December winner: Amita Berthier

ST Star of the Month award: Fencer Amita Berthier to study at University of Notre Dame

ST sports editor Lee Yulin (right) and F&N Foods general manager Jennifer See presenting December's ST Star of the Month award to Uma Berthier, who accepted it on behalf of her daughter, national fencer Amita Berthier. Amita is in Poland for a compet
ST sports editor Lee Yulin (right) and F&N Foods general manager Jennifer See presenting December's ST Star of the Month award to Uma Berthier, who accepted it on behalf of her daughter, national fencer Amita Berthier. Amita is in Poland for a competition.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Busy year ahead for 17-year-old, who had a successful 2017 but remains hungry to excel further

Amita Berthier's new year's resolution is simple: To make this year as productive as 2017 was for her.

To say the 17-year-old national foil fencer had an outstanding past 12 months is an understatement.

In April, she secured a bronze medal in the cadet category at the Junior and Cadet World Championships. She then reached the last 32 of the World Fencing Championships in July, before winning gold on her debut at the SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, a month later.

She then topped all that by winning a Junior World Cup title at the Havana leg in Cuba last month, the first Singaporean to achieve that.

It has earned her The Straits Times Star of the Month award for December. The award is an extension of ST's Athlete of the Year award, launched in 2008. Both are backed by F&N's 100Plus.

Amita, who is in Katowice, Poland, for the women's foil World Cup, told ST in a phone interview: "I feel honoured and humbled but, honestly, I am far from being a star.

"I have so much more work to put in and to further improve on my skill set.

STRONG DRIVE TO IMPROVE

My work has just begun. I have lots to work on, I want to keep my dream alive constantly, and to better myself... That keeps pushing me."

AMITA BERTHIER , who is determined to stay grounded despite her success in 2017.

"However, this recognition is a testament to my coach's time and effort, my mum's belief in my dream, the unstinting support given by my federation and the Singapore Sports Institute."

Her mother Uma received the award yesterday on her behalf, and said the gong would "motivate her to keep going and believe in her ability".

ST sports editor Lee Yulin noted Amita's determination to improve her skills by moving to Boston at the start of last year.

"To move abroad at such a young age to pursue her sporting ambition, is commendable. And Amita has been reaping the rewards of her dedication and commitment to fencing. We hope this award will spur her to even greater achievements in 2018 and beyond," she said.

Amita took a month-long break after her triumph in Cuba to recharge and went on a family holiday to visit her grandparents in France, and then London.

But she is likely to get her wish for a busy 2018. After this weekend's tournament, she will compete at next month's Asian Junior & Cadet Championships in Dubai and hopes to feature at the Asian Games in Jakarta in August.

In September, she will begin school at the University of Notre Dame, the reigning National Collegiate Athletic Association fencing champions. The school boasts former US Olympic team coaches Buckie Leach and Greg Massialas among its staff while American Lee Kiefer, ranked fourth in the world in women's foil and Amita's idol, is a Notre Dame alumna.

Amita received the good news two days before the New Year, while she was in London.

"She got a FaceTime call from Notre Dame head coach Gia Kvaratskhelia, who told her the news," said Uma. "She was composed during the phone call but, the moment the FaceTime was over, she let out one big scream.

"She had interest from Ivy League schools like Harvard, Columbia and Cornell, but she asked herself what she wants to do with her love for fencing, while balancing academics, and felt Notre Dame would give her a balance of the two."

For Amita, her success has only made her hungrier.

"My work has just begun. I have lots to work on, I want to keep my dream alive constantly, and to better myself... That keeps pushing me," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2018, with the headline 'Teen fencer bound for Notre Dame'. Print Edition | Subscribe