I WAS 14 years old when I competed in my first Commonwealth Games. It was the year 1998 and it was held in Kuala Lumpur.
It was such a thrill for me as I was given the chance to start off my Malaysian team debut by playing on home soil and sharing it with my family and friends.
That night was the opening ceremony at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil, with a crowd of 80,000 in the stadium.
I remember everyone was buzzing in the Games Village, running around putting on the uniform to catch the buses to go to the stadium.
I was just as excited but couldn’t really understand why everyone was going crazy.
I put on my baju kurung, our traditional Malaysian outfit, it was red and white, and was slightly bigger on me because I was very little and skinny back then.
All the athletes were singing their national anthems in the Games Village as they were walking down to catch the buses hoping to calm some nerves and make the time go by faster.
As we drove to the stadium, everywhere I looked was flooded people, everyone was lining up to go into the stadium and some just wanted to stay outside to feel the atmosphere surrounding the start of the Games.
The athletes had to come through the indoor stadium as we had to wait there for the initial part of the ceremony to begin the march-past of the Malaysian contingent.
Nerves of excitement were all over the place, but because we were the hosts we had to wait for all the teams to go through.
I remember just thinking “where’s the food! I’m starving!”, until the organisers started screaming “Malaysia you’re next, line up.”
Until that moment, I had not truly grasped what that experience was going to feel like.
I had not understood then that it was going to be one of the most intense and beautiful experiences I have had in my life.
As all the team started walking towards the stadium, butterflies were fluttering in my stomach. I was nervous beyond imagination but I started to feel the energy of Malaysian athletes feeling proud of that moment.
As we reached the stadium we could hear the screams, cheers and roars of the crowd, they were waving the flag and all were shouting “Malaysia, Malaysia, Malaysia.”
I felt goosebumps all over my body, and as I finally entered and saw the thousands of people there, the lights, the show, the volunteers, there was no way of holding my tears back, overflowing with elation.
I couldn’t believe the sight!
It was in that precise moment, that I felt the proudest to be a Malaysian.
I had finally understood the meaning of patriotism, and it had to do with understanding my responsibility for my country in the Games. It was no longer about me, it was about me representing my country and giving the best I had in me.
It was also the realisation that I had the honour of playing the sport I love and being good enough to represent my nation.
I was overwhelmed and I understood then that I was representing something bigger than myself.
I believe as Malaysians, we have to find the way to give back to our nation by feeling a huge sense of pride from where we come from.
We give back when we live peacefully among each other, when we cheer for someone else for doing well in their lives, and even cheering for our athletes or teams.
This year will be our 62nd year of Independence Day and it makes me stop to remember the memories I have had in representing my country and I hope all Malaysians will have a chance to take a moment to remember what Malaysia means to them.
Happy Independence Day Malaysia!