Nominee #4: New Hui Fen (bowling)

ST Athlete of the Year: Talk of the town

New won't let negative chatter affect her, now believes she can win if she puts her mind to it

If there is one thing New Hui Fen understands about herself, it is that she is often a misunderstood character, perceived as aloof at times and brusque in other instances.

She reckons it has something to do with her no-holds-barred, straight-talking nature.

"I'm very honest," the national bowler confessed, noting she is not afraid to call the authorities out.

It is not for the sake of being confrontational. New's protective personality means she is often inclined to stand up for those she cares about. She would rather face friction head on before it festers into something worse.

She said: "People will think I'm very straightforward - maybe too straightforward, to the extent that it's inappropriate. But that's me. I'm one to speak my mind."

Misunderstandings thus come fairly frequently, with a particular one souring her start to last year.

The details are inconsequential for New now, although the 24-year-old does assert that she simply seeks the rationale behind rules.

She said: "It's not that I don't want to obey. I just really want to know why something is being done the way it is. I want to rationalise. I'm not being insubordinate.

"But I learnt as I got older that I have to pick my battles. I think I've matured."

Maturing is an apt way to describe how far the kegler has come, after a breakthrough year where she became the first Singaporean to win the prestigious Professional Women's Bowling Association (PWBA) Tour Championship.

Consistency through the season earned her the title of Rookie of the Year on the United States-based tour, and a nomination for The Straits Times' Athlete of the Year award.

She was also named Singapore Bowling's Bowler of the Year on Thursday.

New recalled of her season, where she finished among the top five in four other PWBA events: "It felt totally different this year. I felt ready. I wanted to see how I could match up - I didn't care who I was bowling with."

She has learnt not to get comfortable when she is ahead, working hard to stay focused through the year even as moments of glory came in quick succession.

Said New, who finished runner-up at the World Bowling Singles Championships: "I can get quite complacent when I'm doing well, so I was very cautious about letting that happen.

"That's probably my No. 1 weakness in bowling."

To help keep a steely focus, New refrains from showing emotion on the lanes, whether a curling shot from her right arm leads to a strike or a pin left standing.

But after lifting the prestigious PWBA Tour Championship, proving to herself she is capable of victory in a major event, the emotions and tears flowed freely.

She explained: "If you think about it, I always show up (at tournaments). I'd finish among the top four, but I never won.

"I always felt like I had a chance, but the results never seemed to prove it. I can win if I put my mind to it. Maybe I didn't believe that before."

Assured in who she is and what she is capable of, New is at peace with being misunderstood.

She said: "I don't really care if some people have negative opinions about me, because that just tells me that they don't know me.

"I'm not in politics; I don't need everyone to like me. It's an uphill battle, it's tiring and sad, and I don't want to be like that.

"It's always more powerful when you let something or someone else speak for you."

Which is why she is more than happy to do some of the talking on the lanes these days.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 04, 2017, with the headline 'Talk of the town'. Print Edition | Subscribe