What first inspired you to explore fitness and bodybuilding as your lifelong passion and career?
I already had an interest in fitness from a young age. It all began when I was 8 years old, when a teacher brought my class to the library to pick a book to read. Somehow, I chose a book entitled, “Keep Fit”. The book cover featured a big-haired lady in leotards and legwarmers. I was intrigued.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, I got picked by the teacher the following week to share with the class what my book was about … but there was no story to tell! It was rather embarrassing as I got laughed at by the entire class. I guess I was too young to understand why I was drawn to the idea of keeping fit.
My first experience in a real gym was when I was 9. I was attending a friend’s birthday party, held at a poolside in her condominium. Next to the pool was a small gym. I was curious about what was in that gym, so when no one was looking I wandered in on my own to check it out. I walked straight to the Lat Pulldown machine, read the instructive diagram and proceeded to follow the steps. After pulling the bar down several times, I felt the “muscle pump” in my back muscles immediately. I must say, I really liked that “pumped” feeling! From that moment, I knew weight training was what I wanted to do when I grew up. How? I don’t know. When? As soon as I can!
When and how did you embark on your training?
I wanted to start training in my early teens but there were no gyms in Singapore at the time. You could only find some gyms tucked away in community centres – the users were all men so I was not comfortable going there. I figured I could start in Junior College, so I selected my school based on its gym facilities. I decided on Catholic Junior College and joined the Fitness Club as an extra curricular activity because I intended to become a fitness instructor. I also liked the idea of training regularly and keeping healthy eating habits. I started to feel the positive effects of becoming fitter and healthier quite quickly. And I couldn’t wait to help others enjoy these same benefits as well.
I became qualified as an instructor for the school and was assigned to run a training programme for male students who failed their IPPT. My role was to help them lose weight and get fitter as part of their preparation for National Service. I also had the privilege of accessing the gym by myself, which was significant in kickstarting my training profession. Most of the time I was the only girl working with weights in the school gym … and I was absolutely thrilled.
How did this interest blossom into bodybuilding?
I happened to pick up a copy of Muscle & Fitness magazine at a second-hand bookstore that featured a muscled cover girl. I was instantly drawn — she was strong yet feminine and I knew no one was born looking like this. One would have to work very hard to have this amazing form, and that just commanded my respect.
I started to get more serious with my training, bought the magazines whenever I could and devoured articles on how to exercise and eat properly. In a short time, my body shape started to change. I was determined to join a gym before I completed my GCE ‘A’ Levels exams — and preferably one where I would not receive strange stares by tattooed men. I looked hard for other gyms that were not part of community centres. I was very determined not to disrupt my training progress after I left CJC.
Thankfully, I found a bodybuilding gym in Boat Quay called ‘Bronx Master’. It was one of the very few “hardcore” bodybuilding gyms where bodybuilders trained in! I was excited. On the last day of my exams after my math paper, I went straight to the gym to sign up, still wearing my school uniform. I wanted to resume my training as soon as possible.
Who were your inspirations at the time and how did they shape who you’ve become?
When I was 18, I met a top local female bodybuilder who was preparing for a world championship competition. I was blown away by her amazing body. When I introduced myself I said, “I want to look like you”. She was surprised but was gracious in extending me her friendship and guidance, without any judgement. At the time I was training under another female athlete for 6 months. Somehow I felt I was not making ample progress. I shared this with the female bodybuilder and she advised me to look for someone else to train me, suggesting that I train with a male bodybuilder this time. She felt that a male training partner would push women harder, as men naturally have more muscle strength and tend to be more impartial. She also suggested that I approach famous bodybuilding champion Augustine Lee, as he also trained at the Bronx.
Her invaluable advice made sense to me, and changed the course of my training.
At the time, I could not afford nice workout gear, so I trained in my college shorts and t-shirt.I definitely stood out in this hardcore gym as a young scrawny girl struggling with weights. So I finally mustered up my courage to approach Augustine, who always trained alone. When I said, “Hi Augustine, I want to be a bodybuilder and I want to compete. Can you train me?”, I got an “are you kidding me?” look from him. I thought he was going to laugh at me or ask me to go away. To my surprise, he said OK and told me to be at the gym the next day at 7pm, and that if I am serious I should be there at 7pm everyday. I was beyond thrilled — I was going to train with a CHAMPION!
Of course the next day, I turned up at the gym at 6.30pm to warm up and prepare for his arrival. I didn’t know how hard it would be, but I was more excited than worried. I survived the first session. It was a “legs day”. He thought I would pass out, but honestly I thought he could have been harder on me. I still recall him stacking up some serious weights on the leg press machine, and I completed the 5 sets without having to crawl out of the gym to get home.
How has your vision or passion transformed over time?
At 17, I had a strong desire to become a champion. I trained hard for 7 years before even entering my very first competition, the Asian Bodybuilding Championships (Women’s Bodybuilding Division). These days, I see young people wanting to compete after merely 6 months of training. I think most of them want to compete for the experience or just wanting to give it a go.
For myself, I wanted to wait until my body was ready for the stage, simply because I had a vision: I will compete to win, and I will win “with a bang”. So, I went straight for the Asian Championships as my premier event in 2000, and it was also my first victory. One of my most unforgettable experiences was standing on the podium hearing Singapore’s National anthem being played.
And now, having attained my IFBB Pro status, it’s a strange mixed feeling of finally having arrived, like when I won my first Gold medal, but at the same time knowing there will be harder work ahead. I will now be competing with an elite league of world-class athletes. To be the first and only Singaporean on the Pro stage fills me with both exhilaration and nervousness. Yet I hope it will show anyone that through consistent hard work and focus, dreams DO come true.
With where I’m at now in my career, and with all the valuable experiences I’ve gained so far, I feel I’m ready to give back and guide younger ones who share the same passion for fitness and bodybuilding.
What are the biggest misconceptions that people have of your sport? How do you counter that?
For women, it’s that you lose your femininity when you become a bodybuilder. I’ve had my fair share of comments in my time, but that has only made me more determined to prove these critics wrong. Femininity and strength are not polar opposites – you can be strong and feminine. I believe I’m walking testament of this.
Another misconception is that we eat a lot of eggs! That’s not true. We eat a wide variety of other protein-rich food to facilitate muscle growth.
Also, I always get asked, how much can I bench press? And I get challenged to arm wrestles with men. I’ve never engaged in all that – I’m just not interested!
To me, bodybuilding is an art. It’s about presenting the human body in its best possible form, by advancing the body to its greatest limits. Bodybuilding is not an ego boost or an attempt to show my strength or dominance. It’s an artistic process, much like carving a stone, which requires a huge amount of commitment, care and precision to achieve perfect symmetry and proportion.
What conviction has significantly impacted your personal and business life?
I strongly believe in the power of positive thinking – this principle affects every facet of my life.
Our thoughts have great effect on our emotions and, subsequently, our behaviour. Perseverance and determination count for a lot, but if your thoughts are negative there’s going to be a downward spiral. It all starts with the mind, the root from which anything is possible.
What do you consider your greatest achievements so far?
Being the first Singaporean to be awarded IFBB Pro status is definitely top on my list!
When I first started training in my teens, I had a burning desire to become the best female bodybuilder in Singapore. I wanted my name to be synonymous with female bodybuilding. With this achievement, it sure feels like I’m on the right track.
I’m also proud of winning 1st place in Women’s Physique at the 2014 Arnold Classic in Columbus, and again at the First Arnold Classic Asia in Hong Kong 2 years later.
Personally, this is a great achievement because I went to the Arnold three times as a spectator before I started competing. The level of competition was astounding. I went to observe so I could strategise how I could train in order to win.
I will always remember my first competition in the Arnold Classic in 2013 when I came in 2nd. I went with no expectation, even though I trained very hard. I kept my faith and gave my all, so I was happy with the placing. I was also the only Asian competitor there, so I made my mark then.
What’s new in the pipeline for you?
I’m currently working on a book to guide people who are 35 years and above to maintain a healthy weight, through achievable action plans. It’s not just another diet book. It’s a book about lifestyle choices, mental strategies and daily routines, compiled from my years of experience as an athlete and my profession as a fitness coach and sports nutritionist.
Why this age group? This is the time when the body matures and the effects of ageing start appearing. This affects both genders — no one escapes time. I want to show how it’s important and possible to keep your body in optimal condition so you can always be at your best. Only then can you achieve everything you want in life.
Any advice for someone considering embarking on bodybuilding as a career?
Be prepared to work very hard and be patient. You need to be willing to make sacrifices to achieve your goals. And it’s important to find the right mentors for your journey. You need to realise that who you consult will shape your career path.
What drives and inspires you to do what you do every single day?
Passion! And people. I enjoy interacting with people. I feel I learn from everyone, all the time. My clients are a constant source of inspiration — they’re the best part of my job.
The dynamics of running a business and my training in this sport has helped me cultivate perseverance. It’s what keeps me going — to be relentless and never give up. There is always a solution or a way around any challenge. No matter how things go, tomorrow is a brand new day.
What is your greatest fear (if any!)?
Ageing! (laughs) Receiving my first ElderShield letter — which arrived some months before my 40th birthday — was like a rude awakening. I refused to open it until a month after my birthday when I felt it was time to face the truth! I hope they will give the programme a better name in future though, at least it will be more comforting psychologically!
What legacy would you like to leave behind?
I would like to be the first female bodybuilder in Singapore to make a mark internationally, and to pave the way for other aspiring athletes. I want to prove to girls growing up that anything is possible. And to not think that just because we’re Asian, we’re genetically disadvantaged or not as good as our Western friends. We just have to work harder, that’s all.
What does success mean to you?
Success is more than just having achievements. Staying grounded — by being humble, grateful and respectful — is also part of being a success. It’s not just about me, it’s about other people as well. How can I also help others achieve success? Success can never be achieved on your own. That’s why I’m always grateful to the people along the way who helped me succeed.
Ever considered doing something other than bodybuilding?
Possibly gymnastics or wushu. Like bodybuilding, these two sports are about pushing the human body beyond the limits. I believe the body can do whatever you train it to do.
What virtues or values do you live by?
Humility, gratitude and integrity.
What do you do to relax and unwind – do you ever “break” away from your training regimen?
The best way for me to unwind is to exercise. If I’ve had a heavy day, I work out. Weekends, I catch up with friends or go to the movies. I love to read, but have to find the time to do that.
I also make regular visits to my hairdresser and manicurist — it’s all part of taking care of my body. My sport and work involve my hands a lot, so it’s nice to see freshly manicured nails! It makes me feel good and happy.
When I’m not preparing for competition, I still eat healthily but I do go for dessert every now and then. Not often, though. It’s intuitive for me to feed my body well, to keep it in optimal form and function. I don’t feel I’m missing out on anything, because for me eating is more about connecting with people.
This is the biggest sacrifice I have to make when I am preparing for a competition. When I was training for the Arnold Classic USA, which takes place early March every year, I have to miss Christmas, New Year, Chinese New Year and my own birthday celebration, all in a row.
What is your greatest indulgence?
I’m quite a big shopper! I love fashion, which in part reflects my keen interest in the arts. Bodybuilding is an art form and fashion is an extension of that. If I have time on weekends, I hit my favourite stores. But usually I don’t have time and shopping online works better for me as I can do that anytime, anywhere … which may not necessarily be the best thing for my wallet!
What fuels your mind and spirit?
For my mind, it’s about controlling my thoughts and feeding it with good books. In the early days of my career, I read a lot of motivational books about leadership and positive thinking. It helped me establish a good foundation for my business and my life. I learnt that the mind is a powerful tool – especially when it thinks positive thoughts.
I am a Catholic so I hold my faith in God in what I do.
Share something fun about yourself!
I love cats … and naturally I also love Hello Kitty! I buy items featuring nice cat motifs, like Choupette products, inspired by Karl Lagerfeld’s beloved pet cat.
When in Japan, I visit all the Sanrio shops I can find. I’m even a member of Sanrio Singapore. I love having Hello Kitty products as part of my daily life — from pens, mugs, bowls and even soap dispensers! At work, you’ll see me with my Hello Kitty pen and cup. I love cats, so Hello Kitty items are just simple daily pleasures.