09 Jan Mirnigar Begum Khan
Mirnigar was born as the eldest of four children. Her interest in sports grew in Primary School out of her admiration to one of her fellow schoolmate who does well in sports. Mirnigar was determined to achieve the same excellence in sports. She began her journey when she took part in high jump and hurdles representing the district and made it to the semi-final.
She discovered long distance run when she studied in Changkat Changi Secondary School. She saw an opportunity to compete in a cross-country run for 3.2 kilometres. She decided to give it a shot and went for training. It was her first time and she made a mistake of sprinting at the beginning of the run. As a result, she was already out of breath after the first 100 metres and could only walk throughout the event. She noticed the seasoned athletes who participated in the event and was amazed at their stamina. After the race, initially she did not want to continue, thinking that long distance run was not suitable for her. But she did not give up and continued training anyway. She participated in her second cross-country run and was surprised that she could finish at seventh place. She realized that she could actually do it.
It was her coach, Miss Caryn Booth who saw her talent and gave her encouragement to continue training. Caryn was very patient and caring in managing the school athletes. During the December school holidays, Caryn would bring the students for training in various venues such as the beach and MacRitchie Reservoir and Mount Faber to simulate the different terrains for cross-country run as well as to avoid boredom in otherwise repetitive training. When Mirnigar’s father was initially not in favour of her CCA for fear that she would neglect her studies, Caryn came to talk to him to convince him. Mirnigar also showed that she could manage her time well between study and training. He finally supported Mirnigar’s decision.
With full support from family and dedication from her coach, her performance flourished tremendously. She competed in the cross-country run within Katong District and national level, and finished 3rd place for both events. In 1971, she took top honours in the National Schools Secondary School Athletic Meet as the only schoolgirl in the season to shatter the five-minute barrier for 1,500 metres. She also scored a runaway win in the 800 metres and won the 400 metres event. In 1973, she posted the fastest 1,500 metres run at the National level.
In 1971, she was selected as Singapore’s representative in the Southeast Asian Peninsula Games (SEAP Games, later changed to SEA Games) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She was the youngest athlete (as a student) in the team. Despite juggling preparation for O Level examination and the SEAP Games at the same time, she won a bronze medal and broke the national record for the 1500 metres. She was again selected as the state representative in the following athletic meet in Philippines while she was studying at Tanjong Katong Girl’s School. This time the competition coincided with her A Level examination. However, it did not stop her from breaking her previous record and set up a new National record for 1500 metres at 4’ 41.8s. It is also an unbroken School National record until today. Following this, she was selected to represent the state in the Asian Track and Field Meet in Korea in 1975.
Tiredness never crossed her mind while juggling her training and study. Her coach also played a part in helping to manage the student’s time to keep a proper balance. It also came at a price of her social life. She did not have time to hang out with friends or to go travelling during the school holidays as she had to go for training. It was a good thing that she had a good clique of athletes whose company she enjoyed very well. Going for competitions overseas also became her way of travelling.
When she continued her studies to the National University of Singapore (NUS), she joined the track & field team as well as the hockey team. The team won many inter-varsity competitions in Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangkok. Unfortunately, in the university she could not train as much as before as she had a knee injury which affected her performance in the next SEA Games in Bangkok. Gradually, her clique of athletes went separate ways and moved on with their lives.
Mirnigar decided to go into teaching profession because it allows her to contribute in both the academic and sports. It is also a profession where she feels she could contribute meaningfully to another person’s life. She is a Subject Head in National Education in Temasek Secondary School. She also coaches the school’s track and field team. She regularly represents the Singapore delegates in the ASEAN School Games held in Phillipines, Indonesia and China. One of her two daughters, Natasha followed her foot steps and competed in the National Schools Track and Field Meet when she was in Cedar Secondary School. In her personal life, Mirnigar still maintains good relationship with her coach, Caryn until today and even travelled together.
Her biggest challenge throughout her journey as an athlete was to juggle between sports and her studies. Her experience has proven that with self-discipline, determination, interest and hard work, it is possible to excel in both. She remembered how training was never easy. There were times where felt like giving up but she chose to focus. Today, whenever she sees her medals and trophies she was glad that she chased her passion.
“For me, time is precious and I did not want to waste it by doing things that I could not even remember one day. Now as I look back, I am happy knowing that I have spent my youth fruitfully.”
Interview with Madam Mirnigar Begum Khan on 21 December 2015