Cover Photo: Salehhuddin Ayob

Tatler Malaysia talks to the young girl from the tropics who fell in love with a winter sport and is now making Malaysia proud at the Beijing Winter Olympics 2022

While some children enjoy toddling about in a playground or digging into sandbox play, Aruwin Salehhuddin, otherwise more casually known as just Aruwin, was already on (mini) skis. She credits her love for skiing to her parents, who started her skiing in Sun Peaks Canada when she was only two years old.

“We went there all the time for vacation and during winter almost every weekend. When I was a toddler, they put me in a kids’ ski school there which allowed me to go out onto the slopes, like a small bunny hill,” she reminisces.

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“I enjoy the sport so much. I love gliding. The mountains, skiing, it’s all part of my upbringing. I also really love the adrenaline rush. It’s so much fun! It gets me going. That’s what drew me to ski racing and what makes me feel free–when I’m out there with the cold breeze against my face. It’s so nice.”

“Growing up, my parents put me in many different sports such as swimming, figure skating, skiing, and gymnastics to ensure I have an active lifestyle. Because of that, pretty much since I was young, I have always wanted to become a professional athlete. It has always been my dream and now we know ski racing is what I want to do and pursue,” Aruwin, 17, adds. Her father, Salehhuddin Ayob, is an Olympian himself, having represented Malaysia in canoeing at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

But her journey was not without tricky slopes and having to quickly pivot when needed. Among the many difficult choices and sacrifices that Aruwin and her parents have had to make along the way, was giving up her other love–figure skating.

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“I was training to be a professional figure skater and it was something that I did full time while training to be a ski racer. I stopped when I was 13 years old to pursue ski racing and that was a pretty difficult choice. In hindsight, it was worth it because it allowed me more opportunities at improving at ski racing and I’m happy,” she reveals. "But I still love ice skating whenever I get the chance to!"

Leading up to the qualifications for the Beijing Winter Olympics 2022, Aruwin had to buckle up and double down on her training regime on top of competing in other races, all while manoeuvring around travel restrictions and lockdowns.

"It was really difficult but we managed to get into Europe to train and race so I'm very grateful for that. It’s all about being as flexible as possible and plans are always changing. Races get cancelled, some countries go into lockdown, and then we had to move around and find new places to train and race. We always needed a backup plan," Aruwin explains.

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Dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, training and competing, and risking and treating injuries is sure no easy feat for a student athlete. Aruwin says those are some of her lows. "But I try to find ways to stay positive amongst all of this. I just look on the bright side and think... well, it could be worse. At least I’m able to do this and this. I’m still out here, training, doing what I can do, and that makes me happy."

That, and being a creative. Aruwin lets us in on a secret that she's actually a bit of an artist: "I love arts and crafts, mostly drawing and painting. I love creative writing such as poetry and just typing out stories! I also really love watching anime."

Now, the ski junkie is going full throttle ahead at the Beijing Winter Olympics 2022 and creating history as the first Malaysian female athlete to compete in the Winter Olympics. She was also Malaysia's flag bearer alongside fellow Alpine skier Jeffrey Webb (who's making his second appearance at the Winter Olympics) at the opening ceremony on February 4, 2022.

"Representing Malaysia in my Olympic debut is really awesome to me and I'm so excited to see what it's like to be there and just the overall experience. Racing against some of the top world-class athletes is mind-blowing for me," she gushes. "I'm bringing my determination and everything I've been working on!"

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The teenager has already set high standards for herself. The Beijing Winter Olympics 2022 is only the beginning. "I am really excited and I hope to be doing more than just this. I want to keep going because my goal, aside from being the best I can be, is to get on the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup. That's the dream so I really hope to be doing more."

For the uninitiated, the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup is the top international circuit of alpine skiing competitions and the ultimate dream for the world's top skiers.

In parting, Aruwin shares her life motto: "This is one from my uncle and I have it written down. It says, 'Live your dreams and keep your mentality strong above all else'. He told me this when I was younger and it really kept me going. It keeps me strong during tough times and especially when I'm feeling low. It's my favourite quote."

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