran, 36 and Sa­rina Sun­dara Ra­jah, 31, from young.

Dur­ing their com­pet­i­tive years, they had to deal with the de­mands of school­work, train­ing and ev­ery­thing else teenagers had to con­tend with.

“Hon­estly, time was money, back then. We trained ev­ery day and we had to bal­ance home­work, house­work, train­ing and hav­ing a so­cial life all in one.

“If you didn’t find the time to com­plete your home­work, your so­cial life would take a fall. I missed friends birth­day par­ties and other gath­er­ings.

“When school hol­i­days ar­rived, it was filled with train­ing with the team or study­ing for ex­ams,” rem­i­nis­cences Dr Far­rah who is the Head of Plas­tics and Re­con­struc­tive Surgery in Hos­pi­tal Univer­sity Ke­bangsaan Malaysia (HUKM).

The pace was pun­ish­ing, but Dr Far­rah says it was a life les­son well worth learn­ing.

“This wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing, be­cause we learned to ap­pre­ci­ate things bet­ter and not take ev­ery­thing for granted such as spend­ing time with fam­ily and friends and con­nect­ing with sib­lings,” says Dr Far­rah who learnt to pri­ori­tise.

“As I was grow­ing up, apart from gym­nas­tics, I also got my­self in­volved in a few other ac­tiv­i­ties, such as bal­let and the school choir. But I set achiev­able goals and reached them with­out over­whelm­ing my­self.

“My par­ents were very sup­port­ive. They would take turns send­ing me to my classes and help­ing me with my rou­tines. My big brother too played his part by help­ing me stay fo­cused and con­stantly be­ing there for me through some hard times,” she shares.

Aside from time man­age­ment, both ath­letes agree that get­ting in­volved in sports dur­ing their school days helped build char­ac­ter, im­prove their con­cen­tra­tion and work in a team.

“As a team, we worked to­gether. But in­di­vid­u­ally, we were com­pet­i­tive with each other. And be­cause of that, I be­came com­pet­i­tive in school and al­ways aimed high,” re­lates Sa­rina.

Her par­ents were sup­port­ive of her in­volve­ment in rhyth­mic gym­nas­tics, but they were also very strict. She knew she had to keep her grades up if she wanted to be ac­tive in sports.

“Be­ing the el­dest, I had to set good ex­am­ples for my two sis­ters and brother. I think the idea is to cre­ate aware­ness and make par­ents re­alise that no mat­ter how ac­tive a child is in ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties, they can still make time for their stud­ies.

“In fact, it was the val­ues I learned at train­ing camp that helped me be more or­gan­ised and to see the big­ger pic­ture,” says Sa­rina who has set up a gym­nas­tic school in Pe­tal­ing Jaya called the Sa­rina Sun­dara Ra­jah Gym­nas­tic Club (SRGC).

Sa­rina’s par­ents weren’t the only ones who en­cour­aged and sup­ported her in her en­deav­ours. Her aunt too had be­come in­volved in her ath­letic pas­sion and was a

‘Hon­estly, time was money, back then. We trained ev­ery day and we had to bal­ance home­work, house­work, train­ing and hav­ing a so­cial

life all at the same time,’ says for­mer na­tional

gym­nasts, dr Far­rah Hani imran. (inset) Far­rah dur­ing her com­pet­i­tive

days. con­stant mo­ti­va­tor.

“My aunt played a piv­otal role and of­fered me the con­fi­dence I needed to achieve suc­cess. At times, when I thought I just couldn’t han­dle it any­more and the pres­sure was get­ting to me, she was my rock and helped me over­come any ob­sta­cles I faced,” says Sa­rina.

Dr Far­rah says her par­ents played a cru­cial role in her de­vel­op­ment as they gave her the con­fi­dence to ex­plore her ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

“They made me feel con­fi­dent about my choices by sup­port­ing the choices I made. My par­ents ap­proached my in­ter­est with an open mind and were sup­port­ive from the very be­gin­ning,” she says.

There were sac­ri­fices Dr Far­rah and Sa­rina had to make, such as for­go­ing an ac­tive so­cial life.

“To me, I think it was mostly not hav­ing enough time to so­cialise with the op­po­site sex,” says Dr Far­rah.

While her friends were out dat­ing dur­ing their teenage years, she was busy train­ing. But, it was worth the wait, she says. “To­day I am hap­pily mar­ried to my or­thopaedic hus­band!” she says. Both ath­letes have no re­grets though. “I think things would have turned out rather dif­fer­ently if I did not join the gym­nas­tic team in pri­mary school. I don’t know if I would have met my won­der­ful hus­band, or if I would have pur­sued my dreams of be­com­ing a doc­tor,” says Dr Far­rah.

As for Sa­rina, she is grate­ful that she had op­por­tu­ni­ties many chil­dren only dreamt of.

“At 12, I was al­ready trav­el­ling around the world and to a kid like me that was a big deal. There are cer­tain lessons you learn in the field, which can­not be taught in class,” she says.

Sa­rina also thinks that schools to­day should have a va­ri­ety of sport­ing ac­tiv­i­ties that will en­tice chil­dren.

“Kids to­day are ex­posed to a lot more as com­pared to many years back and no mat­ter what age you’re at, it’s never too late to start,” she en­cour­ages.

“Par­ents come to my gym­nas­tic school and en­quire if it’s too late to en­rol their kids in the sport. Even though I teach chil­dren as young as four, I still en­cour­age par­ents to sign up their older kids, as I be­lieve they should al­ways sup­port their in­ter­ests.

As for Dr Far­rah, she be­lieves par­ents can form bonds with their chil­dren by tak­ing an in­ter­est in their ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties. “I spent qual­ity time with my par­ents as they at­tended com­pe­ti­tions and drove me to classes. Dur­ing those times, we learned from one another.”

Per­fect pose: Sa­rina Sun­dara ra­jah, a for­mer gym­nast, now trains young gym­nasts at her school (inset) Sun­dara ra­jah Gym­nas­tic club (SrGc).

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