2020 Annabel Pennefather Award winners Eunice and Wai Yhann: How perseverance and determination helped two young women become champion athletes

March 08, 2021

Every year on the 8th of March, the world celebrates the efforts and achievements of all women both past and present with International Women’s Day. This year, we honour a sports icon, lawyer and woman of the year in 2004 – the late Annabel Pennefather, who was a trailblazer in every sense of the word.

Annabel was a former national hockey player, former Vice-President of Singapore National Olympic Council, former President of the Singapore Hockey Federation, a pioneer of women sports administrators in Singapore and a champion of women in sports globally.

“As her long-time friend, I remember Annabel to be an elegant and warm lady. She combined her passion in sports with her skills as a lawyer to develop Sports Law, its rules and practices both in Singapore and internationally,’’ reminisces Arfat Selvam, Managing Director of Duane Morris & Selvam LLP.

‘’Annabel helped to raise the standards of governance in sports. It is befitting that IWF should honour the memory of a well-loved member by having this award in her name to promote the excellence in sports among our young women.”

Annabel’s legacy continues in the form of the Annabel Pennefather Excellence Award, which is presented annually to two female graduating student-athletes between 16 and 25 years of age, who have outstanding sports achievements. The award honours Annabel and her achievements in encouraging and empowering women in the field of sports.

Funded by International Women’s Forum (IWF) Singapore Education Grant, which is managed by the Community Foundation of Singapore, the Grant aims to recognise deserving young women with character and the commitment to achieve in their respective fields. 

“With quiet confidence, fierce intellect and ever disarming charm, Annabel helped women in Singapore transcend their boundaries through her own experiences as a sportswoman.  She always gave her best always to her family, work and country,’’ recalls Melissa Kwee, President of the IWF and friend to the late Annabel.

‘’IWF Singapore is grateful that her example and inspiration lives on in the lives of the recipients, whom I am sure she would encourage to simply be their best self.”

Besides sporting excellence, recipients of the award should demonstrate strong leadership, passion, integrity, moral character and conduct, and community spirit. The winners of the 2020 Annabel Pennefather Excellence Award are Au Yeong Wai Yhann and Eunice Lim Zoe, two young women who have demonstrated such excellence in their sporting fields.

It was Eunice Lim’s family that provided a nurturing catalyst for the young sportswoman to grow into her table tennis shoes at a young age.

‘’I picked up table tennis because I saw my brother playing against the wall when he got back from his school CCA training. I got curious and asked him to let me try it out and since then, I fell in love with this sport and have never stopped playing since,’’ Eunice remembers fondly.

Being a student-athlete, it was also a challenge for Eunice to maintain that delicate balance between doing well in school and training for competitions.

‘’I recall having to juggle both my studies and sports during major competitions seasons. It was not easy, as I did not take any breaks from school on both occasions. I knew I had to give 200% during my limited training sessions, knowing that my opponents are definitely clocking more training sessions than I can,’’ Eunice mulls in retrospect.

Eunice’s persistent efforts did eventually reap impressive rewards, bagging the 2018 bronze medal in the 11th South East Asian (SEA) Championship and a bronze medal in the 2019 Commonwealth Table Tennis Championship.

Winning the Annabel Pennefather award was an important milestone for Eunice, who had grappled with thoughts of quitting table tennis whilst transitioning to university.

‘’I had thoughts of giving up the sport at some point because I felt that I was not achieving much. However, winning the Annabel Pennefather award really acted as a source of encouragement and gave me one of the many reasons to strive on. It reminds me that one’s effort will be recognised, as long as we put our heart and soul into the things that we love.’’

The Annabel Pennefather Award serves as a reminder that encouragement and acknowledgement is a powerful and indelible source for young athletes in their path towards excellence.

For 21 year old squash athlete Au Yeong Wai Yhann, it was her family’s loving support and an early exposure to different sports that gave her the confidence and techniques to create a solid foundation.

Despite strong support from her parents and a good head start in physical sports, it was still a challenge as a student athlete to study for her International Baccalaureate (IB) examinations and compete for the SEA Games and Marigold Squash Championships, where she won medals in both competitions.

‘’My goal to perform well in both the tournaments as well as my IB examinations motivated me to keep pushing and working even harder. And so, I was extremely pleased to have won 3 medals – two silver and one bronze – in the 2019 SEA games as well as be crowned the Womens’ National Squash Champion in 2020 because I knew it was a result of many years and hours of hard work and sacrifices.’’

Having won the Annabel Pennefather Award has reminded the young athlete as to how fortunate she has been able to pursue the sport that she loves, and also a motivation for her to continue striving for greater heights and inspiring her juniors to chase their dreams.

“Always believe in yourself. You are stronger than you think, and can achieve anything you set out to do, as long as you are willing to work hard for it. But in the midst of it, remember to take little breaks and reward yourself – self-care is extremely important to keep you going.”

“My hope is to see the sport scene grow and see more youths pick up and compete in sport. Sport is not just about winning or losing. The journey of training and competing itself allows one to develop strong values such as perseverance and discipline, as well as forge many friendships with others. It provides opportunities for all and so I hope that more kids will engage in it.’’

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