Hallmark of a champ - single-mindedness and humility

EARLIER this week, two-time world squash champion Nicol David gave her first press conference since she was conferred a Datukship.

(She was awarded the Darjah Setia Pangkuan Negeri (DSPN) in conjunction with the 70th birthday of Penang’s Yang di-Pertua Negri Tun Abdul Rahman Abbas.)

Awkward would have been an understatement in describing the situation as at every mention of the word Datuk, Nicol smiled and acknowledged it coyly.

But behind that smile is a 25-year-old squash icon who has clearly not forgotten her roots – the humble start many years ago that prepared her for her eventual rise to the top of women’s squash.

Now, she’s back at home from her training base in Amsterdam for the CIMB Malaysian Open squash championships, which ended the way everyone expected it to – with Nicol beating Natalie Grinham in yesterday’s final.

It is a rare opportunity for Malaysians – especially the local media – to meet Nicol and there were fears that perhaps all the success, fame and popularity may have gone to her head.

But the Penangite allayed all those fears and proved that she is still the same old Nicol.

In fact, many of us who had bombarded her with questions were proud to have her as the country’s squash ambassador.

Even those who had felt slighted because of the difficulties to get in touch with her in the past left the press conference having a renewed respect for her.

She spoke well – of her aspirations and dreams.

A whopping 28 titles to her name on the Wispa World Tour series since 2000 have not doused the fire and passion in her.

She still wants more – to regain the title at the upcoming Women’s World Open in Manchester from Oct 13-19 and see to it that squash makes it as an Olympic sport one day.

“I am lucky to be a Malaysian. Malaysia is probably the only country that gives full support – financially – for training, travel, accommodation and coaches,” she said after the press conference.

“It is a struggle for players from other countries. Their sports councils don’t think much of squash as it is not in the Olympic programme. I must continue to do my part so that squash makes it as an Olympic sport and benefits everyone.”

Despite having attained almost cult status, Nicol has never forgotten those who had shared both the highs and lows of her career.

Thus, her gratitude to her family, sponsors, the Squash Racquets Association of Malaysia (SRAM), the National Sports Council (NSC) the and National Sports Institute (NSI), coaches, team-mates and fans.

It was truly a show of true professionalism.

Nicol is indeed a rare breed of athlete in the country.

Not many are able live up to the tag of ambassador of their sport like Nicol has.

These other ambassadors have yet to attain the kind of maturity and wisdom shown by Nicol.

Many of them too are hardly able to voice their opinions as articulately as Nicol.

And, worst of all, many of them just can’t accept criticisms.

Nicol is truly a role model. Just imagine, how many of our athletes today will dare to get out of their comfort zone and chase after their dreams?

Nicol did. And look where she is now – at the pinnacle of the sport.

She went after her dream with a single-minded purpose and determination. The titles, rewards and awards came later.

Maybe there’s a lesson here for our National Sports Associations (NSAs) and sports officials.

Instead of fighting and bickering – and chasing after Datukships – they should start focusing on their athletes and help them achieve what Nicol has.

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