SINGAPORE – After missing out on the Hanoi SEA Games in 2022, Singapore boxer Danisha Mathialagan thought she had done enough to qualify for the 2023 edition in Cambodia.
To her dismay, her women’s light flyweight category (50kg) was then cancelled.
With the jump to bantamweight (54kg) being a step too far, Danisha, who reached the quarter-finals in the 2019 edition, wanted to retire from the sport.
The 25-year-old said: “Last year, I could not qualify as I did not have enough fights at the height of Covid-19.
“Medalling at the SEA Games was always my goal. I honestly thought about retiring after I realised they cancelled my weight class.”
But her coach, three-time SEA Games bronze medallist Muhamad Ridhwan, convinced her to stay the course.
The 35-year-old, who co-founded Legends Fight Sport, the boxing club where Danisha trains, said: “I truly believe she has got the potential. I’ve seen her fight against top-level boxers and she has held her own against them.
“She works hard, she listens and most importantly she fits into the training programme.”
Danisha, who in 2022 defeated Madeleine Bowen, Australia’s No. 1 boxer in the 48kg class, said: “Ridhwan told me not to give up. He and my friends from Legends Fight Sport, where I have been since I was 17, are my personal cheerleaders.
“After their words of encouragement, I thought I would continue boxing and see what the future holds.”
She will next compete in a World Boxing Tour event in Morocco in February to prepare for the Women’s World Boxing Championships in New Delhi in March.
The long-term aim is to try and qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics to become the first Singaporean on that stage since Syed Abdul Kadir competed in Munich in 1972.
Ridhwan said: “For 2023, the priority is for Danisha to compete in high-level tournaments and to see if she is able to withstand the pressure in those situations.
“Qualifiers for the Olympics will begin only in 2024, so we are also preparing her with that goal in mind.”
While participation in the May SEA Games is out of the question, Ridhwan hopes Danisha can still compete in September’s Asian Games in Hangzhou, China.
To do that, she will have to perform well in her upcoming overseas competitions and hope that is enough to earn the Singapore National Olympic Council’s nod via an appeal.
Another obstacle Danisha faces is travel expenses. As the Singapore Boxing Federation receives limited funding, boxers who wish to compete in overseas tournaments are mostly self-funded.
In 2021, she raised $5,000 from a crowdfunding campaign which will help her foot most of the expenses for Morocco and India.
While she aims to advance in the world rankings, Danisha will also not neglect her academic pursuits.
“When I’m in New Delhi competing in March, I will also have to bring my school work along with me,” said Danisha, who is pursuing a degree in diagnostic radiography at the Singapore Institute of Technology and freelances as an embalmer.
“That period coincides with my examinations which I will have to do online.
“Being a part-time athlete juggling many commitments is not easy. I’ve been doing this for eight to nine years and we shall see whether I am meant to stay in this sport.”