BACK in 2009, a family friend approached me to see if I could coach his friend’s daughter and teach her the sport of rowing. The first thing I said was,
“Someone wants to row? You do realise rowing is an amateur sport with zero financial gains, right?” This friend just looked at me and nodded with a big grin on his face.
Before I gave a firm answer, I had a meeting with the athlete and her parents. This aspiring rower was young, bubbly and I knew she would go far in life. I asked her why she wanted to row. At that time, she was in the middle of her university degree and she said she wanted to row for her college and win the college championship.
I was impressed with her attitude, but I told her she would have to make some huge sacrifices that not many young university students were willing to do – train twice a day on the water, have a minimum of four gym sessions per week, go to bed early, drink plenty of water, eat right, cutback on social time with friends (and that includes night clubbing), and balance her sport with university studies.
After explaining all that was required, she still wanted to row to become that elusive champion. Before either of us gave a firm professional commitment to each other, I told her to read a book called Assault on Lake Casitas. It’s a book written by former Olympian, Brad Lewis. Lewis won an Olympic gold medal in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
I felt the book was an amazing read because Lewis’s Olympic story was a long and complicated journey. Apart from the heavy workload which dictated his day-to-day life, he had to overcome US rowing’s then-biased selection methods, crew politics, money issues – as you cannot row your way out of poverty, find a good boat to race in, as well as deal with the heavy travelling that is required in order to compete.
After reading the book, Zafira was more committed than ever. For four months, she did nothing but live, breathe and eat rowing. In the end, her hard work paid off as she was selected for her college crew.
Just a few months back, an old boss asked me to sit down with her 14-year-old son who wants to become a professional footballer. When we met up for dinner to discuss the matter, I asked the young man and his parents if they were all willing to make that sacrifice as a family. They all said “yes” but his parents said that he must maintain his good grades at school.
His coach is confident that he could one day play for an international club, provided he consistently and continuously steps up his game as he grows and develops.
I asked this young man the same questions I asked Zafira, but I had to take his answers with a huge pinch of salt because he is so young. So I asked him to read Lewis’s book. His parents also wanted him to think it through, and they wanted an answer by the end of the following month so the necessary steps could be taken.
Frankly, when I asked him to read the book, I did not think he would, mainly because not many young people like to read and also because most children these days are so laid back that they just want to enjoy life.
Just recently, I received a text message from him, saying that he enjoyed the book and that he could really connect with Brad Lewis.
You may think that Lewis’ story can only happen in places like America. I beg to differ. After all, we have a world champion in our own backyard – Nicol David.
Like Nicol, all Lewis wanted to do was win and he would do what it took to get there. The phrase “whatever it takes” means sacrificing a normal life, getting up early, training like there is no tomorrow, and unfortunately saying good-bye to certain friendships but saying hello to new ones.
So for those of you who want to become champions in your respective sport, would you do whatever it takes? Do not forget you do not have to be an international gold medalist to be considered a champion. We all have different sporting abilities.
Competing is about having fun and reaching your goals. Most athletes’ goals are to become a champion of some sort.
I have been fortunate to have met two young Malaysians who were and are willing to go the distance to make their respective championship dreams come true. I hope to meet many more.
For all young athletes out there who are trying to make your dreams a reality, please do not give up. You not only represent yourselves but the many who were not fortunate enough to experience that championship dream.
Remember - being a champion is not just about medals, it’s about memories – and memories last forever.
Ben Ibrahim is a Sports Presenter with Foxsports Asia, and is a qualified rowing coach, and a former rugby referee. He is also a junior football and basketball coach. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter @benibrahim or instagram @benibrahim_