International Women’s Day: Women in Sports

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In celebration of International Women’s Day’s #BeBoldForChange theme, uncovers the attitudes and motivations behind Singaporean female athletes: a Paralympic swimmer, professional tennis player, national netball players and Special Olympics bowler.

By Thompson Wong and ShuQi Liu

Strength often resides unacknowledged in sport especially for female athletes. For them, fear is confronted, worn and crushed with courage on a daily basis. Nowhere has this year’s #BeBoldForChange theme for International Women’s Day (IWD) been more resonant than women in sports.

We interviewed five amazing women who stay on top of their game by embracing boldness and strength. From a Paralympic swimmer to a professional tennis player, we highlight the daily battles they continue to fight and conquer with a smile. Despite setbacks in funding, age, disabilities and repeated failures, what motivates them to continue competing? What defines strength? What is courage?

After all, it takes a special breed of woman to look beyond our country’s GDP-obsessed priorities to strive for prominence and respect, while creating significant ripples in their chosen sport despite the potential risk of failure.

“To those wanting to pursue sports professionally, I say do it if it makes you happy. Life is short, live it fully with no regrets!”

Theresa Goh attributes her clinching swimming medals since 1999 to the tremendous amount of support she received from family and friends around her. “They help keep my goals in mind, remind what I want to achieve and why. I’ve had low times where I felt like giving up, so finding the time to rest and recover is important,” says the Paralympic gold medallist.

Doyenne: It is challenging to be a sportswoman, let alone one from Singapore. What does #beboldforchange mean to you?

Theresa: #Beboldforchange means pushing myself out of my comfort zone and to seize more moments. IWD is a reminder that we still have a long way to go to achieve equality. There’s been some progress but we need to move faster. It takes everyone’s effort to make progress and I don’t think it’s too much to want to be treated equally.

D: What can women in sports do to contribute to #BeBoldForChange?

T: To speak out for other women and allow ourselves to be who we are. Society expect us to juggle between being feminine and strong at the same time. We – not just sports women, but women in general – should be bold in challenging those stereotypes.

D: Given your Paralympic successes last year, what would you say to parents whose children love sports?  

T: Give your child a chance to pursue what they love. As women in sports, we’re doing what we love and we have a lot of support from our family. To those wanting to pursue sports professionally, I say do it if it makes you happy. Life is short, live it fully with no regrets!

I am picky who I spend my time with, and choosing the people I want to surround myself with is also extremely important.

Sarah Pang is a professional tennis player chasing her dreams in the Women’s Pro Circuit. “The biggest party you are accountable to is yourself,” the athletic woman begins. “A very hard thing is finding the courage to say, what am I really capable of? I may know deep down but yet be frightened of its very possibility. But honestly, a lot of us know what makes us come alive.”

Doyenne: Describe your relationship with strength.

Sarah: It takes courage and serious self-talk to recognise being the best of ourselves is the very definition of strength. It doesn’t matter what other people say, or what your feelings tell you. The reality is you are worth it. You can do it. You need to keep telling yourself that.

D: What habits keep you thinking and moving forward?

S: I focus on cultivating joy and a sense of gratefulness. I make it a point to be mindful what I let into my system. I am picky who I spend my time with, and choosing the people I want to surround myself with is also extremely important.

One other habit I have particularly in periods when I feel down and out, is to make it a point to find ways to give back, reach out, and love others. When I feel extremely stressed about funding, it can be sending an old friend a word of encouragement, hugging my parents, or buying char kuey tiao for my brother.

D: What do you do in the professional circuit that surprises people?

S: Even though we travel the world, the honest truth is I rarely have time to see it. I have the same routine pretty much every day: eat, practice, rest and recover.

D: How does the next three years look like for you?

S: I am stoked and really excited! I currently don’t have enough financial support to play Tour for 2017 and it has been a serious effort paying for training and tournaments.

But I also believe that this has forced me to wear a thicker skin, to break into difficult conversations, and just keep pushing. I have always wished to focus on training and competing but it’s also provided me a certain tilt of learning and growth as an individual that many other tennis players do not have.

“Believe in yourself! Never get stuck in the rut for more than what you think it’s worth.”

National athletes Charmaine Soh and Micky Lin have come a long way holding the torch for Netball Singapore. As the number of females playing the sport increase, netball has become a household name for inspiring more girls to build character through sports. “People love and enjoy playing netball,” Charmaine starts. “Planning for a great developmental path from the ground up is key,” Micky adds. Together, they are confident in netball’s bright future in Singapore.

Doyenne: What is one personal milestone you experienced that embodies #beboldforchange?

Micky: I was given the opportunity to share my experience and growing up journey with youths at SportCares. They were going through a challenging period in their lives. The key message in my sharing was exactly that – be bold for change.

Charmaine: In 2013, I wanted to leave the netball scene for good. However, the help of teammates, coaches and most importantly, the change in mentality and perseverance, made me fight harder. Believe in yourself! Never get stuck in the rut for more than what you think it’s worth.

D: What do you do in netball that would surprise people?

M: At my peak, I could do 10 chin-ups.

C:  I am a fighter and a very competitive person. But as tough as I might be on court, I do break down after losing, knowing it wasn’t my best effort.

D: What does #beboldforchange mean to you in 2017?

M: This year’s theme encourages me to reach out to more girls and inspire them to live a better life through sports. IWD is a celebration of women’s successes and achievements. Regardless of whether she is a celebrated athlete, a successful business woman or a capable housewife, we all contribute in our own unique ways.

C: I will be courageous in stepping up to the challenges ahead of me in 2017. Apart from gender equality, IWD is a day where women globally gather to commemorate what we believe in.

“My purpose is to inspire others. Having shared my story at many conferences and seminars, I have transformed from a shy girl to a confident, independent woman.”

Hanako Sawayama is one smart cookie. As the Athlete Leader during Special Olympics Asia Pacific, she epitomises the often mentioned catchphrase: never give up. She was part of the 44-athlete delegations during the 2003 World Summer Games in Dublin, Ireland, representing Singapore in bowling. She won one Gold female doubles, one Silver female single, and one Silver mixed doubles. Hanako doesn’t let intellectual disabilities hold her back – she has a full-time administrative position whilst actively participating in sports.  

Doyenne: As a sportswoman, how can you #BeBoldForChange?

Hanako: Sports bring people of all abilities together. Beyond winning, it is about trying my best. Sport also brings people together on the same playing field, to create opportunities and change mindsets.

D: How do you wish to inspire females?

H:  I am active in sports, and was made a Global Messenger for the Special Olympics. Today, I give back as a bowling coach and ambassador for the movement. Whether you are a person with or without intellectual disability, we are able to fulfil our potential if we are willing to try.

D: What keeps you moving forward?

H: Every Thursday, I have bowling training with other athletes. I am also employed as a full-time administrative assistant. I am an independent adult, earning my own keep and holding a job.

D: What is your main goal in the Special Olympics?

H: My purpose is to inspire others. Having shared my story at many conferences and seminars, I have transformed from a shy girl to a confident, independent woman. I will continue to be a voice for Special Olympics – to inspire more people with intellectual disabilities to join the movement and transform their lives.

International Women’s Day falls on 8 March annually. This year’s theme of #BeBoldForChange calls for all to help forge a better working world – a more inclusive, gender equal world. To learn more, visit here.

If you’d like to follow more of Sarah Pang’s life on tour, you can catch her on Instagram and Facebook @TenniswithSarah.

Images by Juliana Tan, Hanako Sawayama, Team Singapore, Charmaine Soh & Micky Lin.


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