YAOTY nominees (National School Games)

Young guns overcome odds

From left: The Straits Times Young Athlete of the Year nominees Grace Shani Anthony (athletics); Ardi Zulhilmi (swimming) and Deborah Lee (hockey). The others are Evan Poo (softball) and Gune Atharva Rahul (cricket). ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
From left: The Straits Times Young Athlete of the Year nominees Grace Shani Anthony (athletics); Ardi Zulhilmi (swimming) and Deborah Lee (hockey). The others are Evan Poo (softball) and Gune Atharva Rahul (cricket). ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Despite illness and serious injuries, these students display grit and guts to succeed

When the going gets tough for swimmer Ardi Zulhilmi Mohamed Azman, hockey goalkeeper Deborah Lee and runner Grace Shani Anthony, they don't throw in the towel. Instead, they plough on to repay the faith of their family, friends and teammates.

At the Schools National Swimming Championships last April, Ardi felt ill at the 800m mark of the B Division boys' 1,500m freestyle final and vomited.

Panicking momentarily, the 16-year-old Outram Secondary School student lost his momentum and slowed down but he quickly regained his composure.

He said: "I knew I couldn't stop during the race and I didn't want that to affect me.

"So I just focused on the race because I really wanted to win this gold for my school because they have supported me a lot."

His perseverance paid off as he went on to win his first National School Games (NSG) gold in 16min 41.05sec, before clinching his second in the 200m individual medley in a personal best time of 2:10.65.

Two months later, he bagged a bronze in the 200m freestyle (1:55.23) at the Asean School Games in Semarang, Indonesia.

Ardi's resilience has earned him a nomination for The Straits Times Young Athlete of the Year award, alongside four other student-athletes.

Fellow nominees Lee and Anthony also displayed determination to overcome their respective injuries to shine at last year's NSG.

 
 

Two months before the Schools National A Division girls' hockey competition in April, Eunoia Junior College goalkeeper Lee picked up a grade 1 medial collateral ligament injury. She returned to training only a few weeks before the season kicked off.

Her concern about being a liability to her team due to the lengthy layoff only served as a motivation for the 18-year-old to work harder to prepare for the school season.

POSITIVE THINKING

There were a lot of negative thoughts... But my friends, teammates and family encouraged me. I believed that things would turn out for the better and I told myself that I won't let this setback pull me down.

DEBORAH LEE, hockey goalkeeper, on returning to training after a lengthy injury layoff.

She said: "There were a lot of negative thoughts like, 'will I pull my teammates down?' But my friends, teammates and family encouraged me. I believed that things would turn out for the better and I told myself that I won't let this setback pull me down.

"I was part of a team and it would not be fair if I couldn't play my own part, so that was my driving force," added Lee, who is awaiting her GCE A-level results.

Her fears proved unfounded as she kept a clean sheet throughout the tournament, which was key in winning the team's first A Division title. In the final, she even saved a crucial penalty in the 1-0 shoot-out win over 16-time champions Victoria Junior College.

Similarly, then-Raffles Institution sprinter Anthony saw her dreams of competing at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires dashed after tearing her left meniscus in a car accident while on holiday in California in December 2017.

After spending nine months away from the track, returning to training was tough as she had to start from scratch, but she persevered with the encouragement from her friends, family and coaches.

"I was off my usual standards in my first few races back and I was super sad after the races," said the 18-year-old. "But everyone, even the other coaches, knew about what happened and told me that it was okay and that it would take a lot of time to get back because I hadn't been racing for a year."

 
 

Last January, she won the 100m and 200m at the Singapore Athletics School Meet Episode 1, before clinching the A girls' 200m title in 26.09 two months later. She also won a gold in the 4x100m relay at July's Vietnam Open.

Grace added that the accident has taught her "a lot of values and showed me that I can accomplish anything that I want to do".

The other nominees are Catholic High School softballer Evan Poo and Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) cricketer Gune Atharva Rahul.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 17, 2020, with the headline 'Young guns overcome odds'. Print Edition | Subscribe