An inspiration for fighters

Always vocal and passionate, Dr Farrah-Hani Imran is one who pursues her dreams even when facing detractors and naysayers. The former national rhythmic gymnast, recently made an associate professor in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, is looking to inspire youngsters to believe there is more to life than sports.

Q: You have mentioned about dengki (jealousy), fitnah (slander) and jokers in your life. During your time in the academic and sports world, did you at any point think of quitting due to the criticism?

A: Not in sports. Training hard with a respectful attitude produces results that are clear and can be objectively assessed. When you run the fastest, do perfect routines, jump the highest, score the most goals, these are all easily seen, measurable factors that cannot be disputed.

However, in any workplace, there are grey areas that can place an employee at the mercy of people in positions of power. Both senior and junior colleagues may believe themselves entitled to denigrate others for personal agendas, and exert influence over many to isolate targeted individuals.

Professionally, yes, a couple of times I discussed with my family and inner circle of trusted friends and mentors, whether it was worth remaining in toxic situations. It is rare for any plastic surgeon to resist lucrative private practice and voluntarily remain in full-time public service.

However, life is such that in those dark moments, somehow mentors or students appear like guardian angels, share their harrowing stories and naturally recharge the strength within. My students and gymnasts mean the world to me. If I had quit, the message to these impressionable youths would be, ‘when things get tough, don’t bother lah, just give up’.

You left the sport at 16 to pursue your studies. Since then, you have done your degrees, masters and doctorate. What spurs you to continue your growth in the academic world?

My biggest constant motivators are my family: my mother, sister Amy Imran, brother Dr Amar Imran and husband, Dr Enda Kelly. Knowing and understanding my own character, based on ethics, principles, integrity and courage, is crucial. I am blessed to have a close circle of friends and mentors I trust wholeheartedly. All these are a source of deep strength and empowerment.

How are you able to balance sports administrative work and the academic world?

When your passion is genuine, anything is possible. I love my job, my faculty, my university and our sports family. MSN (National Sports Council), Education Ministry, Youth and Sports Ministry and MGF have been in my life since childhood, so it is an honour to give back in any way possible. My involvement in gymnastics is entirely voluntary, I don’t earn a single sen; conversely, it uses up my own finances. It comes down to time-management and self-discipline.

The intricacies of time-management and discipline must be understood to balance sports, studies and other interests. I encourage kids, young and old, to have a myriad of interests. We are not defined by one thing. You can still be a master of your craft, yet have a thirst for knowledge of other skills to obtain a healthy perspective and awareness towards a healthy life.

You’re doing your doctorate on mental health. How is that going and do you think mental health in sports is being taken seriously in Malaysia?

I am currently writing up my thesis, which has been challenging with the full-time academic, research and clinical duties in my job. So I am anti-social, and hibernate to get into the headspace to write at PhD level. Mental health matters not just in sport, but in surgery and healthcare. There is much to improve on mental health in various fields in Malaysia. For example, many Malaysians don’t realise that psychological issues are strictly confidential, just like any other medical diagnosis. That is one of the barriers facing people seeking support because they are worried about what others will say. So the stigma, and changing our Malaysian mindset towards mental health needs to be taken more seriously.

As vice-president of the Malaysian Gymnastics Federation (MGF), what have you learnt and what initiatives have you planned?

What’s the progress?Firstly, teamwork is the key concept. The pandemic is a setback for sports in general. Dealing with funding modifications will be challenging for all. In any organisation, everyone has their own idea of how things should be done. And just like in a family, people will disagree, but there must be maturity to come to a consensus, prioritising athletes’ welfare. Most do it for the love of their sport. There are, unfortunately, some who do it for self-glorification and financial gain. When we get past this, progress can continue.

During your time as an athlete, how did you face the naysayers?

Understanding what drives you and your responsibilities to your team and giving your absolute best helps to keep the right frame of mind. In life, we don’t always get what we want. Sports give you the tools and landscape to figure out your own character and the opportunity to improve and be the best version of yourself. Also, what it takes to bring the best out in your team and live life as a natural leader.

It can be tough to believe in ourselves, mainly when surviving bullying, harassment and discrimination. It is sad when that happens, but never let it obstruct you. In all parts of life, toxic situations happen beyond our control. What we can control is how we respond. From sports, I learnt to deal or mediate conflict peacefully, factually and professionally.

This is the beauty of sports. Change doesn’t happen through aggression or fighting negativity with more negativity. That helps no one. Learn to be calm and collected when people provoke to get a reaction. Instead, we have to self-reflect and correct our own shortcomings, recognise the abusive behaviour and finally attempt dialogue to clarify misunderstandings. What makes a true champion is carrying yourself with dignity and class no matter what life throws at you.

Moving forward, what do you want to see happening in Malaysian gymnastics and also in your academic world?

There needs to be an update on professionalism in our general society. Too many people are succumbing to the culture of blame and begrudgery. Very simply, you don’t have to put someone down to lift yourself up. Someone else’s success does not take away from your own. Have honour in your duty and work. Example, some people use their kids as an excuse to play truant, some “buy” loyalty from subordinates or bribe superiors. People are always ready to find fault in others rather than improve their own mindset.

When you live your professional life under a microscope, you learn to put your head down and work many times harder than others. Let your work speak for itself. You will not be the best at everything but you can be the best at whatever you choose to be.

Work hard, work smart and speak up for those who do not have a voice or platform.

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