Sunday, November 28

Pandelela – shining example of true grit


“I will do everything to win a gold medal for Malaysia in the coming London Olympics,” diving queen Pandelela Rinong said.

She told me this in Kuala Lumpur before leaving for Mexico for her final phase of training en route to London.

Yes, Pandelela spends at least seven hours everyday training under a very strict coach from China. Everything else is secondary. The 19-year-old from Kampung Jugan, Bau, is a shining example of true grit, unwavering focus and dedication.

I asked her where she got these fine qualities, she answered: “From my dad and my coach.”

Pandelela is truly amazing. Imagine a young girl from a rural Bidayuh village who is prepared to work with steely determination and unswerving focus to scale the heights of her chosen vocation. We cannot but admire her.

We all know the many medals Pandelela has already won in international diving competitions, including the gold in the last Commonwealth Games in New Delhi. But the one she is really aiming for is the gold in London.

“That’s my target. And I will be truly happy if I can get the Olympic gold,” she said, adding that she is doing all this for Malaysia – of course, not forgetting Sarawak and her Bidayuh community.

If she wins a gold medal, it will be the very first for Malaysia at the Olympic level. We can only wish Pandelela the best of luck and success. Let us hope and pray she will achieve her ambition. I am absolutely confident she will try her utmost to bring Olympic glory to Malaysia.


Justly proud

We Bidayuhs are justly proud of Pandelela because she is one of us. People may not realise it but one does feel extremely happy when a member from one’s community achieves something great for the state and nation.

When Pandelela won the Commonwealth Games gold medal, we gave her a big dinner at Kampung Jugan and also a special Bidayuh gift.

Should Pandelela win an Olympic gold, the Bung Bratak Heritage Association will honour her with a really big dinner and a very special Bidayuh gift. That is the very least we can do for Malaysia’s diving queen and a Bidayuh heroine.

Coming from a minority group comprising less than one per cent of Malaysia’s population – or eight percent of Sarawak’s – there is a feeling at times that you are taken almost for granted.

When you look at the economic achievements of others or the political clout of those around you, there is a natural urge to do something in order to get noticed and be appreciated.

I have the feeling Pandelela will get those people in Kuala Lumpur to find out and appreciate more about the Bidayuhs – and to acknowledge that in the fields of modern education and the economy, the community needs a helping hand to catch up with the more economically advanced and politically powerful groups.

Malaysia will surely be a better place if every group — big or small – is rising up both educationally and economically without anyone being left too far behind.

Malaysia is now doing well despite everything, but I must honestly say a lot more can be done for the educational and economic advancement of the minorities in the nation. One US president said a nation could only be considered great and truly civilised if there was no group that was disadvantaged and neglected in the country.

“Grow and prosper together,” the president added.

I subscribe to that view and believe all the minorities in Malaysia – those with a population of less than a million each – do sincerely desire to catch up and be on par with the big groups as far as possible. No minority group wants to be left behind in any way. Given the chance,

it can do something as Pandelela has clearly indicated. A member from a minority group can excel in any fields of endeavour with opportunity and encouragement. All he or she needs is a chance to be highly educated, to enter the business world, achieve set goals and contribute positively to advancement of their community and society at large.


Not just talks

It is not good enough to say all groups are treated fairly and equally when in reality, the focus is more on certain groups with some being benignly sidelined or forgetten. Fairness must not only be said but more importantly, also be seen to apply to all. Nothing is more gratifying to a minority group than to be given fair and equitable treatment and the opportunity to progress. On the whole, minorities in Malaysia are not badly treated compared to some countries.

At times, these countries resort to treating their minorities harshly at the flimsiest of excuses. Compared to them, minorities in Malaysia have much to be thankful for.

As I see it, what is needed is the political will to help the minorities acquire better education, better economic status and generally, a better life under the Malaysian sun. Back to Pandelela. The qualities that have made her an elite in her sport are for all young Malaysians to cultivate and, if possible, emulate. If this young girl from a rural village of a minority group can do something great for the country through sheer hard work, so can other youngsters. To them, she should be a source of inspiration and motivation.

If I may mention, Pandelela comes from a humble Bidayuh family who is struggling to get by. I know the family well as Pandelela’s father is a relative of my late father.

It seems to me that with true grit and dedication, a person can achieve extraordinary feats and Pandelela has shown this even in the face of hardships and many obstacles. There is also something in Pandelela that I can detect – that’s her ability to concentrate on the task at hand. This is important to one seeking perfection and aiming for the top.

In Pandelela’s case, she is putting her mind to winning a gold medal in the Olympics just as she did in the Commonwealth Games. For a young girl, she has this uncanny ability to focus – which is truly admirable. At times, she even forgets she has an injury during training and competitions.

Diving is a demanding sport and injuries are common. Pandelela’s power of concentration and endurance helps her cope with not only injuries but also pressures from her sport at the highest level.

Our badminton ace Datuk Lee Chong Wei has an injury and this may hamper his performance in the Olympics. It will be very tough for him to beat his strong rivals, especially from China. So we are left with Pandelela, who is almost injury-free and training extremely hard, to deliver the medals in London. Much hope and expectation is placed on her young shoulders.

That is why the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) has chosen her to carry the Malaysian flag at the opening march past.This is an honour not only for Pandelela but the state of Sarawak as well.

The OCM has made a wise decision. Pandelela is, indeed, the right person to lead Malaysia into the Olympic Stadium. Once again, we wish her the best of luck. If she wins the gold – for that matter, even the silver or the bronze at the apex of international diving competition – it will be an achievement of immeasurable proportion for her specialty in the country. She will truly be a Malaysian sports queen – and the most famous Bidayuh in the country. This will be a big honour for the community.