“I tend to do this thing where I wink when I’m playing on the court without realising it,” Datuk Nicol David confesses nonchalantly out loud, winking unintentionally at the camera in between shots. That very Wednesday morning, Nicol – a vision of quiet beauty with her eyes smoked with charcoal liner, her long jet-black hair cascading down her back in natural waves – is the embodiment of the revered strength and confidence she exudes on the squash court.Off-court, she remains very much the Penangnative she was raised as. She’s thrilled that she has made the most of this short trip back to Malaysia by spending quality time with her family in Penang over the weekend, where she tells me she celebrated her father’s birthday and even managed to squeeze in a couple of obligatory makan sessions.
“I will have to find time to fit in training as I am gearing up for a tournament next week in the Netherlands,” Nicol says as we discuss on her next move once she leaves town in a few days. Is it going to be a bittersweet goodbye for the squash queen as she goes on to play herfinal few tournaments on court? “It’s more of a celebration really,” she assures me confidently. “Having my team with me, my coach and just the people who know me who will be there to cheer me on my last tournament in the British Open. When I made the decision (to retire from competitive squash), I had to go through the process of understanding that I’m ready to move forward and do something more for myself. From this moment on, it’s more about enjoying every step of the way, every tournament with the people around so I will savour every moment right now,” says Nicol who has openly revealed that it took her a while to accept the fact that she was going to end her squash career within a two-year time frame.
It was during the US Open one and a half years ago that she started questioning what she really wanted to do with her squash career. The answer was obvious – togive back to the community and next generation, by extending the same opportunity for them topursue their dreams just like she did.
When we approach the subject of her accomplishments and accolades, I am instantly struck by the way Nicol speaks with a deep sense of humility. In the face of achievements and success, she is deeply humbled by the recognition and support she has received over the years yetshe exudes an air of confidence she attributes closely to sport. That and a dash of humour which keeps her in check as she jokes around a room full of press during her campaign launch.
As the world’s most decorated squash athlete, her résumé reads: 20 years of professional squash, nine years as world number one, eight- time squash world champion. Not forgetting, the honorary title of the Greatest of All Time (G.O.A.T.) bestowed upon her by her peers and the public. And if there were ever three words that could deftly sum up Nicol’s illustrious squash career, it would be power, determination and heart. These three qualities encapsulate Nicol’s passion, mission, goals and experiences, which she shares with the public through her new campaign aptly titled The Dream Remains.
Nicol talks me through the three qualities that form the core basis of who she is and what she has achieved so far. “Power is something that is built in you, something that you have to first believe in and know what you really want. Imagine all the different possibilities that will come your way and start dreaming,” she points out. “Determination is working hard and going for something without giving up and pushing yourself to the limit. Know that if you keep working towards your goal, it will come through even despite struggles and hardship. Determination represents how far I’ve come in my squash career as it really resonates with the resilience I’ve demonstrated in the sport and what I’m willing to do for myself.”
“The heart aspect touches on my passion for squash. If you don’t have the heart and passion for something you love doing, then you can’t fully commit to the other two aspects of power and determination. All these three values have to be present for me to reach the success that I have and be the person that I am today,” says Nicol.
Moving forward, Nicol’s agenda to push for women’s empowerment is something she will be focusing on once she retires in June. She has announced her plans to work closely with the Professional Squash Association (PSA) to spread the awareness of squash and increase the visibility of women’s professional tournament while pushing for female players to gain more recognition. Tapping into middle range tournaments is also on her list to get more women’s tournaments out there.
As brand ambassador for Mercedes-Benz, Nicol will also be advocating women’s empowerment through this exclusive partnership. She was recently in town to speak at the She’s Mercedes launch, a platform initiated by Mercedes to inspire, connect and empower women. “Just by partnering with Mercedes alone shows that we already share the same values and their focus is to work on women’s empowerment. I’m very excited to see this through with Mercedesand to get the message out there,” says Nicol of her partnership with Mercedes.
We can also expect to see more of her female empowerment work through the Nicol David Foundation, as Nicol hopes to reach out to more girls especially in Malaysia. “Empowering girls through sport is always from my heart. I want girls to feel safe with sport and know that they can use sport to build their self-confidence and self-esteem,” she says, stressing that it is absolutely crucial to create a positive environment and encourage positive dialogue from a young age. “Finding the right people to surround yourself with can be hard sometimes, but you can also create that by sharing your own journey or experience so that they can follow that lead and they will feel like they have that responsibility to take that on themselves.”
What advice does she have for young girls who are told they can’t achieve something simply because of their gender? “No-one should have the right to say what they can or cannot do. We have more power than we think and know, so it’s really important to be kind to ourselves first so we don’t have to feel like we have to fit into a box that people expect us to be.”
Acknowledging her influence as role model and female icon, Nicol has announced that she will be sharing her learnings and experiences through her motivational series called Nurturing Belief which will include talks and writings. “My parents have given me so much in terms of the nurturing aspect but you can’t just tell a kid to believe in themselves, you have to nurture that part very carefully. I want to explain that not everyone may know how to create or nurture that before you can go into that belief system,” she elaborates further on her motivational series.
With an impressive list of accolades and accomplishments, I ask the former world number one about the legacy she wishes to leave behind. “I just want to continue to pass the message forward that I have been truly blessed to do what I’ve done with so much support and I’m just so thankful that I can play a role and be an inspiration to others. I want to set that legacy and the fact that if I can achieve all that, so can others,” the squash champion concludes with a smile.
Stylist & creative direction Ibnu Aswan
Photographer Kim Mun @ Hopscotch Studio
Make-up artist Joey Yap
Hair Bibian Leong
Stylist’s assistant Rayven Raj
Location space National Squash Centre, Bukit Jalil
This story was first published in Prestige Malaysia May 2019 issue