PETALING JAYA: The current enforced two-week rest may be tough for many, but there may be a blessing a disguise. National bowler Shalin Zulkifli knows it only too well.
Exactly a year ago, all she wanted to do was rest.
The seasoned campaigner had suffered burnout – and the bowler, who had served the nation for more than two decades competitively since she was 14, was desperate to take time off from bowling.
She knew that if she did not, it would lead to depression.
She sought the help of a doctor – and was admitted to hospital for a few days before being given a one-month break to heal from the emotional, physical and mental stress that came from years of competitive bowling.
She spent her time with her seven-year-old daughter Aleya, her husband and her family. The short break gave her time to rest her body and mind.
She returned to training after the refreshing and soul-searching break. And just a few months down the road, Shalin hit it big by nailing two gold medals (singles and trios) at the Asian Championships in Kuwait, emerging as one of the best performers there.
She went on to win the team silver at the Philippines SEA Games.
Shalin, who will turn 42 on Saturday, said the dark period last year was a challenging time that could have ended her career, but she is relieved that she was honest enough to admit her struggles and sought help.
“It was early in the season and I was preparing for the PWBA (Professional World Bowling Association) season, Europe and domestic tournaments, and I needed to get fit, ” recalled Shalin.
“I had to reduce my weight as well as to keep up with the high intensity training. I increased my physical training.
“I went to the NSI (National Sports Institute) gym to build muscles and added my own Pilates classes too. In a week, I was pushing myself to five to six sessions, besides our daily training sessions at the bowling alley.
“I remember feeling ill during the national roll-off (in March). I took painkillers and went through it. After it was over, I had the chills, my heart rate was high, my temperature soared, sugar level went high and my face was flushed.
“That’s when I knew something was seriously wrong. Usually, I can handle pain. My hubby (Azidi Ameran) rushed me to the Tropicana Medical Centre. I was admitted for dehydration, exhaustion and stress. There were signs of pre-diabetes too.
“I went to NSI for a follow-up and was referred to DUMC (Damansara Utama Medical Centre). Eventually, I was given a one-month break and ordered to take a complete rest from bowling.
“Now, I’m watching my sugar intake and pacing myself well in training. If I did not do what I did, I probably, will be heading into depression. Mental health is so important for athletes.”
Asked why she did not just quit the sport, Shalin took her time before answering: “I don’t know... You know me, I do not give up easily. I was faced with a different battle, one that I was determined to win too.”
“I’m glad I fought on and returned to training. I was more fired up than before and it led me to success in the Asian meet. It kept me going.”
Shalin admitted that during the time of discovery, knowing that she had pushed herself beyond what she could handle, the challenge was to make people understand.
“It was hard. Sometimes, people did not get it. I was called lazy or slacking off, ” she said.
“I’m in my 40s but I was expected to train like I did when I was in my 20s. At this age, athletes like me need a longer recovery period.
“It’s important to have the right support system, and I’m glad I did.
“I’ve to admit there is a thin line between knowing whether one has pushed beyond his or her limit. Some athletes may not know their potential until they are pushed. So, it’s important for the athlete to know what he or she is capable of.”
Shalin, the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) athletes commission chairman, is glad she attended last year’s International Olympic Committee (IOC) Athlete Career Programme (ACP) forum at Lake Placid in New York in November as it had given her a better insight on depression and mental health and she hoped athletes, who are suffering in silence, will call out for help.
“I’ve learnt much from my fellow delegates at the IOC conference. Most of them were former athletes and some had gone through similar experiences, ” she said.
“Many athletes go through depression especially after retirement and it’s something that we must look into seriously.
“The good news is that help is available. NSI have a good support service to help athletes. There are other channels too.
“I’m here too. If there are athletes out there who need advice or just a listening ear, I can help.
“I can connect to the right people, who will be able. Let’s fight this together, ” added Shalin.
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