REMEMBER Malaysia’s famous athletic couple in the late 1980s and early 1990s — Josephine Mary and Samson Vallabouy? Wonder what happened to them since their retirement from sports?
While Samson runs his own business, Josephine recently came out of retirement and is coaching young athletes including their daughter Shereen, who is a national 400m runner.
Josephine, a top middle-distance runner for the nation — contributing five golds, one silver and one bronze in six SEA Games from 1983 to 1993 — was hired by the National Sports Council (NSC) last year as the national elite coach.
After becoming a full-time housewife at 33, she joined the Perak Sports Council in 2011 to train her daughters Jocelyn and Shereen.
“Other parents saw me training my daughters and wanted me to train their daughters as well. So I took my coaching badges and decided to train athletes in the state to be capable runners,” she said.
She later left her Perak coaching stint for NSC’s offer.
“Jocelyn is currently studying in Universiti Malaya and she takes part in university competitions. She wants to concentrate on her studies and we’re happy to see her do that.
“Shereen is under my training in Bukit Jalil. She is passionate about athletics and clocked a personal best of 54.26 to win the bronze in the Singapore SEA Games in 2015,” said Josephine.
She hopes to see Shereen do well in Kuala Lumpur but does not want to heap pressure on her to win a gold medal.
“She is young and as a mother, I don’t want to push her much because she is on the right track. Our training programme has worked well and she seemed to be progressing well after the 2015 SEA Games.
“She will win a gold medal in the future, that I can assure you, but I just want her to win any colour and improve her time first,” Josephine said.
When asked about the women in his life, Samson said he was very proud of them all being active in sports.
Samson was a national runner from 1981 to 1991, winning three gold medals in the SEA Games.
After retiring from sports, Samson ventured into his own transportation business but he is not altogether retired from sports. He is serving as vice-president of the Panthers Athletics Club in Ipoh.
“I’m managing the club, which now has more than 70 athletes and four coaches,” he said.
When asked about his wife, Samson said she was doing what she loved and he was happy that she could impart her experience and knowledge to athletes.
“As a husband, I’m proud of my wife. Josephine loves sports and is a good coach. She went overseas to learn the trade.
“As for my daughters, Shereen wants to achieve her dream of becoming a top-class athlete. She is doing well in the South-East Asian level and in four years time, I think she will be a force to be reckoned with in Asia.
“My elder one, Jocelyn is more academically inclined but she too takes part in university sports meets and is doing well there. I’m very proud of them,” said Samson.
On the dearth of middle-distance runners in the country, Josephine said many runners preferred road running than on the track as they could earn more money.
She added that in the past, parents used to encourage their children to take up any sporting event because if they did well, they were guaranteed a job.
These days though, athletes are encouraged to further their studies after school and some are not able to fulfil their potential when they are unable to balance studies and training.
“In foreign countries, athletes are able to excel academically and in sports because their universities have training facilities with world-class coaches,” she said.
Josephine is on a mission.
She advised parents to encourage their children to take up sports because it builds a person.
“To be an athlete, it must come from within. One must be interested in it. No one can force someone to take it up,” she said, adding that parents must give encouragement and provide support.
“See how Datuk Nicol David came up. Her father took the sister for training and Nicol tagged along.
“Nicol got interested and look at her now, she is a world-class squash player,” she added.