PETALING JAYA: Mumtaz Jaafar’s life as a child was a battle to breathe.
She was born with asthma, and learned she had it at the age of seven.
At 12, she discovered she could run fast. Really fast.
Seven years later in 1981, she left her SEA Games rivals gasping to win the 100m.
Mumtaz turns 62 next month, a sobering thought for people who remember her as a golden girl of 1980s Malaysian athletics.
Forty-two years have elapsed since she graced the back pages of newspapers, with headlines such as, “How much faster can Mumtaz go?”
On Dec 9, Mumtaz will reunite with athletes at the Sports Flame gala involving more than 100 sports personalities from the 60s, 70s and early 80s.
She said the presence of the King and Queen at the event, co-steered by FMT, would warm the hearts of the sports icons who did the country proud, but got little in return.
Fight and flight
Mumtaz said her furious release of energy while battling asthma as a child was a miracle of fight and flight.
Her asthma was so severe that she received special attention and lived an isolated life.
She said she could not take the school bus with her sisters to the St Teresa Convent in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur, because the attacks came unexpectedly.
In school, she sat idly, watching other pupils exercise until one day fate drew her to the running track.
She was 12 when her teacher told her to replace an absent runner in the 100m during her school’s athletics meet.
Mumtaz won the race to the amazement of everyone. The first sign of a talented sprinter had emerged.
“It was like a miracle because after that I felt better health-wise, and wanted to just run, really fast,” she said.
Soon, the girl who often panted after a short walk, began lifting light weights and doing hill runs.
Mumtaz went on to perform well at state, national and Asean level competitions under coaches Rennie Martin, M Nadarajah, Nashatar Singh and Edwin Abraham.
Her international athletics career began in 1978, at the age of 16, when she was selected as a reserve in the Malaysian 4x100m relay team to the Bangkok Asian Games.
But it was not until the 1981 Manila Sea Games when she stamped her mark.
She won the gold in the 100m in 11.84s ahead of Henny Maspaitella of Indonesia and became the fastest woman in the region.
Malaysia had not struck gold in the women’s 100m since Cheryl Dorall won it in 1967 when it was the SEAP Games. Carmen Koelmeyer won the event at the inaugural games in Bangkok in 1959.
After finishing second to Filipina Lydia de Vega in the 200m in Manila, Mumtaz joined Zaiton Othman, Saik Oik Cum and V Angamah to win both the 4x100m and the 4x400m relays.
The quartet broke the SEA Games and the national record in the 4x100m (46.42) and the Asian record in the 4x400m (3:41.35).
Later that year, the crack team won the 4x400m at the Asian Athletics Championships in Tokyo.
Mumtaz ended her 10-year athletics career with a silver in the 4x100m relay at the 1989 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games, together with G Shanti, Anita Ali and Sajaratudul Hamzah.
Woman of substance
Today, Mumtaz’s priority is to promote women in sport and to challenge the ordinary.
She said she banks on her old school grit to give female athletes the resolve to fight for gender equality, safe sport and sports leadership.
As a long-serving member of the Olympic Council of Malaysia’s (OCM) women in sports committee, she constantly addresses the challenges they face and the way forward.
Mumtaz can be considered an angel of athletes’ welfare, being the person who proposed the formation of national athletes welfare foundation (Yakeb).
She dismissed the credit, saying Rosmah Mansor, the wife of former prime minister Najib Razak, was the driving force behind Yakeb, which began operations in 2008.
Mumtaz, the first chairman of Yakeb, was also a vice-president of OCM and the first woman to be elected deputy president of the Malaysia Athletics Federation.
She is married to Dom Amy Hussain, a respected sports administrator, and they have four children and 11 grandchildren.
“I’m at my best when faced with a battle,” said Mumtaz. “I see the many opportunities I have been given in my life as God’s blessings.”