SINGAPORE - In The last year, rower Saiyidah Aisyah Mohammed Rafa'ee, 26, has gone from struggling underdog to SEA Games gold medallist and now, the winner of the Berita Harian Inspiring Young Achiever Award.
The winner of the women's 2,000m lightweight single sculls race at the South-east Asia Games in Myanmar last December said she was surprised to be so honoured by the Malay newspaper, because in going for gold, all she sought was to prove her detractors wrong - those "who didn't believe an ordinary Malay girl could bring glory to the country".
She has since become a role model to others, some of whom stop her on the streets to tell her she has inspired them to pursue their dreams in spite of obstacles.
But staying afloat has been hard. Ahead of the SEA Games, she took three months of no-pay leave from her job as a student development manager at Ngee Ann Polytechnic to train in Sydney, Australia. The Singapore Sports Council had cut funding for the sport and last year, she spent $10,000 on training expenses and rowing equipment.
At home, her 56-year-old mother Sumiati Buang questioned the choices made by her only daughter, and worried about her not doing housework or knowing how to cook.
Ms Saiyidah's drive also came from wanting to show her mother that "it's okay if I can't sew or cook, as long as I bring glory to the nation - which is not what many daughters can do".
When rowing - still an overlooked sport - was initially excluded from next year's SEA Games which Singapore will host, Ms Saiyidah convinced the Singapore Sports Council to include it, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last night after he presented her with the award.
Mr Lee said: "I think Aisyah was driven not just because she was rowing for herself, but for the future of the sport in Singapore."
Driven To Succeed
It's okay if I can't sew or cook, as long as I bring glory to the nation - which is not what many daughters can do. - Rower Saiyidah Aisyah Mohammed Rafa'ee, on wanting to make her mother proud
This article was first published on August 20, 2014.
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