May 13, 2021

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A national fighter

AT the tender age of six, Sara Yap was enrolled in a taekwondo class to transform her reserved and quiet personality. Her father thought the class would help her come out of her shell more.

“I wasn’t good at taekwondo initially. I was actually interested in softball. I even represented my home state, KL, for tournaments” she said gleefully.

It was only when she turned 14 that her interest grew for the sport. It was then that she decided to compete and represent Malaysia. Although there were no sponsored teams at the time, Yap was determined to make it happen.

“We didn’t have a proper national team that was endorsed by the government back then. Nobody knew what our sport was. So, we needed to hit the KPI to get endorsed by the government. And I wanted to be a part of the process of making that happen.”

Her unwavering pride for the country and fiery passion for the sport eventually made it possible. Since then, Yap has represented Malaysia at various tournaments. From winning the gold medal in the SEA Games in 2017 to the US Open in 2018, she has brought Malaysia and the sport of taekwondo (Poomsae) to greater heights.

What is it that drives you to excel at the sport?

I feel that a running “motivation” I have in life is regret. I actually fear regret. I think in anything we do, if we feel that we have the capacity, ability, freedom and passion to do what we love, why not take a chance on it? Time does not wait for anyone, once you miss it, it is gone. You only have one shot, or you have to wait several years for another chance. This mindset has led me to achieve more and continue in my career to this day.

Is there a specific accomplishment that you cherish most?

It would definitely be the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia. I won the first medal for Malaysia. Although the medal I got was a bronze, it was a victorious moment. In a way, I felt that it wasn’t just winning a medal that was victorious to me. It was also the multiple, unimaginable adversities I overcame that I felt was a victory for me. The sacrifices and struggles were well worth it, and made me the stronger and wiser person that I am today.

What were the greatest challenges that came your way?

I think it would be the injuries. It is difficult to bear through the physical and emotional pain for tournaments. We can’t just back out of tournaments because the opportunity only comes every two to four years. Another misconception is many people think that I specialise in the combat form of taekwondo, but I don’t. I specialise in the “technical/artistic” side of taekwondo called Poomsae. I basically perform to showcase the beauty of the martial art. And my performance is judged based on the accuracy and presentation of the routine.

You injured your hip some time ago, how is the recovery process?

It has been going very well. I am on track. The initial phases of recovery and rehabilitation is always tough. I had to start from zero – from learning to lift my leg, to learning how to walk again and returning to my sport. It has been both mentally and physically tiring, but I know it will be worth it in the long run.

Has the pandemic disrupted any of your plans?

It has not. In fact, if it wasn’t for the pandemic, I wouldn’t have had the chance to go for surgery or had enough time to focus on my recovery.

What would you like to venture into next?

I might consider getting a Masters, possibly specialising in a field related to psychology. I might also consider coaching.

What are your hopes for yourself and the taekwondo industry in Malaysia?

I wish to continue to promote and expand the sport. I also wish to continue educating people on embodying sporting values as a base to better well-being and for further personal development in life.

Taekwondo is a sport that always seeks to advance for the betterment of the sport and its practitioners. I hope to empower and support more local athletes in advancing in competitions and achieving new milestones in their sporting careers.