Cover Story Independence Day Issue- Farah Ann Going Stronger Than Ever

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Happy Independence Day Malaysia!

For Malaysia’s Independence Day, ZALORA is honoured to bring you one of the top athletes representing our country, Farah Ann! Everybody knows her as the popular Malaysian gymnast but when she is not near the training centre, she is usually someone who likes to go out and have fun with her family and friends. Or even be chilling at home, reading books (hint: fiction is her favourite) and watching series.

Farah Ann Abdul Hadi has been in the gymnastics world since a very young age. Starting at the age of 3 together with her older sister, Katrina Ann who was a national synchronised swimmer (now called artistic swimming), the passion she developed in gymnastics led her to turn it into a career. When asked about when she won her first gold medal, Farah Ann reminisces her childhood days competing in Penang for the MSSM (Majlis Sukan Sekolah-Sekolah Malaysia) school competition where she represented Selangor when she was 7 years old. Farah explained that she hardly remembered the winning part, but she remembered competing with her sister and teammates, just having a lot of fun and being competitive.

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“My parents of course were there. They actually followed me to all my competitions in Malaysia and it was just great because I got to share that with my older sister and my teammates and be part of a team and train and compete.”

It was a very fun experience for Farah and that set her course in the sports as she knew that gymnastics was something she wanted to do because her heart desires to keep training and competing more.  

Farah continued by saying, “I think it was more of the experience and being able to perform on a platform after I’ve trained, to be part of a team, to push myself to do what I love. Also, it was when someone from Majlis Sukan Negara was there and had ask me to come and try out to train at Bukit Jalil. So that set the course of where I am today.”

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Being a professional since 13 years old and in the industry for more than 20 years winning medals, Farah Ann stated that her biggest prize that she achieved in her career was the SEA Games 2017 in Kuala Lumpur where it was held in her own home country, Malaysia where her family and friends came to show support.

“I just did my very best and tried to not really think about winning the medal but just going out there and performing and doing what I love. I knew where my parents were seated. They were seated like right behind the floor exercise, like on the stands, and I turned, and I could see my mum and dad standing up and cheering. That really got to me,” Farah continued, “It wasn’t really if I won or not, it was really me doing what I love and performing and doing my parents proud and seeing their faces there. Then knowing that I had won the gold and knowing I made them proud was one of the best experiences. Either way if I won or didn’t win, I just really wanted to make my parents proud. So, out of all the medals I’ve won, out of everything I’ve achieved, I think my greatest achievement has always and will always be making my parents proud.”

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Farah added, “Because it was in home ground, just being able to perform in front of the Malaysian home crowd was something that I would never forget. The home spirits! And it was amazing because the first time in Malaysia I saw a huge crowd at the gymnastics competition and having all my friends there, also all the supporters and everyone who really love the sport and cheering for us was just an experience I don’t think anything else can top that.”

The best part about sports is that the cultural and racial barrier seems to break lose when everyone comes together to cheer for our national team. Farah feels unbelievably grateful to be somehow a part of this unity. Farah Ann is also proud to say she is Malaysian, a professional athlete representing the country and love doing what she does day in and day out.

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Even after so many years, hearing Malaysians screaming out her name whenever she competes never gets old to her. “I’ve also competed in full stadiums like 3-tiers of stadiums that was in Glasgow which was the first time I’ve actually experienced a crowd that was full. But seen the Malaysian flag, seeing everyone in the tiger shirt, seeing everyone who you know or don’t just come to enjoy the sport is something that I cannot describe. It’s very overwhelming. There’s a video of me when I saw my mum and I just broke down crying on the floor because it was just very overwhelming to know that I performed my very best. It was something that I’m very grateful to have, to be able to do and also it is just something that combines all the hard work and knowing that you actually made the people proud and they’re able to see and kind of be in that situation and experienced it for themselves.”

With all being said, it doesn’t mean that she doesn’t feel the pressure she has on her shoulder as a Malaysian gymnast representing the country every time she competes.

“Usually when I’m performing, I can hear the cheers, but it is actually my routines that are in my head. All the corrections I need to do and how to make sure my skills are done perfectly. I concentrate on what I need to do and go 100%.” Farah shares with us on what goes through her head while standing with thousands of pairs of eyes focused on her.

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She continued by saying,” I put a lot of pressure on myself and actually I get very stressed out because a lot of things are riding on it. Because when I go out there, I don’t go out there and perform as me. I perform as a Malaysian gymnast; I’m not Farah. So yes, there is a lot of pressure, but I’ve learned throughout the many years of competing to make sure that I try to prepare myself both mentally and physically before a competition. So, the better I am physically the more prepared I am mentally. And when I perform it’s just like, “okay, I’m here”. I just perform and whatever happens, happens because that is an afterthought. But right now, I just need to go through my routine and do my very best. Whatever there is at the end, the results will speak for it. And if I perform well, I’m very grateful or if I don’t, it’s just another learning experience that I can take on for my next competition.”

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Her positive mentality definitely shows us how determined and strong this young lady is in giving the best in what she does. She also understands the common scepticisms towards women in sport and believes that if she continues doing what she does by giving a real example to other girls out there, that she could show that it is possible for a woman to do both sports and have an education.

“People think you cannot do two things. If it’s being in education, then you have to go to school and that’s all. You can do sports, you can be a professional athlete, you can have a degree, you can have a masters, you can become a doctor. And it’s something that needs to change where else you don’t have to just choose one path when there are different parts of life. To see that sports, even if you do it when you are young, is very beneficial to yourself even if you don’t do it professionally. And also, parents’ support is very much a very big thing because my parents played a huge role in me becoming who I am today.”

“Also, I try to do it in a sense where when parents come and ask me especially during the SPM years – because a lot of girls need to study. And ya, I do have a degree and I did my SPM and PMR. So, it’s something that you can do. It is just time management. I’m very grateful to my parents because they allowed me my space and supported me in every way that they could so I would be able to continue my studies and also do sports.”

Farah continues stating, “I think one with girls and sports is that they’re always saying, “you look a certain way” or “girls are not supposed to be rough and tough”. And I think right now it is a culture of change where there are a lot more especially like Pandalela Rinong, the first (Malaysian) woman to win an Olympic medal. People like these are changing. I think in a sense, being the change is very important, and for me is spreading and telling girls and sometimes if I go to school, I tell them you can do what you want to do and never take into count negative people because they will always be negative people in your life and just know that your goals are achievable and just believe in yourself. So that is how I spread my message.”

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Despite being a rising National Gymnast representing Malaysia and making our country proud, Farah Ann also has had her share of criticism especially through social media. However, this young lady absolutely knows how to handle herself well and acknowledges that there are two types of comments being constructive criticism which she’ll take the positive out of it while the plain mean negative ones, she chooses to ignore.

“I kind of let myself know that these people – they don’t know me especially the ones that have fake accounts – they don’t know me personally. So, if it gets me down I just think that I have people in my life who support me, who give very good advices so I listen to them instead of that one comment which can basically make me sad or make me doubt myself. So that’s how I try to negotiate it because in the social media platform there’s a lot of people who really don’t have filters and feel that they can say very negative things and not see as online bullying because I do see it as online bullying. I am very grateful to have a very good support system, but some people don’t.”

This does not break her spirit and she tries to share what she does by letting people get a glimpse of her life through her social media. Whether about gymnastics, things she feels or learned, she tries to put it out there in the world hoping it would help someone else.

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The career of an athlete sure requires a lot of hard work and Farah is currently training to make herself physically prepared for the national championships which is in September following the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships qualifying for the Olympics and then SEA Games in Philippines at the end of this year. 

“Mentally, it’s basically I visualise my routines, I visualise what I need to do in competitions but also, I do a lot of self-thought. Because for me, I give a lot of pressure to myself where I need to perform well, I need to do this and I need to do that, and I try to calm myself and just think that the more I am prepared physically, that’s how I be more prepared mentally. Because if I know physically, I can do my routines, I can do it day in and day out, then during a competition, the probability of me performing it well is a lot higher. Also, I talk to my friends, I talk to my family, and I have people there, where if I’m worried about something, I say “hey, I’m worried, I’m upset. Can you help?”. And I think I find that has helped me a lot. Talking to someone and not just keeping it all in and just trying to be very positive and knowing that bad days are not a bad week or a bad month. It’s just sometimes you go through the bad days in order to get better for the good days.”

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Although Farah Ann has been doing an amazing job representing Malaysia, she told us that her ultimate goal in her career is to be qualified to enter the Olympics and have the opportunity to make Malaysia proud. She believes that when it comes to fellow Malaysian gymnasts and where they stand now, gymnasts in Malaysia have really stepped it up and always strive their best every day to push their own boundaries to do better in order to make the country proud. Nevertheless, we as Malaysians are truly proud of all her accomplishments and will always support her in her journey. Malaysia Boleh!

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Photographer – Nadzirul Afif Omar & Faiz Basroh

Stylist – Syakila Samsudin

Makeup & Hair – Yuki Wong