At 21 years old, Farah Ann Abdul Hadi is having the best time in her gymnastics career.
While many gymnasts her age are already thinking of quitting, carrying some kind of injury or have given up hope all together, sweet Farah has blossomed in the physically demanding sport.
Her performance in the Singapore SEA Games in June probably ranks as the best ever in her 12-year stint with the national team. She bagged two gold medals (team and floor exercise), one silver (individual all-around) and three bronzes (balance beam, uneven bars and vault) at the Games.
Her eyes lit up as she recalled the sensational victory in the team event with Tracie Ang, Lavinia Raymund, Nur Eli Ellina Azmi and Siti Nur Bahirah Ahmad.
“We did not keep track of the scores. When all of us had completed our routines, we just sat in a circle and held each other’s hands. When the results were flashed on the scoreboard, we just leapt and celebrated!” recalls Farah.
“We were overjoyed. Nothing can beat the feeling of winning the team gold ... everyone deserved it.”
Farah kept the momentum going in the individual events, winning a medal in every apparatus to underline her consistency at the highest level.
But her joy was soured when some took to the social media to criticise her over her gymnastics attire.
Fortunately for Farah, she stood resolute and won more cheers than jeers.
The support of her family, friends and fans through the social media and several dignitaries was so overwhelming that it helped her to stay focused on her task to become a better gymnast.
“Obviously, I was a bit upset ... I guess everyone reacts to negative criticisms. I had no control over them ... so I just did what I knew best – stay positive. I appreciate all the support,” says Farah, who is now devoting all her time to training as she still stands a chance to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
By virtue of being the top Malaysian performer at the World Championships in Glasgow in October, she has been chosen to compete in a Test event in Rio in April.
She is one of the 40 gymnasts selected and she will have to finish among the top 24 to seal her maiden Olympic Games ticket.
“That is my driving force ... I want to qualify for the Olympic Games ... it will be the final piece to complete my career jigsaw,” adds Farah, who picked up the sport as a three-year-old.
Farah is also quick to thank her Russian coach, Natalia Sinkova, for her meteoric rise.
“I have been under coach Natalia for some time now and she has taught me new skills. She’s the one who made me believe that even when I get older, I can be better,” she said.
Farah admits that it has not always been a bed of roses as there have been injuries and disappointments along the way.
But, like they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And that’s the case with Farah, who kept picking herself up after every fall.
“I have come a long way. There have been ups and downs. I’ve always believed in myself and kept coming back despite the hardships,” she says.
“I suffered my first big injury when I was just 11. I had a fall during a tournament and hurt my knee. I was hospitalised and it took me a year to get back on my feet.
“In 2010, I hurt my back before the Malaysia Games (Sukma) in Malacca. It was very painful, but I still took part. The injury was near my spine and I had to slow down after that.
“At the 2011 World Championships, I fell and fractured my shoulder ... it’s probably the worst of all my injuries. I almost quit but, fortunately, my sister (synchronised swimmer Katrina Ann) encouraged me to fight on.”
On hindsight, Farah says she has no regrets choosing gymnastics.
“I wouldn’t trade this sport for anything else. I love everything about it – the training and the competitions. There have been wonderful moments ... and fun moments ... with my team-mates. There has been drama too, though,” she chuckles.
“I remember an occasion when we were fooling around in our hotel room and I fell and my head was caught between two beds. It was so funny. We had so much fun and laughter.”
Farah also loves being given a choice to choose the attire and music for her every routine.
“Sometimes, I look for an attire with a burst of colours, mixing it with purple, pink, orange and blue. Sometimes, it’s just chic ... with black and white. It depends on my mood,” she explains.
“I go through fashion sites online to find leotards with different styles and colours. The coaches and I would then discuss to see which one would go perfectly well with the routines and also blend with the background music.
“We have to love what we wear and what we wear has to be comfortable also ... for it brings out our personality and, in gymnastics, making the right impression on the competition floor counts a lot.”
Asked what she would do when she quits the sport, the International Studies student of Monash University, replies with a laughter: “I hope it will not end.
“Firstly, I want to finish my studies. Maybe, I’ll consider part-time coaching too ... that will be kind of fun. For now, I just want to savour every moment of being a national gymnast.”