SINGAPORE — Danielle Lim comes across as a typical Singaporean young adult – charming, cheerful and confident.
Then you find out that she is a national-team wrestler. Not a very typical sport for a woman in this country.
Then you learn about her family background – a once-abusive father who left the family for more than 10 years, a mother who has had to raise three children on her own, and an elder brother whom she had to turn over to the police for coming home with drugs.
Obstacles tough enough to break a typical young adult. Not this 22-year-old, who has recently clinched the $10,000 Evolve Warrior Scholarship from Evolve Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Academy.
Not only has Lim emerged as a bright local talent in her chosen sport, not only has she overcome initial academic struggles to be studying for a physiotherapy degree at the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), she has somehow also retained the enthusiasm to move on in her young life.
“I just believe that, whatever I experienced in the past – whether with my family or with the lack of achievement I had when I was younger – they made me the person that I am today,” she told Yahoo News Singapore after her training session at the Evolve’s Far East Square branch on Wednesday (26 August).
“Without those experiences, I don't think I'll be able to channel the same kind of motivation I have, or the same kind of willingness to do the sport.
“It just made me a tougher person. It really made me who I am today.”
How she got into an unconventional sport
Picking up an unconventional sport like wrestling also gave Lim the inspiration to battle against adversity.
After taking part in team sports like handball and netball in her younger days, she was introduced to wrestling almost by chance in 2017. She was studying sports coaching at Republic Polytechnic, and was assigned to follow a wrestling coach at a training session.
Seeing her interest in the sport, the wrestling coach invited her to try out. Within three sessions, Lim was encouraged to go for a local meet, where she won a medal while armed with just one basic technique. That eventually led her to joining the national development team, and eventually the national team in 2019.
“What I really like about an individual sport like wrestling is that you reap what you sow. When the whistle blows, it’s just between me and my opponent, and it boils down to how well I use what I have learnt over the months of training,” she said.
“You really learn about fighting through difficulties, and how to be at ‘100 per cent commitment’ all the time. To be able to see progress after all the hard work, it really motivates me a lot to deal with all the stuff in my life.”
‘Inspired by her heart of gold and happy spirit’
Lim’s spirited emergence from her grim childhood to become a promising sports talent caught the eyes of those awarding sports scholarships. She was awarded the Singapore Olympic Foundation-Peter Lim Scholarship since last year, and has also earned an SIT scholarship to defray studying costs.
Last month, she earned the nod to be the second recipient of the Evolve Warrior Scholarship, handed out by Evolve MMA since 2019 to help students from underprivileged families with their education. She received S$10,000 to help with her university school fees, as well as a free lifetime membership to the academy.
“When I met with Danielle, I was inspired by her heart of gold and happy spirit. You would never be able to tell that she survived a tough childhood of abuse, adversity, and poverty,” said Evolve MMA chairman and founder Chatri Sityodtong in awarding the scholarship to Lim.
“Danielle is an inspiration to everyone, including me. (Her) story is a reminder that it does not matter where we begin in life. We can always create a better future if we choose to make the sacrifices for our dreams.”
Mother’s support through her sporting journey
Lim, understandably, is grateful for the scholarship, saying that it takes a “really, really heavy load” off her shoulders and allows her to focus better in training.
Yet, even her blossoming wrestling career has encountered obstacles.
Last year, she was on the verge of making her first SEA Games, but the Philippines organisers removed her weight division at the last moment as they struggled with operational costs.
Then this year, the COVID-19 crisis disrupted everything in sports, and Lim can only hope that the pandemic would be over next year, so that she would finally be able to make her SEA Games bow in Hanoi.
Still, just like how she has pressed on in spite of her troubles in life, she has found out that things will turn out for the better when she perseveres in wrestling. For example, her mother’s opinion of the sport.
“When I first started wrestling, she was always saying things like, ‘don’t do it, you’ll get injured’ or ‘just focus on being a woman, don’t do this sort of thing’. She even cried the first time she saw me competing,” she recalled with a laugh.
“But now she comes down to support me every match, and that means a lot to me. Without her support, I don’t think I could have come so far in this journey.”
From wrestling with a troubled family background, to having strong support from her mother to do wrestling, it has definitely been a journey far from the typical for Danielle Lim.
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