Fazly's a winner
Declared cancer-free in 2011, he's now instilling old-school values as RI's hockey coach
He was 13 when he was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2001, and Fazly Abdul Rahman still remembers what his first thoughts were at the time.
He wondered if he could still play hockey.
After 10 years of doctor's appointments, check-ups and worry, Fazly was declared cancer free.
Now, 13 years after he first heard about his disease, his love affair with hockey remains as strong as ever.
The former Raffles Institution (RI) student is coach of the school's C and B Division hockey teams.
Two weeks ago, the 26-year-old guided RI to their first B Division crown in 10 years when they beat Victoria School 4-1 on penalties in the final.
A full-time PE teacher at Dunman High, Fazly is delighted he is able to give back to his alma mater.
Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, Fazly said: "I felt I needed to give back to the school and to RI hockey. The school and the sport helped me get through cancer."
Recalling his battle against lymphoma, Fazly says the first year was the toughest, as chemotherapy often made him nauseous and weakened him physically.
During that period, he could only eat food prepared by his mother.
Forced to miss several days of school, he was given extra time to prepare for exams.
What hurt him the most, though, was missing hockey practice and matches.
It was a story TNP told in April of 2001, two months after his diagnosis (see graphic).
"Hockey really distracted my from (lymphoma)," Fazly said.
"I remember one of the worst moments was when I had to skip an important game because I had a medical check-up the same day.
"I had to watch the game in the stands with a needle stuck inside the back of my hand.
"I don't know which was worse - feeling helpless because I couldn't play, or the nausea from the medicine."
Fazly's coach, Balbir Singh, and teacher-in-charge, S Indra, were important figures in his life at the time.
Aside from allowing the youngster to continue playing for the team - doctors had recommended rest and he had to wear extra protection to prevent bruising - they also helped him develop his game.
In 2006, Fazly was called up to the national team and he went on to represent Singapore in the qualification tournament for the 2010 Asian Games.
After graduating from RI, he went on to Victoria Junior College and later completed a four-year teaching degree at NTU.
"Actually, football was my first love and it was somewhat funny how I ended up going to RI," said Fazly, who currently plays in the Premier League with Tornados Hockey Club.
"My first two school choices were Dunman Secondary and Ngee Ann Secondary - neighbourhood schools which had football as a CCA.
"When I scored a 269 in my PSLE, I was allowed to choose again. I read the RI booklet and it said the school offered football.
"I came to RI, signed up for 'rugby/football,' with hockey as a second choice. Then I learned that the school was not registering for football, and rugby would absorb all the players.
"With my size, I said forget it, and moved onto hockey. I never played the sport before that."
As a player, Fazly won the C Div title twice, but lost twice in the semi-finals in the B Div.
"That B Division title was so elusive. Even last year, when I was coaching the team, we tripped up in the semi-finals again," Fazly said.
"Winning it this year was special, but also a relief."
When former India star Jude Felix returned home to coach in 2012, the old boy was invited to guide RI.
At the time, RI hockey was not the same force it once was, having gone without a title for five years.
"The biggest difference was that the boys' belief was lacking," said Fazly, who trains the team along with co-head coach Ahmad Bakri Marti.
"I've been trying to bring back some of my old coach's methods, and put a bit of RI culture back into the sport.
"Winning is just a bonus, I want the boys to realise the value of commitment and sacrifice."
Do his players know of his story, and how he fought cancer with a hockey stick?
"Some of them do, but I don't really think about it any more," Fazly said.
"But I am still afraid of medical check-ups, though. I try not to go for any."
I felt I needed to give back to the school and to RI hockey. The school and the sport helped me get through cancer.
— Fazly Abdul Rahman