When Pandelela Rinong was about eight years old, she met a lady who would change her life forever.
“I remember this lady and her assistant visiting every class in our school to identify new talents for aquatic sports under the Sarawak State Sports Council programme. There was only a single hand raised in my class and it was mine,” writes Pandalela from her training ground in Guangzhou, China when asked how it all began for her.
Following a brief body examination, the pint-sized Bidayuh dipper was shortlisted to attend swimming lessons at the public aquatics centre.
“The diving coach took an immediate shine to me because of my fearlessness. I was brave and was not scared of jumping off the diving platforms. With her knowledge and skills in diving, she became my trainer and groomed me to become a diver to represent the state of Sarawak,” she explains.
Pandelela was born in a small, rural village in the district of Bau in Kuching, Sarawak. “I grew up with my father, mother and my three siblings. My family did not have a lot of money but my parents valued education and they wanted their children to have what they couldn’t have.”
She was oblivious to the world beyond her small village and little did she know, her destiny was going to be rewritten when her father moved them to Kuching city when she was five. “We were uprooted from our village, all for the sake of education. In the city, my father took on a job as a construction worker while my mother looked into all our needs as a stay-at-home mum,” recalls the 23-year-old sportswoman.
From a young age, she understood that not everything will come her way without her dreaming big and working hard. “If I want to achieve something in life, I know I must try my very best to earn it because success will come to those who don’t give up.
During the 2008 Olympics, Pandelela suffered from a back pain and her coach was coming down hard on her. Feeling down and unmotivated, she called her family to release her frustrations and also to seek some words of advice.
“That phone call renewed my strength and purpose. I told myself to not give up and prayed hard to God for some guidance. At the preliminary of the women 10m platform individual event, I came in 27th out of 29 divers.”
Although the result was not what she had hoped for, it was a stepping stone to make her stronger and more prepared for the next Olympics. “From every failure, I learned to understand what went wrong and how to prevent it from reccuring. The challenge I face now is more on maintaining my position and improving my performance. Expectations aside, I will try my best and have faith,” stresses our first female athlete to win a medal at the Olympics.
Winning the bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics in London is her most precious memory which she will forever cherish, and the next best thing for her is winning the bronze medal in the individual event at the 2015 Kazan World Championship.
ROAD TO RIO
All eyes will be on Pandelela this coming August 5 to 21, as the Rio Olympics unfolds. Out of curiosity, I ask what goes through her mind as she steps off the board, rotates in her body elegantly and plunges nicely into the water without making a big splash?
“I visualise the dive technique that I’m about to perform beforehand. When I’m on the platform and about to dive, I just count 1,2,3 and dive!” She makes it sound so easy. Her current training in Guangzhou is anything but as the intensity increases towards the Olympics.
“My daily routine in China is almost the same everyday. I wake up at 7.30am, have my breakfast and start training at 8.30am until 12pm. I take a short nap after lunch and resume my training from 3pm to 6.30pm. After dinner, I usually spend the rest of the evening finishing up university assignments, packing my training bag and doing laundry. I hit the sack at 11pm sharp!”
HOPES AND DREAMS
For this coming Olympics, she hopes to do her best in the two events (women’s 10m synchronised diving and 10m platform individual) she’s taking part in and fulfill her dream to bring back another Olympics medal. “My parents and brother are coming to cheer for me, I’m so happy because this will be the first time they will see me dive at an international event,” she gushes.
Talking about dreams, Pandelela says she will continue diving for as long as her feet will enable her to jump off that platform but she’s also thinking about the time when she has to eventually give up this passion.
“Therefore, I’m currently taking up a Sports Science degree at University of Malaya, majoring in Sports Management. I am looking forward to contribute something back to the community when my diving career ends.”
Another young sportsman to watch out for is Jazeman Jaafar, the first Malaysian to win the Formula Renault 3.5 Series in Monaco.