“Everyone thinks boxing is for guys, but I’ve always found girls who can fight very cool. I just love it because it’s very rough. Yeah, I know. I’m a girl but I don’t really behave like one. My mum always tells me that.
My uncle introduced me to boxing. When I was younger, I always saw him shadowboxing and stuff, so I’ve always wanted to learn how to fight the proper way. But I didn’t dare join a boxing gym because I was scared to get judged for being a girl.
My uncle knew I was interested because I was always watching boxing videos at home. So in 2017, he brought me to a boxing gym in Farrer Park. I didn’t even know I was registering as a member. I was clueless! Next thing I knew, I was talking to the head coach, Coach Bala.
I still remember my very first training session. Class started at 6pm but Coach Bala got me to come at 4pm, just to teach me how to put on hand wraps. He also wanted to see me punch. I think he was just prepping me so that I didn’t feel awkward or lost once class started.
It was only during my second session that I saw Leona. She was the only girl I saw in the ring. I later found out that she had already competed at SEA Games. For some reason, I thought she was going to be arrogant or stuck-up because she was so good.
But she was so humble and nice! Leona always took the effort to arrange training sessions with me. I didn’t feel like I deserved to train with her because I was so new and didn’t know much back then, but she never made me feel that way.
I started competing in 2017; it all happened in that same year. Coach Bala told me there was going to be an amateur fight in four months and he wanted me and Leona to take part. I loved training but I wasn’t sure about competing. It was never really my intention to fight.
That was also around the same time my dad fell sick. My dad suffered from chronic heart disease for 18 years. He was in and out of the hospital for months, especially in 2017. There were so many complications with his health when he was nearing the final stages of his life.
I had never done anything in my life to make him proud of me, but one day, I decided to give him some motivation while he was recovering on the hospital bed. To cheer him up, I told him that I had a fight coming up and I wanted him to be there.
If he couldn’t get discharged, I promised that I’d try my best to win the fight and put the gold medal around his neck. He laughed and said okay. He was always very supportive of whatever I did. He knew his daughter was a stubborn girl, anyways.
But my dad passed away just five days before my fight. I still remember the week before his passing. He asked, ‘Shydah, can you kiss me on the forehead?’ I think some people know when their time is coming, and I think…I think he knew those were his last moments with me.
After the funeral, I told Coach Bala that I didn’t want to take part in the fight anymore. I doubt anyone in my shoes would have wanted to, but Coach Bala encouraged me to fight. And even though I was still heartbroken, I suddenly remembered the promise I made to my dad.
If I did not deliver what I promised him, I knew that I would feel like a failure for the rest of my life. Just remembering his smile – a smile which I seldom saw, especially when he was on the sick bed – made me think why not? Just fight lah. And so I fought.
It wasn’t the most technical performance – it was more of a brawl than anything else – but I gave it everything I had. And I won! In front of everyone – my uncle, my brother and even my mum who came down despite all that she was going through after my dad’s passing.
In my whole life, I have never really achieved anything as meaningful as that. It’s not so much about the win but the meaning behind it. I managed to go in the ring five days after my dad passed on. I think I was very strong because I managed somehow and I felt so satisfied.
The very next day, I went to visit my dad and placed the medal on his grave. I talked to him, knowing that he could somehow listen to me. I was so happy that I managed to do that. I kept my promise to him in the end. I hope he’s proud of me. I know he’s proud of me.
Today, the boxing gym at Farrer Park doesn’t exist anymore. I’m now at Legends where I’m training under Coach Ridhwan. He’s always teaching me the sweet science so that I’ll become a more technical boxer. I’m happy to go there because it feels like a second home.
And four years since my debut, I still love boxing. I’m not sure how far I’ll go in this sport, but I still love sparring, I still love exchanging punches and breaking a sweat. And yes, I still find girls who can fight very cool.” – Shydah, 27
Interview by: Arman Shah