Singaporean of the Year finalist: Unstoppable Shanti Pereira inspires with her grit and guts, Latest Team Singapore News - The New Paper
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Singaporean of the Year finalist: Unstoppable Shanti Pereira inspires with her grit and guts

She put up arguably the greatest individual year in Singapore track and field history, breaking records and mining gold in stunning fashion.

Sprint queen Shanti Pereira made her mark in Europe, conquered Asia, and was unbeatable in South-east Asia in 2023.

And the significance of her achievements sank in when she was stopped in her tracks by a young girl in tears.

At the Singapore Schools Sports Council Colours Award ceremony in September, a student from CHIJ St. Theresa’s Convent, where the event was held, approached the guest of honour at the end of the night.

Crying, the girl was initially unable to muster any words. Eventually, she looked up at her idol and uttered four words.

“You are really inspiring.”

It left a lasting impression on 27-year-old Pereira.

She said: “Judging from the reactions, Singaporeans feel inspired by my story. I think they appreciate the fact that I stuck to what I loved, had the resilience and overcame tough times. People find inspiration in my story because it was a comeback.”

Pereira is a finalist for the Singaporean of the Year Award, which is organised by The Straits Times to recognise those who have made a significant contribution to society. This can be through achievements that put Singapore on the world stage, or by going beyond the call of duty to selflessly improve the lives of others in the community, among other ways.

The award, now in its ninth edition, is presented by UBS Singapore.

It has been a spectacular year for the sprinter.

The gold rush began in May, when she won the 100m and 200m titles at the Cambodia SEA Games, and she repeated the feat at the Asian Athletics Championships in July. In August, she became the first Singaporean track and field athlete to reach the semi-finals of the world championships in Budapest, and her performance in the 200m also earned her a spot in the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

Over the course of the year, she rewrote the 100m national mark six times and the 200m record four times.

In October, there was a stunning finale at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Stadium when she ended Singapore’s 49-year wait for a track and field gold at the Asian Games by claiming the women’s 200m crown, to add to her 100m silver.

Pereira said: “The year was just incredible. Even now, I can’t really believe all the things that have happened. The fact that I could put Singapore on the map, that’s just an amazing feeling.”

And therein lies her greatest contribution – she is someone who inspires Singaporeans to aim high.

Pereira is celebrated not just for the medals, but also the power behind them. She offers proof that a home-grown track athlete can stand on the top of the podium in Asia.

Getting there was not without its struggles. She fought through them to get to the top, and she wants to share her story to show it can be done.

In an earlier interview with The Straits Times, she admitted to struggling with “a very big identity crisis” which saw her spiral to the lowest point of her life.

After the high of 2015 when she was the talk of the town after winning her first SEA Games gold in the 200m on home soil, she endured a barren seven years.

Dogged by self-doubt as the critics grew louder and louder, her dip in performance saw her excluded from the Sport Excellence Scholarship programme in 2019. In the same week, she also lost her Yip Pin Xiu Scholarship from the Singapore Management University when she failed to hit the required minimum grade point average.

Chatter in the sports fraternity did not help. There were comments about her weight and she was tagged a “has-been”.

She endured it all and continued to run. The unconditional love and support from her family kept her going, as did her indispensable coach Luis Cunha.

Today, Pereira understands the power of perseverance and overcoming adversity, and she wants to spread the message.

Since her Asian Games triumph, she has been a guest speaker at several events here and one across the Causeway.

She said: “I hope that people somehow draw inspiration from my story, and it maybe helps lift them out of what they are going through. Maybe they are going through something really difficult and somehow my story can bring them out of the dark and see them achieve success in their own way.”

There are more chapters to come in Pereira’s story.

In 2024, her sights are set on a good showing at the July 26-Aug 11 Paris Olympics.

“I hope it is gonna be another dream season,” she said.

After a break that included a vacation in South Korea, she is already back in the gym and on the track before she resumes her season in April.

Pereira will not stop, unless she meets a girl who just wants to tell her how much of an inspiration she is.