Fame and fortune can change a person.
But Paralympic gold medallist Ziyad Zolkefli aims to remain humble.
“Many things have changed for me after the Olympics. I’m richer than before, more well-known and married too!” chuckled the 26-year-old.
“But all this will not change the person I am. I had a simple life before the Rio Games and it’s the same now. I’m the same Ziyad yesterday, today and tomorrow.”
Ziyad soared to greatness at the Rio Games. He set a world record of 16.84m in the F20 (intellectual disability) shot putt event en route to the gold medal in September.
He was one of Malaysia’s three gold medal winners. The other two Paralympic gold medal winners were Abdul Latif Romly (men’s long jump F20) and Mohd Ridzuan Fuzi (men’s 100m T36 gold).
Siti Noor Radiah (women’s long jump F20) also became the first Malaysian woman to win a Paralympic medal when she took home a bronze.
Ziyad, who married Zafira Mohd Nasir last month, said he was doing just fine balancing between his athletics career and family life.
“My wife is very supportive. In fact, before marrying her, I told her of my hectic schedule as an athlete. She accepted it and is very understanding,” he said.
“In fact, sometimes, she is the one who pushes me to go for training on days when I feel like I just want to laze around,” he laughed.
Ziyad, who used to sell fried noodles on the street before taking up athletics seriously in 2006, is looking forward to next year’s World Championships and the Kuala Lumpur SEA Games.
“The world meet is a platform for me to break my world record again ... I am psyching myself up for the task. The KL Games will be special because it’s a chance for me to win in front of my home fans.”
Malaysian fans, he said, have been fantastic since his Rio exploits.
“The perception of Malaysians towards para athletes has certainly changed. They are more supportive and believe that we can also be counted to win honours for the country,” he said.
Another big change that he has seen following the Olympic euphoria was the way para athletes view themselves and the increase in the number of disabled people venturing into sports.
“The Olympics is the starting point. Para athletes now have the confidence that they can achieve greater heights if they believe in themselves and put in the hard work,” he said.
“All my friends and team-mates are fired up. There is just a different environment in training now ... everyone is so spirited.
“It is also a joy to see many disabled people now trying to give sports a chance. They have adopted a positive mind set and, to me, that is truly fulfilling.”
He said that together with Latif and Ridzuan, they plan to continue to fan the fire by holding motivational talks in schools and in communities to show that disabled athletes can also influence society.