Olympic gymnast Farah Ann gracefully steps onto a new mat, not of competition but of self-discovery — navigating the twists, turns, and somersaults of finding out how to be just Farah.
“I’m learning how to be myself. I’ve been the gymnast Farah Ann for so long that now, I’m retired, I need to find who I am,” Farah candidly shares with me, the echo of a gymnastics era still resonating in her words — almost eclipsing her persona.
In the midst of on-set chaos, I had the pleasure of being in the presence of Trailblazer Farah Ann Abdul Hadi. Needless to say, I am nervous, grappling with the universal question every interviewer faces — “Where do I even begin?” However, as I find myself next to the Olympian, I discover more layers to unfold, and the conversation flows like a river stream — providing a deeper insight into the many chapters of Farah Ann peeling back in her journey of self-discovery.
The transition from a life of flips and tumbles to one without the rhythmic routine of training isn’t a cartwheel in the park, but Farah approaches it with the same precision and grace that have defined her on the mat (and vaults).
As the echoes of Farah’s athletic feats reverberate, from the highs of international success to the heart-wrenching decision of retirement, each chapter unfolds with the intensity of a perfectly executed routine. Farah Ann, with a mixture of nostalgia and anticipation, navigates through her personal journey of finding Farah, a path that’s more complex than any gymnastics routine she’s ever mastered.
Retirement isn’t a full stop; it’s a pause for Farah. Beyond the glittering medals and applause-filled arenas, she confronts the challenge of defining herself outside the familiar realms of gymnastics. The idea of organising a Biles Invitational-like competition showcases her commitment to nurturing the next generation of athletes, ensuring the legacy of dedication and passion lives on.
As the first Malaysian ambassador for Swisse, Farah’s collaboration isn’t just about health; it’s a dynamic fusion of purpose and influence. She envisions a positive impact, aligning her goals with Swisse to inspire Malaysians on a journey towards well-being. In this interview, we speak to Farah Ann about her journey of re-discovery and shedding the skin of her gymnastics legacy as she enters a new era.
How has 2023 been for you so far and what are the highlights?
2023 has been a year of self-discovery for me. It’s a whole new year for me being a different version of myself and no longer being labelled as an athlete. The highlights of 2023 for me were discovering new passions like travelling, judging [competitions] and motivational speaking. It’s just been a year of re-discovering who I am without the label of an athlete.
As a trailblazer, you’ve achieved remarkable success on the international stage. You announced your retirement last year, can you describe the emotion and experience you went through before deciding to retire?
It was heartbreaking. It wasn’t a decision I took very lightly. Right after coming back from the Olympic Games, the process had started. I was still training at the time but in my mind, I was like “I think it’s time.” A lot of conversations happened between my coaches, people in the sports industry, family members and friends. There were a lot of sleepless nights and tears were shed. Because it’s my life. I was a gymnast, I identify as being a gymnast and I always wanted to step down on my own terms. After achieving the highest accolade I could ever get in my sport and the biggest competition in my life, I thought it was the most remarkable time to leave the sport because I’ve completed my wishlist and achieved my goal. It’s complete.
I went through a very low period in my life after announcing my retirement, I was non-existent because I had to let go of a huge part of me. For so long, I identified myself as one thing and now I no longer have that shield. It was very hard to say it’s okay, there are new things. I went to Greece for the International Olympic Academy. There were so many people from different walks of sports life and I realised that I have so much to give back and I want to do it, not as a gymnast but as Farah. My worthiness is not attached to being a gymnast, my worthiness is attached to myself and who I am. It’s just Farah, no longer Farah Ann, the gymnast.
Transitioning from a competitive athlete to life after retirement can be challenging. How did you navigate this transition?
It was hard. There were a lot of waterworks. Someone told me it feels like a loss and a death and it touched my heart because it is a loss and death of that version of myself. It’s gone and I no longer can be that person anymore. Now, I’m able to be more than I was. I had to go through all the emotions and accept it even though it took me months. It was scary for me because I was at the peak of my field and spent 25 years honing my craft. And now, I have to start from scratch. I told myself, “It’s okay. You win some and you lose some. It’s okay to do that and be something else. That’s what life is.”
You’ve mentioned previously that you’d like to organise a competition similar to the Biles Invitational. Are you still exploring this and will this be something we can expect from you soon?
Yes, it is. That will be coming next year. It’s very exciting for me because it’s a totally different role as organiser rather than competing in it. It’s something I can give back to the community and my sport. I am exploring doing a junior competition as I want young girls to have more opportunities to compete in Malaysia. I’m very excited to explore this new role as organiser.
You’ve become a symbol of empowerment and inspiration for many young Malaysians. What message or advice do you have for aspiring athletes who look up to you?
My advice is you have to go through everything to figure out who you are. In my whole career, I’ve had so many ups and downs, but I discovered a lot of my failures have helped me build myself back up and learn how strong I am. Always believe in yourself because there will always be pushback from everyone. But if you have a strong resolve and believe in what you want, you can achieve it.
Could you share any key life lessons or values that you’ve learned from your years as a gymnast and how these lessons have influenced your post-retirement endeavours?
Failure is not the end of the road. It’s the beginning of a new journey. I’ve had multiple failures. But every step of my career has been there to teach me to be able to learn and be accountable for yourself. If you start blaming others for mistakes, you will never be able to grow as a person. Because you have no accountability to what you need to do for yourself to grow. To be able to grow out of it and to forgive is hard sometimes because you will meet people that will doubt you. But if you hold on to that grudge, you will never be able to overcome it.
Malaysian sports have evolved over the years and you played a pivotal role in this transformation. What are your thoughts on the progress of gymnastics, with new hopefuls like Sharul Aimy and Ng Joe Ee, and sports in Malaysia?
I am so grateful and happy to see the explosion of gymnastics in Malaysia. I never really saw it when I was training. But now that I’m a judge, I actually see girls, and they tell me they’re doing it because they saw me compete. It’s really insane for me. Because, for me, when I was a gymnast, there was tunnel vision. There was never a bigger picture other than the goals that I needed to achieve for myself and for the country. But now I get to mingle and talk to people. It’s incredibly humbling for me, and I’m so thankful to be able to be an inspiration for someone. I’m ecstatic about that. I used to train with Sharul, and to see him now all grown up to be such a wonderful athlete and to see him through his hardships and coming back from that. Even with Joe Ee, it’s amazing to see such a bright future, and I wish that our sport becomes one of the best in the world.
Congratulations on your appointment as the first Malaysian ambassador for Swisse. What drew you to collaborate with Swisse?
I advocate for health and wellness and being the best version of yourself. It means it’s not just looks, it’s also about feeling good and living the best life you can. When Swisse approached me, I was ecstatic to collaborate because the entire company is dedicated to wellness, health, and being the best version of you. Aligning our visions and working together to achieve that common goal is what drew me to the brand. There’s something for everyone, and that’s what I love because health is not a one-size-fits-all for everyone.
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As Swisse’s ambassador, what are your goals and aspirations in promoting health and wellness in Malaysia, and how do you envision using your influence to make a positive impact through this partnership?
With Swisse, it’s really important to be on the same path and to promote that health is important for everyone. There’s always a stigma of health only being having one look which is petite and that to be healthy you need to spend a lot of money, which is not true. Health is about being mentally strong, feeling good in your body, being able to do the things you want to do. It’s to be able to feel the best in your own body. That is what health is. And I think with Swisse, we are able to communicate and bounce ideas off each other and use my platform to impact people to make healthier life choices for themselves.
Beyond gymnastics, are there other passions or interests that you wish to explore post-competitive life? Could you tell us more about your aspirations and the next chapter outside the sporting arena?
Obviously, my love and passion are in gymnastics. I want to break boundaries for women in sports and grow my sport more in Malaysia by creating a camp for kids and judging. Other than that, I’ve actually been exploring a lot of going more into fashion and TV. I want to try my hand at the entertainment side. So I’m actively trying to go into more acting roles, hosting, and sports broadcasting. I’ve done one thing my whole life and now I’m very open to exploring new things. At the end of my life, I want to be able to say to myself, I’ve done everything that I’ve wanted to do.
What are your plans for next year?
Next year is a big one for me. I’m diving deep to complete what I’ve planned — my competition, new roles, getting my judging licence, and boosting gymnastics in Malaysia. This year has been about trying new things, and next year is about coming into my own – of being just Farah. I used to introduce myself as Farah Ann the gymnast, and now I’m okay with being just Farah and that’s enough.
LSA100: 100 Malaysians, 100 Milestones
Lifestyle Asia KL introduces LSA 100, an annual list that recognises Malaysia’s most influential names and celebrates their talents, contributions, successes and milestones. As the bellwether of style, travel, design, entertainment, business, sports, and more, these 100 Malaysians represent the next generation of go-getters who are paving the way for sharing their know-hows with the world through the power of digital media. LSA100 comprises five categories namely The Rising Aces, The Trailblazers, The Disruptors, The Tastemakers and The Navigators. Find out more about LSA100 Class of 2023, HERE.
editor-in-chief & creative direction MARTIN TEO | interview MALLIE MARAN | assisted by RONN TAN & MALLIE MARAN | photography ERIC CHOW | videography SIMON TAN | video editor JACKIE MAH | makeup KF BONG using YSL BEAUTY | hair ERANTHE LOO | stylist AZZA ARIF | wardrobe MARCIANO by GUESS | special thanks SWISSE MALAYSIA
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