Winning the SEA Games women’s singles gold has propelled S. Kisona from a virtual unknown to a serial head turner, as the rising star is now recognised almost everywhere she goes since triumphing in Manila on December 9.
"People are starting to recognise me in public, and it’s a new feeling. At first it was overwhelming, but I am slowly accepting it.
"I even asked the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) coaching director [Wong Choon Hann] on how to handle this situation," explained Kisona, who was the toast of the Malaysian badminton contingent which clinched three gold medals at the biennial affair.
The 21-year-old’s triumph was the most compelling of the three.
Kisona was only included in the national contingent after SEA Games defending champion Goh Jin Wei was ruled due to a stomach ailment.
The world number 104th used the opportunity to announce herself, beating higher ranked shuttlers such as Thailand’s Nitchaon Jindapol (22nd) and Indonesia’s Gregory Mariska Tunjung (24th) en route to the final.
Kisona’s dream run was complete when she came from a game down to beat Indonesian Ruselli Hartawan 20-22, 21-14, 21-13 for the gold.
"I had prepared myself from last year, as I knew women’s badminton is so competitive. I had to be patient and determined. It’s not easy to achieve big things, but I gave my best and I’m happy to see the results.
"I have to thank BAM for developing a special programme to enhance my physique, since I do not have big muscles.
"This programme took six months to see the results, but I know I’m on the right track now," she said.
Kisona’s triumph capped off an excellent 2019, which saw her also win the Sydney International and Hellas Open titles several months ago.
The first person she called after winning gold in Manila was her mom, S.Valarmathi.
"The first thing my mom told me was hard work always pays off. I was crying when I called, but she told me not to cry, as this is only the beginning," she said.
But Kisona’s tears was gratification of years of sacrifice, and not giving up when it seemed the easiest option.
"I started playing when I was four. My dad [A. Selvaduray] was a policeman and my coach. We lived in Jelebu, which is 32 kilometres from Seremban. Everyday me and my siblings would travel with my mom to Seremban to train with my dad as he lived there.
"We did not have a car at that time, so we walked for about four kilometers from the bus stop for training. There were times we even travelled by paper lorry. It was tough when I was young," reflected Kisona.
It got even tougher when she suffered a major injury at the World Junior Championships in 2014 which required two surgeries, and left her not holding a racquet for three years.
"I tore my anterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament, lateral collateral ligament, cartilage and meniscus. I wanted to give up, as I had completely lost my badminton touch.
"Even when I started playing again, I lost in the early rounds and people started questioning me. They wanted instant results. But my mom encouraged me not to lose hope. I trusted her and persevered," she said.
Kisona’s turning point came at the Indonesia International Series final in 2017 when she beat Gregory to win her first major title.
"My parents have played a major role in my success, and winning gold at the SEA Games meant I did not waste their efforts and sacrifice.
"But like my mom said, this is only the beginning. I have been through so much, and I am prepared for the future.
"I hope to make it into the top 50 next year. But I don’t want to rush my journey. It will take time and hard work, and I am ready to go again," she added.
Kisona has a week break before returning to the national fold, but her break has been all about doing interviews and recapping her story to Malaysia.
This promising shuttler would be happy to recap, rejuvenate and return for another big year that lies ahead.