At CLEO, we’re constantly on the lookout for game-changers who are dedicated to making a positive change in the world. Every year, we seek out young female professionals who are not only great at what they do, but also inspire others. This year, we found 10.

Veronica Shanti Pereira, 21, National Track and Field Athlete

If you haven’t already read about CLEO Change Maker Shanti in news articles, here’s what you need to know about her: she has broken national records in sprint events – thrice.

Her first brush with running came when she was nine years old. After witnessing her sister’s races as a national sprinter, she was inspired to run. And so she participated in her school’s Sports Day, which led to her being scouted by the coach of the track and field team. “It started out as something I realised I was good at. Slowly, it became a love for running,” she says.

The 21-year-old says that being a national sprinter taught her a lot about the importance of discipline. “It really takes a lot of time management and sacrifice to train every day,” says Shanti, who trains six days a week. “I can’t go out with friends, I can’t do a lot of things that go late into the night… I have to think about sleeping properly and resting properly.”

This is on top of juggling schoolwork as an Accountancy student at Singapore Management University. “The hardest part is finding time to rest,” she admits.

Apart from discipline, being an athlete has taught her the importance of respect, including treating her competitors as friends. “There’s just no room for hate in that situation. You’re already so stressed out about your own race, there’s no need for you to create extra stress just by being scared of your competitor. All of us made it here because we trained hard.”

While she and her fellow competitors may be of one mind, that doesn’t mean everyone else understands what she’s going through. Shanti shares that people have a misconception about her job – that what she does is easy. She has had people coming up to her and saying, “‘Sprinters just run 100m only what.’”

She says, “People have this idea that because we run such short distances, it’s easy. But it’s really not. It takes a lot to run that few seconds of 100m or 200m.”

She adds, “It takes a whole group of people to get you somewhere. For me, I have a personal coach, a strength coach, someone who helps me with my techniques, a bio mechanist, a nutritionist, a psychologist – a whole group of people who help me get to where I am now.”

She may already have broken records, but she believes being humble is important, especially because she has gone through an episode where she lost it all because of her arrogance.

She says, “[When I was 10,] I just started track and I was one of the best in my team already. The previous year, I won gold and silver for my events, so I got a bit cocky. I was like, ‘Oh you know, I’m good at this.’ So maybe subconsciously, I didn’t take [training] too seriously. The next year, I lost everything. I didn’t get any medal. I think that was when I realised, this is not cool. I don’t want to be like that.”

After that early wake-up call, she started to train harder and in 2015, Shanti had brought home the gold medal for the women’s 200m sprint event at the SEA Games – it was Singapore’s first gold for a sprint event in 42 years.

However, last year, she failed to retain her crown, bringing home a bronze medal, partly due to the immense pressure she felt. She shares, “I’m not saying the bronze isn’t an achievement. I’m happy with my results. But the way I went into the game, I could have… been much more strong-minded.”

After she came back, she took about three weeks off to focus on school and clear her head. She also spent time talking to her family, friends and her coach. She says, “Talking to loved ones helped me find my way again because I was feeling a little lost. I thought to myself, ‘Tons of athletes go through low points in their careers. They aren’t always going to be on top. There are going to be be times when you don’t perform as well as you want to and that’s OK. The important part is you learn from it instead of letting those moments define who you are as an athlete or as a person.'”

She decided not to let the incident affect her because she knows it’s part of her journey as an athlete. “I went back into training feeling like I cleared a mini milestone cause I discovered what I can do and what else I’m capable of.”