Are champions born or can they be created? There has always been discussion about the nature versus nurture concept, and how much impact genetics and even where you come from has on sporting ability, which in turn has an effect on how successful you are. Sports scientists have tried to find a definitive answer to the question, but there really isn’t one. There are children born with innate athletic prowess and even if they don’t have access to training or equipment, if discovered, are able to reach the highest levels of international sport. A prime example of this are the distance runners of East Africa where many assumptions have been made concerning their success; from running at altitude to genes predisposed to high endurance.
This brings us to one of the top female athletes in Malaysia and one of the best water-skiers in the region. Aaliyah Yoong Hanifah is only 14 years old but has already accomplished more than most sports people twice her age. At this year’s SEA Games she will be taking part in the Trick, Jump and Overall events. She is expected to win gold in the Trick and Overall. This may seem like a rather tall order for a teenager, but Aaliyah has been competing all her life and was the youngest medal winner in SEA Games history when she won gold aged eight in 2011, which is quite a feat!
Training Schedule & Fitness
Aaliyah competes all year around the world and her training schedule is intense. During non-competition times, she trains five to six days per week – getting into the water two to three times for 15-minute sessions. She also goes to the gym twice a week for up two hours, and has mental conditioning and physio as and when needed. Before the age of 13, she could only do exercises using her own body weight. But, naturally very strong and well-coordinated due to water skiing at such an early age and good genetics, Aaliyah does lift quite heavily in the gym now.
Before a big event like the SEA Games, training is as mentioned above except that gym work is reduced a month before the event and overall training decreases before she competes. There are breaks in between, but there’s always some form of training going on even if it’s light.
As she has been training from such a young age, she’s always had good eating habits. This has been made easier because the whole family is conscious of what they consume which makes it second nature for her. Fresh produce, especially vegetables, is a mainstay. An example of a meal would be rice with mixed dishes, vegetable soup, bread and salad. To upkeep her strength and stamina she needs to be at the top of the game and wholesome nutrition is a necessity. Processed, oily food is avoided and she is very conscious of remaining hydrated, as dehydrated muscles tear easier. As with any teen, she does enjoy the occasional treat - Subway and Starbucks are her favourite!
This year’s water-skiing events will run from August 26th to 29th and the Malaysian team is on track to win medals. Aaliyah’s younger brothers Aiden (aged 11) and Adam (aged 9) will also be participating, and needless to say, they are one of the youngest athletes in any sport to compete. Aaliyah is reigning Asian champion and SEA Games Tricks and Overall gold medallist from the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore, so will be attempting to retain her title.
And this brings us back to the question – are champions born or created? In Aaliyah’s case, it’s definitely a potent mixture of both.