MSL: Physioptherapist plays unsung hero in LionsXII's rise
But because she's a lady in a male-dominated sport, Fizah stands out like a rose among thorns, and is often the subject of cheers, jeers and even wolf whistles. -TNP
While some women her age fawn over Hello Kittys, this sporty - and sporting - lass would much rather spend her time with Lions.
Make that the LionsXII.
From 9am to 9pm, and sometimes on her days-off too, physiotherapist Nurhafizah Abu Sujad is responsible for getting those injured back on to the field.
In away games, she has to set up the physio room in the hotel once the team arrive, and get straight to work, a shift that could end as late as midnight.
Painkillers, magic sprays, tapes, bandages and, more recently, masks are must-haves in Fizah's kit. With the highly physical nature of the Malaysian Super League, she often has to work overtime just to clear out the physio room, and make sure coach V Sundramoorthy has as many fit footballers to select from as possible.
Skipper Shahril Ishak said: "The players may be the ones on the pitch trying to get three points, but the coaches and backroom staff like Fizah, team manager Visakan (Subramanian), trainer Banzi (Gurnaya Singh) and kitman Omar (Mohd) also work very hard to get us ready.
"We play for 90 minutes and train for two hours a day, but Fizah and the backroom staff have to work longer than that.
"Their contribution to the team's success is definitely not less than the players."
Rose among thorns
But because she's a lady in a male-dominated sport, Fizah stands out like a rose among thorns, and is often the subject of cheers, jeers and even wolf whistles when she runs out on to the pitch on matchdays to tend to an injured player.
She takes it all in her stride though, and the 31-year-old said: "Initially, of course I felt paiseh (hokkien for embarrassed), but now I'm used to it.
"The moment I run out, it's all about the player, because I have to make a quick decision and inform the coach whether the player is fit to continue playing."
The former national Under-21 netballer knew she wanted to be a physiotherapist from a young age, ironically when a knee injury ended her promising netball career.
"I had just finished junior college, and was in Perth for a training tour when I tore my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)," Fizah said.
"But at that time, my father was sick, and I had to help earn a living, so my rehabilitation was compromised and my netball career ended there.
"That was my first taste of physiotherapy. I saw and experienced how athletes feel down and I wanted to help them.
"So I later pursued a bachelor's degree in physiotherapy, and here I am."
After graduating, she served out her bond with Changi General Hospital before joining the private sector, and then moved to the Singapore Sports Council before landing at the Football Association of Singapore last year.
And it's been more than a year of sweat and success, as she was also part of the Singapore team that won the Suzuki Cup last December.
Being raised in a football family also helped - her late father is former international Abu Sujad, her cousin is the legendary Fandi Ahmad, while her younger brother Hafiz is in the LionsXII team. Fizah laughed and said: "At first Hafiz was apprehensive about me joining FAS because he thinks I'll be spying on him.
"But my family has been supportive and I hope my late father is happy.
"Some people were initially sceptical about me taking up this job, and discouraged me by saying I will lose a lot of time with my family.
"It is true the hours are long, but my family has been supportive and I have also gained a new family with the LionsXII."
She counts Khairul Nizam's successful recovery from a debilitating knee injury as her most satisfying moment this season.
Fizah said: "He was very unlucky and had a lot of difficulty during his rehab.
"He felt down and at one point didn't want to continue.
"But with help from Sasha (national team fitness coach Aleksandar Bozenko), and through his own hard work, Nizam has made his comeback and even scored when we beat PKNS last month."
Even though she is now a mother of two, Fizah feels her affinity with football is not about to end yet.
"I am fortunate to work with a 'fanta-bulous' team of officials and players," she said.
"It is not easy to work with such a big group of footballers, but I see how hard the rest of the team work, and it inspires me to work hard too.
"There's a lot of satisfaction helping the players get fit again and to see them doing so well. God-willing, I will continue to do my part for Singapore football."
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