24 Minutes with Anja Chong, Malaysia’s short track speed skater and 2017 SEA Games athlete
An eye on the finishing line
The 2017 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games marks the first time winter sports are contested and one of the athletes competing under the Malaysian flag is Anja Chong. Her specialty: Short track speed skating. But it wasn't always the case as the former international figure skater made the switch only in the last few years.
Anja got into short track speed skating for a year, making her debut at the International Skating Union (ISU) World Junior Short Track Speed Skating Championships in 2012 before taking a break from the sport after that to focus on her studies. She was awarded her law degree from the University of Nottingham last year and now, she's back on track—ready for the 2017 SEA Games and qualifying for the 2018 Winter Olympics. We had a chat with Anja to get to know her, her view of the industry, and her sport a little better.
Describe a day in the life of Anja Chong.
I wake up, I train, I eat, I sleep. I wake up, I train, I eat, I sleep. Life is pretty boring. People often see the glamorised version of an athlete's life but to be great at anything you do, hard work and time have to be put in as well. Day in, day out, it's all grunt work and it's the same for anyone who wants to be successful in what they do.
How did you specifically get into short track speed skating?
I used to figure skate but all the bullying and politics got in the way of me actually enjoying it. Short track was more objective. It was about who crossed the line first. I naively believed it was different and that it would just be about the sport. I've since come to learn that if you're good at what you do, there will always be people trying to pull you down.
What do you love about the sport?
The speed. The feeling of being unstoppable. I love that it makes me feel strong and powerful. Mostly, I like that being on the ice is the one place that is uncomplicated and it is the one place that I feel like I belong.
I know how demeaning, belittling and frustrating it can be to have your worth diminished in the eyes of others based purely on gender.
It's pretty sad to hear you mention about bullying earlier on but at the same time, it sounds like you've become a stronger person as well. What's your advice to other people who may experience the same as you?
There will always be people that laugh at the dreams you are trying to accomplish. The key is to not listen to the white noise; put your head down; focus on what you are trying to achieve, and prove them wrong. That's the best way to silence the bullies and the nonbelievers.
Do you think there's a common misconception about professional female athletes?
I think there's a common misconception about females in general! That being a feminist means you can't be feminine, and this includes the sports industry. I haven't been a full-time athlete for very long so this year has been an eye-opening experience trying to understand the world of being a serious athlete. I struggled to fit in for a long time before I realised I didn't need to dampen my personality or my femininity to be a good sportsperson. Just because I like makeup and pink doesn't mean I'm not strong. I am one of the strongest and most powerful female athletes!
Gender equality seems to be a cause close to your heart. What is your opinion of it in the sports industry?
It is. I've personally been victim to men in powerful positions believing that it is okay to mistreat, disrespect and silence a woman. And that's why I'm so passionate about women's rights—because I know how demeaning, belittling and frustrating it can be to have your worth diminished in the eyes of others based purely on gender. Nobody—least of all a man—can make you feel small without your permission!
That said, it doesn't mean gender equality doesn't exist. I think in many ways, the sports scene is where it's usually among the firsts to break barriers. Serena Williams, for example, is constantly shattering the stereotype of what it means to be a strong, beautiful and athletic woman.
There is no reason we can't be just as strong or stronger than the boys! If you do what you've always done, you'll get the results that have always been gotten.
That's beautiful. Speaking of strong women, who is your role model in your sport?
Elise Christie. She is the current world champion for short track speed skating and the fastest female in the world! It's all hard work that's paid off. She is the first one at the rink in the morning and the last to leave. She trains with the boys, she's just as strong as the boys and just as fast as the boys.
This is what I feel feminism means. Equality goes both ways. It applies to the mindset of females learning to measure themselves up to the males as well. When I compete against my teammates, I don't just want to be the best female skater, but the fastest skater. Period.
That makes sense. How do you think this can be changed though?
The problem is that many women have been conditioned with the mentality of thinking small and believing that they are never good enough. There is no reason we can't be just as strong or stronger than the boys! If you do what you've always done, you'll get the results that have always been gotten. I want to help other women to not just think outside the box but to realise that there is no box. There is no limit to what women can achieve and accomplish.
We see you often post inspirational quotes on your Instagram. What's one that you often live by?
"But all the magic I have known I've had to make myself." — Where the sidewalk ends, Shel Silverstein
Any particular reasons for choosing that?
There is a common misconception that people get 'lucky'. What most people don't realise is that successful people make their own luck by perseverance, hard work and an indomitable will. Luck favours the prepared and hard working.
More importantly, we, as women, have so much more stigmas and glass ceilings to fight against which goes to show what a beautiful strength women have to endure all that and still spread love to those around them.
The thing I take away most from this quote is that everyone has the power to create whatever it is they want to achieve. You are enough. Beautiful enough. Strong enough. Smart enough. Loved enough.