Let’s Hear It For the Women (Athletes That is)

Every year, Singapore hosts its fair share of marathons, from fun-themed runs such as the Hello Kitty Run to those who for good cause such as The Singapore Cancer Society Relay. The Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon (SCSM), one of the biggest, wound the up the year with their two-day event on 8th and 9th December 2018 that focused on runner-comfort and community-centric experiences.

Locals, foreigners, fitness junkies and even those who have never run a mile in their lives rushed to sign up, and not entirely because of the much sought-after goodie bags. Not only does the race attract fitness enthusiasts from all over the region, but many homegrown athletes also took on the challenge to showcase their fitness prowess, and we’re not just talking about the men.

This year, two of our local female athletes took on the challenge of participating in the marathon. Thanks to Under Armour, the official apparel sponsor for the SCSM, The Wellness Insider has managed to catch an exclusive interview with their Brand Ambassadors, Tiffany Teo and Natalie Yeo, who competed in the 10km category. They shared with us insights into prepping for the race, their colourful backgrounds, and the issue of body image.

Tiffany Teo: The Martial Arts Master and Ex-Choir Girl

Q: You did Psychology in University but decided to pursue a career in martial arts. Why did you choose to do something so different?

I had my first Muay Thai fight and I never looked back since then. I guess I just can’t help dreaming the same dream, and I know I can turn this dream of mine into reality.

Photo by Zack Dilaroca

Q: You have tried so many forms of martial arts. How did you end up settling on Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)?

It was a natural progression. I started with taekwondo and Muay Thai, competed for the Singapore National Boxing team. Three years ago, I picked up Brazilian Jiujitsu and wrestling. Transitioning into MMA was a natural progression.

Q: Why do you think that there’s an increasing popularity of MMA, especially among young females?

When I started combat sports 10 years ago, there weren’t many females competing or training in combat sports. After Ronda Rousey’s dominant wins in the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), she showed what the female MMA athletes are capable of. I think Ronda Rousey played a big role in the rise of popularity of MMA among females.

Natalie Yeo: The Bikini Bodybuilder and Finance Whiz

Q: You hold a title for Miss Bikini Body. What does that mean to you?

I feel like the 2 bikini titles I won embody both strength and femininity. That said, I believe that they don’t wholly define who I am, or how I should look 24/7, but rather, serve as motivation to what I can achieve if I put my mind to it.

Q: What made you decide on bodybuilding?

You could say I “stumbled” into the sport. When I met Joshua (my then-boyfriend), he was participating in his first bodybuilding competition. I knew nothing about the sport. Along the way, he introduced me to weight training, coached me, and subsequently encouraged me to sign up for my first bodybuilding competition. I’ve never looked back!

Q: What are the ups and downs of bodybuilding?

One of the more superficial reasons why I enjoy bodybuilding is because the sport demands for a good physique, and who doesn’t love a good physique? Having said that, however, bodybuilding isn’t for everyone. The training and nutrition plans can be really brutal and tough to follow, and the physique you see on stage is temporal.

Q: How do you juggle your job as a finance executive, as a bodybuilder and a bikini model?

I guess I would be better defined as a fitness enthusiast/activist. I would say that it’s mostly about discipline and prioritising. In order to fit workouts into my routine, I wake up at 5:30 am on most days of the work week to hit the gym. Sometimes, if I have to prepare for a competition or a shoot, I have to watch my diet a bit more closely and embark on a slightly more structured workout programme. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have fun. I think it’s about finding the right balance so that it is sustainable.

If you’re asking more generically on how to keep up with a fitness regime whilst balancing work commitments, I would still tell you that it is about discipline, and prioritising opportunities to keep active. This could be anything from taking the stairs instead of the lift or escalator, alighting a bus stop or 2 earlier so that you clock in more steps, to waking up 30 minutes earlier to get in a quick HIIT workout.

As female athletes

Tiffany during a training session

Q: As an athlete, what inspires you?

Tiffany (T): I draw inspiration from my teammates and coaches. They inspire me a lot with their work ethic. I draw inspiration from their hard work, competence and dedication.

Natalie (N): I’m motivated by the desire to keep fit and healthy, and being able to get stronger and perform better with training, whether it is hitting a new personal best, or achieving a goal I set for myself for a race or competition. I also feel a sense of fulfillment when I’m able to inspire others around me to adopt healthier and fitter lifestyles. That really motivates me to work harder as well.

Q: How does your family play a role in your work, if they do at all?

T: My family has been very supportive of my fight career. Having their support and understanding has helped me through tough times.

N: I grew up in a home environment where keeping active is a priority. My mom practices yoga regularly, while my dad is an avid cyclist and runner. I have always been active. I swam, did gymnastics and practiced yoga when I was growing up. 5 years ago, I was introduced to weights training by my then-boyfriend now-fiancé and never looked back. I would say that I have a fair amount of good influence from my family to keep fit! They really understand the importance of being active, which is great.

Q: How important is the fact that you’re a woman in the sports world?

T: MMA is a male-dominated sport. It is very uncommon (even more so in Asia) for women to pursue MMA as a professional career. With the rise of ONE championship in Asia, there has been a significant growth of female presence in MMA, Brazilian Jiujitsu and other combat sports. I hope that my journey as a professional fighter will encourage individuals (be it male/female, athletes or not) to pursue their dreams/passions even if it is unconventional.

N: The reality is that there is a perception that there are more men in the sports world compared to women. But that is slowly changing! We see many more women pursuing sports such as bodybuilding and CrossFit, even at the elite levels. I think it’s also important to have “everyday” women championing certain sports that are traditionally seen as more masculine, such as bodybuilding or weightlifting/powerlifting, or even MMA. I’m always heartened when women share that they are inspired and motivated to workout or pursue weight training because they see another woman doing so.

Q: What’s your favourite part about training? What’s your least favourite part?

T: Favourite part is that training helps me in improving, learning and getting better every day. My least favourite part? Also the training itself haha.

N: My favourite part about training is partially related to what inspires me – I enjoy getting stronger and better at whatever sport or exercise I’m pursuing.

I would say that my least favourite part is that I can’t devote enough time to training, and have to train at sub-optimal times because of my work schedule. This usually involves me waking up at 5:30 am on a regular basis to train before heading to the office.

Q: What has been the greatest achievement for you so far?

T: Being the first strawweight title contender and my recent win against the world’s most decorated female BJJ champion, Michelle Nicolini (8 times IBJJF world champion).

N: I think one of my biggest achievements was competing in my first bodybuilding competition, and emerging with a “Miss Bikini Body” title. It was my first ever foray into “physique competitions”, and it really opened my eyes to what the human body is capable of.

Photo by Zack Dilaroca

Q: What improvements would you make in yourself as an athlete?

T: I’m always looking to improve different aspects of my skills set as a professional MMA fighter. As of now, I’ve been focusing a lot on the mental aspect. I’ve been meditating a lot.

N: I’m always interested in trying out new exercises or sports. One thing I do want to work on is becoming a more well-rounded athlete, and being able to perform at a higher standard across a broad range of exercises. For example, although I run from time to time, I don’t think I’m a strong runner. That’s one of the areas of fitness that I would like to get better at.

Q: What are you looking forward to in this year’s SCSM?

T: I’m looking forward to participating in the run with fellow Under Armour ambassadors and athletes.

N: I was originally really looking forward to running and completing my first ever half marathon. However, I developed a foot injury that still hasn’t healed, so I had to put those plans to run a half marathon on hold. Nevertheless, I’m still looking forward to having fun at the SCSM again. I really love the energy and the vibe. It has always been very well run.

Q: What motivated you to participate in the race?

T: It has always been on my bucket list to participate in a race. It is a great opportunity for me as an Under Armour ambassador as well since Under Armour is partnering with Standard Chartered Singapore as its official apparel sponsor to make this event happen.

N: I enjoy participating in many different forms of exercise and sports, and have always been keen to expand my repertoire of fitness-related activities.

Q: What made you join the run despite not being an athlete in the running scene?

T: Running has always been part of my training routine. I do a lot of cross training for MMA. I had the opportunity to work with a track & field coach to complement my training. And it sparked my interest in running/track and field.

N: I enjoy the challenge of training for a new sport. The SCSM has always been great – the crowd, the atmosphere etc.

Q: How was training for the race different from your usual training? What other preparations have you made?

T: It’s actually not different from my usual training. I run 2-3 times a week, 5-10km each run depending on how my body feels.

N: My current workouts of choice are HIIT and weights training, both of which are rather different from running. Both tend to focus a lot more on explosive, compound movements and are typically more anaerobic in nature. Training for a long-distance run is more aerobic and requires you to build up endurance and a longer work capacity. I’ve also been nursing a foot injury over the last few months, and in order to prevent myself from aggravating the injury, I’ve kept my running training less intense in terms of pace and distance.

Q: How important is it for Singaporeans to incorporate sports into their lives?

T: Very! Especially with a fast-paced lifestyle. Physical activities can improve one’s health and reduce the risk of developing several diseases like type 2 diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease. They also have immediate and long-term health benefits. Most importantly, exercising regularly can improve your quality of life.

N: If I may, I would prefer to switch “sports” to something more generic such as “fitness”. I think keeping fit or incorporating some element of fitness into your life is extremely important. There are benefits that come with being more active. We’re not only healthier and less predisposed to chronic diseases, but also empowered to live and enjoy life the way we want to. With people living increasingly longer lives, keeping fit would necessarily become a much more important aspect of life.

Q: Many women struggle with issues of body image these days. What advice do you have for any of our readers facing this issue?

T: Be kind to yourself!

Poor body image is an issue that many struggle with. In fact, body image issues are not just meant for women. Men suffer from it, too; they are told to be strong, muscular, show no emotions, etc.

It is prevalent within our perfection-focused society. We are told to work towards an impossible beauty standard, to fit a certain body shape. And if we don’t look a certain way, we aren’t beautiful? How ridiculous!

We all come in different shapes and sizes. Just be you. Be kind to yourself and your body!

N: Those women are not alone! I have to admit that there have been times where I wish I could change how my body looked, or times when I wished I looked a certain way. But over time, I’ve learnt that it’s more important to be comfortable in our own skin. Don’t compare yourself to how someone else looks. It’s more important to focus on how you can become fitter, stronger and healthier, rather than chasing that “ideal body shape”.

 


Photo Credits: Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon and Zack Dilaroca

 

Sportitude

 

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