Running in the family

Running in the family
Singapore sprinter Veronica Shanti Pereira gets full support from her parents, Mrs Jeet Pereira and Mr Clarence Pereira.

When Singapore's fastest woman, Veronica Shanti Pereira, wanted to take sports more seriously as a child, her parents initially baulked at the idea.

After she completed primary school, the sprinter, now 18, wanted to go to the Singapore Sports School.

Her father, freelance oil consultant Clarence Pereira, 58, says he told Shanti, the youngest of his four children, to go to CHIJ Katong Convent instead, where she could be "queen" as a promising athlete.

At the sports school, she would be one among many sports talents, he thought. Besides, "in Singapore, sports does not pay well", he says.

However, Shanti, who set a new 100m national record last month, persisted.

"I wanted to go to the sports school because my sister went there," says Shanti, whose older sister, Valerie, was then a national sprinter enrolled at the institution.

"I was keen on getting the same experience she got, in terms of competing and training. I just wanted to continue my sport," she says.

Her parents accepted her decision.

"We wanted to keep her happy," says Shanti's mother, childcare educator Jeet Pereira, 54.

Shanti is pursuing a diploma in Sports and Leisure Management, which is jointly offered by Republic Polytechnic and the Singapore Sports School.

She hopes to win a medal at this year's South-east Asian Games, which will be held in Singapore next month.

She lives with her parents and her sister Valerie in a Housing Board maisonette in Tampines. Her brother Anand lives with their grandmother in Kembangan, while her other sister Shobana lives with her husband in Changi.

When did you start sprinting?

Shanti: I started when I was in primary school at CHIJ Katong. My sister Valerie was in the first intake of the sports school. We always went to support her during competitions. It made me want to join track and field. In Primary 3, after winning the 100m race on Sports Day, I was asked to join the track-and-field team.

Mrs Pereira: I used to run in secondary school. My favourite event was the 200m race, Shanti's pet event. I always wanted to represent Singapore, but it never happened. That dream was realised through Shanti and Valerie.

Mr Pereira: My son Anand, 27, and I were also sprinters when we were in school. The children are athletic. They used to be active at home, running up and down the hill when we lived in Jalan Grisek, in the Kembangan area, when they were young.

Shanti, how does having a sporty family influence you?

Shanti: Valerie has a pretty strong influence on me. As a national sprinter herself, she's been there.

Whenever I feel pressure before a race, she listens and tells me the right thing. She'll tell me not to let the pressure hinder me from enjoying the process of being able to represent Singapore and run.

My eldest sister, Shobana, 29, also tells me not to worry.

Mr Pereira: We've asked Valerie to watch over Shanti because she's experienced it herself. We've stepped back a bit, so as not to add more pressure.

Mrs Pereira: Sometimes, when Shanti comes to us, it's because she needs encouragement.

What is your parenting style like?

Mrs Pereira: I'm like a friend to Shanti. The children are helpful and supportive. We can sit down and talk to them about work and personal problems.

Her sisters, Shobana and Valerie, are more like her second and third mums.

Shanti: For example, if the dishes aren't washed, my mum won't say anything. One of my sisters will tell me to do it.

Mr Pereira: Not doing housework or leaving their room in shambles is not allowed. I travelled a lot for work and Jeet was at home, making decisions concerning the kids.

What are your views on caning?

Shanti: The cane was never used on us.

Mr Pereira: I'm anti-caning. I got caned by my parents for things such as not getting high marks or getting involved in a fight, even if it was not my fault. Using the cane is not a way to teach children.

Mrs Pereira: We do scold them. When I was growing up, I got caned when I broke a plate. We didn't want the kids to go through that.

Which parent is more strict?

Mrs Pereira: We're strict in different ways. For example, I want them to keep me informed when they go out.

Mr Pereira: They are good children. There is nothing much to be strict about. However, when they were growing up, I was stricter because they had to make decisions regarding their education. If I found them stalling or making last-minute choices about their future, I got angry. We advised them and presented them with the options.

For example, we needed Shanti to tell us whether she was going for the O Levels or the through-train programme for her diploma course. With the latter, she could focus on her sport and studies, and she chose that.

Shanti: My parents are not restrictive unless they see things getting out of hand, for instance, continually coming home late. They let me do what I want, but they made me responsible for myself.

If the parent-child roles were reversed, what would you do differently?

Mrs Pereira: I wouldn't change Shanti's growing-up years. I'd enjoy the same happy childhood with the family time we had.

Shanti: I wouldn't change anything. Their parenting style is quite good. They were easygoing, but they also disciplined me when I needed to be disciplined. I wasn't scared of them.

Mr Pereira: I wouldn't change anything. As a sprinter in school, I enjoyed going through the ups and downs of the sport, which Shanti goes through. It builds character.

The 28th South-east Asian Games will be held in Singapore from June 5 to 16.

This article was first published on May 3, 2015.
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