MALAYSIANS KINI Nastenka Sureshar, who's in the national back-up karate team, is seeking to crowdfund RM6,350 to allow her to pursue her martial arts dream - to emerge as one of the top contenders in the world, even as she pursues her studies in civil engineering.
Her tagline is: "To fight like Bruce Lee while building Burj Khalifas for the world".
The 21-year-old Universiti Tenaga Nasional (Uniten) student needs the money for meals, accommodation and transportation over a span of two semesters, or roughly six months.
"My father is a part-time electrical engineer and the sole breadwinner in the family. I am the eldest of four siblings.
"I cannot ask for more than my parent can afford. I don't want to feel like I am burdening my dad just because I am into karate," she said.
With RM70 a week as pocket money, she often has to choose between spending on 'luxuries' like a RM6 plate of char kuey teow or use the same amount for KTM komuter fares, to travel two to four times per week from her university to her 'dojo' at Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah for training.
"I often end up having only one meal per day, or just buying a packet of instant noodles for myself," she told Malaysiakini .
Nastenka, who is also dubbed 'Karate Kid' or 'Kung Fu Panda' by those close to her, won the gold medal in the 2015 Commonwealth karate championship, her biggest achievement so far.
This year will mark another important phase in her karate career, as she will be given a chance to be selected as a permanent member of the national team.
However, she will need to earn the ticket by performing well in the South East Asian karate Championship (Seakaf) in March.
Thus, despite being initially reluctant about it, she is asking for funds from the general public through a local higher education crowdfunding website, Skolafund, from early this year.
(Editor's note: Click here to help Nastenska pursue her dreams)
In her own words, here is her story:
IT IS NOT EASY TO ASK FOR MONEY from the public, I have to psych myself up telling myself that you have to be humble and go to the lowest point to reach where you want to go.
There is a saying: If you cannot receive, then you give, and you may receive when you give.
However, my plan is not to share a sob story to raise money. Instead, I highlight my plus points. I am doing two extremely tough things at the same time - going all out in karate and studying one of the hardest of subjects - civil engineering.
If the people want to give, then they give, if not, then that's it. So far I have collected some RM600 or one-tenth of my target.
I WANT TO FIGHT LIKE BRUCE LEE while building the Burj Khalifas (the world's tallest building) for the world. Let me do it, fund me for it.
This is what I wrote in the Skolafund website.
“I watched his documentary and was surprised that the camera could not catch his actions - they had to be presented in slow motion.
I saw in him a hardworking, fearless and determined person. Moreover, he put a sense of worth into martial arts. I am attracted by his philosophy.
I HAD CHUBBY CHEEKS AND A BELLY when I was younger. I was annoyed by the stereotyped mindset of a teacher, who thought I could only shine in the shot put, but never in sprinting. However, I proved that I could sprint and my team has won a relay event.
I WAS QUITE THE TOMBOY THEN. I fought with boys and arm-wrestled them. My mother said she was okay for me to dominate, but she told me not to do the 'funny' things, such as smoking.
She influenced me a lot, she taught me swimming and cycling even though she herself was not familiar with these sports.
I once wanted to be a singer but gave up due to reality. I guess engineering runs deep in my family, so it is natural for me to take up civil engineering.
I WAS HIT WITH THE IDEA OF TAKING UP SELF DEFENCE following several cases of children being kidnapped in Sentul, where I lived.
Then I saw the signboard of a karate dojo at the neighbourhood.
I joined the sport at school when I was 13, but only began to take it seriously when I was 15.
MY FIRST MASTER YAAMINI , a former national karate athlete, opened the doors to the world of karate for me.
She spent five minutes telling us about karate and her stories of traveling to over 40 countries before the first class. I was hooked, and was a rapt student for the rest of the training.
She had inspired me to be a national player.
My second master P Arvalagan showed me how martial arts relates to life.
I WORKED VERY HARD in my training. Besides training at the dojo, I would spend time stretching and worked on my footwork at home and at school.
Footwork is very important in kumite (sparring). Without good footwork you won't be able to effectively strike and pull back.
Karate students are often told the tale of an Iranian athlete who won used footwork to avoid his opponent and only attacked in the last 10 seconds. He won.
I WON MEDALS IN MOST OF THE TOURNAMENTS I TOOK PART IN since I was 15, be it at the Milo karate championship or the Makaf national cadet junior and under-21 championships, organised by the umbrella body for karate, the Malaysian Karate Federation (Makaf).
I won the Makaf junior title and I won the silver medal in Sukan Malaysia too. I was popular back then in my high school - SMK Convent Sentul. There were times where my schoolmates came to me, called me 'kak' and I blushed.
I HAVE A BABY FACE , so I dyed my hair to look fiercer in order to intimidate my opponents.
I was known for my kizami (jab punch with front hand) strike when I took part in kumite (sparing) in the under-61kg category, while my favourite technique is jodan (punch to face and stomach) when I participated in the kumite for the above-68 kg category. I was also good in my kicks.
I THOUGHT I WAS GOOD until a Japanese national player punched me so hard in the stomach that it left me with cracked ribs.
Two years ago, we went to Kinki University, Japan for a one-week training. I learned to be more precise, aggressive and confident. I learned to attack with clean strikes.
However, I developed a phobia following the punch to my stomach which cracked my ribs.
She thought I was a senior athlete then, as I wore a black belt. My coach had told me that if I wore a brown belt, it would be disrespectful to them.
Though my ribs healed, I was still haunted by the memory and have not dared to utilise kizami as often as I had.
I felt angry then, I told myself I have to beat her one day.
ONCE I THOUGHT I WOULD NOT GO FAR in karate.
I felt so when I fought with Shakira, a national athlete, who beat me 8-0 easily in a competition. She was tall, strong and agile, taller than me and had the advantage.
When your opponent beats you in a kumite , that means you can stop fighting. I was so heartbroken that even until now, I have not gotten over it. But now, I am feeling better about it.
There were times I felt karate was not going to work out for me, that I'd better give up. I even stopped training and concentrated only on my studies - until my coach put some sense back into my head.
I then realised that I wasn't only doing this for myself, as a lot of people were actually looking up at me. I owe it to the others too, to continue my journey.
Even before, I was beaten by another girl who wasn't famous in the game. I cried for days and days, I couldn't get myself straight at all.
My mother told me: "No matter how high you walk, you still stumble on a stone and fall."
I guessed, this made sense. For me, that is easy, when someone talks sense to me, then I realise...Hey, what am I doing?
I PARTICIPATED IN THE COMMONWEALTH KARATE CHAMPIONSHIP last year when the national team decided not to compete, for their own reasons.
So, they gave several tickets to my coach. I was chosen based on the silver medal I won in the Makaf senior competition in the above-68kg category.
I wasn't in the national team then. I was only selected into the national back-up team last December.
However, the national team only sponsored half of the cost of our flight tickets to India. We had to fork out another RM1,000.
I asked my coach to pay for first and later I paid him back in five months via instalments, as I was given a monthly allowance by the Negeri Sembilan team, which I represented.
MY FATHER WAS SO FURIOUS THEN with the fact that I had to pay for my flight ticket when I represented the country.
He himself is a sportsman. At the age of 44, he still plays for the KLFA (Kuala Lumpur Football Association).
He wants me to concentrate only on my studies, He even tried to discourage me. I remember him saying,"You always only win the silver medal, why do you want to continue ?"
Then I rebutted, "You yourself are not quitting football, why do you want me to stop?"
Yes, we quarrel a lot but we are pretty much alike when it comes to the sports we love.
I AM NOT READY TO QUIT even though both my knees have suffered injuries that the doctors say may cripple me by the time I am 40, if I continue to train aggressively.
Both my anterior cruciate ligaments have been torn while my medial collateral ligaments and patella have been loosened.
The injuries go back a few years and were caused by training, as I need to exert my knees to generate force for each punch. I only recently realised how serious they were.
It is quite common for karate athletes to suffer injuries on their knees and ankles. But they usually suffer injuries in only one leg.
Such injuries would impact the achievements of the athlete. I know some of my seniors were forced to stop for six months and had to withdraw from competitions.
I don't feel the pain during training due to the excitement, but I feel it when I walk, sit and even when I sleep. Sometimes I cry for days and feel depressed.
I have just finished my final examinations and will be fully committed in training, preparing for the upcoming Sukma and Seakaf competitions. I am thinking of swimming to build my stamina, instead of jogging, to ease pressure on my knees.
I can still pursue my dream but I fear that injuries could limit my karate career. However, I will only stop once I qualify to compete in the world karate championship and become one of the best in the world.
MALAYSIANS KINI is a series on Malaysians you should know.
Editor's note: Natenska's crowdfunding site can be found here.