For 25-year-old Nur Syakirah Syazwana, no goal is beyond her reach, even though she was born without hands.
A woman living with disabilities she may be, but Syakirah refuses to let herself be defined as such. With her tenacity and grit, Syakirah puts on many hats; salsation instructor, fitness brand ambassador, successful TikTok star (with over 200,000 followers!), and foodpanda delivery rider.
Syakirah approaches everything she does with gusto and positivity. She is unabashedly herself, and remains laser-focused on pursuing the things she loves, despite setbacks.
NOTE: This interview was edited for clarity and length.
Nur Syakirah Syazwana: I started in the fitness industry three years ago. Right now, I’m doing a brand ambassador role in Anytime Fitness. At the same time, I teach Salsation classes at Anytime Fitness. Salsation is a mixture of sensation and salsa. It’s different from Zumba, but the main movement is the same. It’s just that Zumba is more hyperactive, as for Salsation, it’s more relaxed.
Another thing is that I started doing foodpanda [deliveries] due to the lockdown. And I was quite surprised they approved me. I know it’s a bit tiring for me, but I try. I was like, ‘Okay, this is how they deliver my food.’
Delivering food is a challenge because when you hold the food, you need to hold it properly, you need to handle it with care. At first, I delivered [by cycling]. After that, my bike broke down, so what I do right now is for a short distance, I will walk. For the long distance, I take the bus. Because my EZ link card is a concession pass where it’s unlimited fare. So to me, if it’s a long distance, I would rather take a bus. Until now, I am still doing the same thing, I don’t cycle or what, but [I’m] quite happy.
TheHomeGround: Wow, that’s quite impressive that you’re juggling all these different roles! What drives you to do so much?
SS: During the lockdown, all the gyms were closed. As for me, I can’t sit still at home, so I need to go out. So I thought, okay, maybe I need to try some freelance roles. Like, delivering food? And my friends [are also] doing it, so I told myself okay, why don’t I just give it a try. I didn’t know that I could do it until now and I’m quite happy because at the same time, you can earn additional cash.
THG: You also said you were teaching Salsation classes, right? That’s quite a unique activity, what made you pick up this activity?
SS: My boss told me there are two options: Do you want to go for [teaching] a class? Or do you want to be a personal trainer? I was like, personal trainer? No, I can’t even hold a weight! I mean, I can, but light weight, not heavy weight, then how do I teach my clients? I need to show them, I need to demonstrate, I can’t.
So I went for [the other] one, and he sent me for courses. I was quite happy back then. Like, I can’t wait to teach class! Then when the day came, I was just so nervous. I didn’t know how to conduct. Then my boss kept looking at me from afar, like ‘just go, just go and be yourself.’ So [I danced]… (pretending) my participants [are] invisible.
I am positive ever since I joined. And I’m actually a shy person to be honest. [But] I have overcome my shyness.
THG: It’s great to hear that working as a fitness instructor helped you come out of your shell! You were born with this condition, did you feel different growing up?
SS: Actually, not much different, Because for myself, if I need help, I’ll ask for help. But if I don’t need help, I won’t ask. So basically I live independently. For example, you find that people go ‘Oh, she needs help, why don’t I just go to her?’ And I’ll just say, ‘No, it’s okay. I can do myself.’
THG: Have you ever been bullied because of your condition?
SS: During my school times, I don’t have any friends bullying me or anything. I’m quite happy because my friends all support me. I always tell my family, like I’m going to this school, confirm going to have bullying because of my condition, but [there hasn’t been any], so I’m happy.
THG: When you’re out in public, do you ever face questions about your condition? How do you navigate that?
SS: Yes. The thing is, when I was [young], I liked to fold my arms so people won’t know about my condition. I [had] that insecurity about [how] people will look at you. People will say, ‘Eh what happened to that girl?’ or ‘You see, you see, that girl hands’. Back then, yes, there was a lot. But when [I entered] Secondary Three, when I was 15 years old, I decided to [just show my hands]. I decided to show the world that this is me. I don’t need to hide myself behind the walls and everything. No point hiding from people because, [eventually], people will know. So I decided, ‘Okay, no more. You want to say about me, say lor!’
Kids will look at you, they will say, ‘Mummy mummy! You see her hands.’ I understand, it’s kids ma, kids won’t understand. But for young adults, they will understand and say, ‘Oh, this girl not bad ah, can do this, can do that.’
THG: You mentioned that when you were 15, you decided to stop hiding. Is there any incident that propelled this?
SS: It was just a decision I made. When I entered a new school in Secondary One, I had decided to fold [my arms] because I feel shy. I didn’t want people to think or talk bad about me. After [a while, I thought], ‘’Am I going to hide like this all the way? Or am I going to change?’
So I told myself, ‘Okay never mind, I change. I don’t mind what people want to say, just say. It’s their mouth, it’s not ours.’
Another thing is that whatever happens to me, I don’t give up. People will say, ‘You like this, you can manage your things?’ I will tell them, Ya! Maybe you don’t know, but I can do this, I can do that. Maybe you can’t?’
So that made me change.
THG: As a food delivery rider, you meet a lot of people when delivering food. Has anyone asked questions about your condition?
SS: So far, no, they don’t ask. Most of the restaurants, whenever I want to pick up the food, they will just ask, ‘Ah you can? You can? You sure you can?’
‘Ya, I can, don’t worry. If not I wouldn’t continue to do my job.’
And basically for me, when I deliver food, when I want to pick up food, I don’t talk to other riders. Because the majority is guys. So I just go and pick up and send food, pick up, send food. I don’t talk to people.
THG: So you mentioned that food delivery in general is a very male-dominated space right? Do you encounter any challenges there as a female rider?
SS: So far, I just keep to myself. Based on that, I don’t have any issues. So to me, as long as I can manage [my food deliveries, it’s okay].
THG: I think that is very inspiring. You’re set on doing your own thing, and you’re not concerned about what other people think or say.
SS: Yes. For example, I also have TikTok. Whatever comments I [receive], negative comments, it doesn’t bother me. It totally doesn’t bother me. You want to say, you just say. I am who I am.
Someone commented on my TikTok and asked me to give some tips on what made me never give up? So I told them, ‘Life has to go on.’ If life didn’t go on, then [how do] you want to manage your daily routine? That’s the only [thing] I can share with them, it’s how I do it myself also. Even though my condition is like this, life still has to go on.
They also asked me how I keep positive. Even if I [receive] a negative comment or anything, I don’t bother [with] it. Just keep positive. And don’t give up on what you’re doing. Before I had the fitness job, I didn’t give up sending my resume to other places. I don’t give up. Whatever you’re doing, don’t give up. And at same time, just keep moving on. If you can’t do something, just do another thing.
THG: What about in your day-to-day life? Do you face any challenges when it comes to living with your condition?
SS: Cooking is one of my challenges. I don’t cook. My parents told me I was not allowed to come to the kitchen when I was young. Because for me, I want to learn. If I don’t learn, I wouldn’t know what it is, right? Until now, if I don’t know the ingredients, what I usually do is just Google. Because since I was young, I’m not too sure what ingredients are used, and I am curious, I want to know what is inside the dish. That’s one of the challenges. Now, what I do is I will just either buy outside food, or… if my mum or my grandma cooks, then I’ll pack food. My parents only [taught] me how to cook rice. That’s the most important. Better than nothing.
THG: How difficult has it been to get a job without being discriminated against because of your condition?
SS: Not many employers will accept [me] to work with them, because of [my] condition. I [went] to a few interviews back then before I got [into the] fitness industry. So the thing is, they keep saying that because of your condition,[ it is] one of the priorities that they need to consider first before hiring. I’ve got no issue with that. I wanted to try retail, so why I went for the interview. I don’t get the job because of my condition.
But I’m so happy my manager hired me in Anytime Fitness, which I didn’t expect. After I went for the interview, I was like ‘Confirm won’t hire me,’ You will have those thoughts again.
Then within that day, I received a call. I didn’t expect [it]. I feel like it’s a good thing because you’ll be the first person the members will see, and that will [affect] the image of the company. People will think, ‘’Wow, she can work in retail.’ And that’s inspiring. So I just do my best.
THG: It’s admirable that you try to provide this standard of service in everything that you do. A lot of employers said they didn’t want to hire you, or had doubts because of your condition. Is this something you hope will change?
SS: Oh, yes, I really hope they will change their perception. Maybe they think, ‘If I were to hire this lady, my retail shop will receive a few comments from my customers like, ‘Why did you hire her? Are you sure she can do this, can do that? Are you sure she can stock up things?’
To me, you never try, you never know. If you try, and you give her the opportunity. Why not? If she can do it, why not just keep her?
I’m not trying to say I have a grudge. I hope in the future, they will hire disabled people, be it a male or female, and give them a try. And if they give a good prospect, why don’t you just keep them?
THG: So you just hope that they’ll be more open-minded.
SS: Yes, not judge them, you know. Not like, ‘”Oh, she’s like this, I don’t think she can do it.’… Don’t underestimate me.
THG: What do you hope to see for women in Singapore moving forward?
SS: Keep positive, heads up, don’t turn back. That is kind of my line. I always say this to everyone. To me, if I can, I don’t want to turn back. Just move forward, think positive.