Know anyone who works as a professional, has swam in the Olympics AND runs a cake-baking business? Yeah, we didn’t think such a person could exist either. Until we met Heidi. Heidi became the first Malaysian to qualify for the open water marathon swim event at the 2012 Olympic Games. In 2016, she did it again, this time for the Rio Olympics Games. To date, she has an Asian Championship title and 3 SEA Games gold medals to her name. Yet she is charming, genuine, humble and so personable. The Heidi Set from our #JUSTBEautiful Collection is named after her, and we couldn’t be more proud.
Liberty Active: You are such an inspiration to many young people in the fitness scene. Who or what inspired you to be an athlete?
Heidi: I got into swimming because my parents wanted to make sure I could swim from a young age given it’s a potentially life saving skill to have. So they put me into swimming lessons at the age of 5 and it turned out I was pretty good at it, and I enjoyed it, and everything else just went from there!
Being an athlete is not a normal ‘profession’ or occupation. It’s difficult to earn an income and if you are doing sport to earn money, you certainly aren’t in it for the right reasons! My parents came to appreciate that while they wanted me to work and buy a house and have a successful law career, they also saw how much I enjoyed swimming and was driven to push myself in my sport. So in a way, they also facilitated my career as an athlete and gave me the support I needed to keep going.
LA: Walk us through your weekly fitness routine. How many times do you train a week?
H: During my big training stints, I would train over 10 times a week and up to 100km in the pool a week. A typical week would see me wake up at 4.30 am six mornings a week for training. I swim from 5.30am to 7.30am, then swiftly shower, change and get ready for work. I then take the bus from the pool into Perth city where my work office is located and am at my desk ready to work from 8.30am. I work until 4.00pm then do the reverse – take the bus back to the pool, train 4.30pm till 6.30pm where I will swim another 8km or so then usually head straight home for dinner, cook, eat and straight to bed as soon as I can to get as close to 8 hours sleep a night (which is near impossible!). I also manage to squeeze in 2 x gym sessions and at least 1 x physio session a week into that schedule.
LA: If you had to define all that you do in a title, what would you say?
H: Hustling. Is a one-word title OK? 😉
LA: What other passions do you have besides being an all-star swimmer?
H: I am very passionate about volunteering in the local community. I use my corporate skills in a number of volunteer roles I take on in my “spare time” including being the President of my swimming club (the Perth City Swimming Club), Director of Surf Lifesaving Western Australia and a tribunal panel member for Football West.
Besides this, I also love to bake and have a small business baking and decorating bespoke cakes to order (check it out at @cakes_et_cetera !) I am also a crazy dog person and have 2 Cavalier King Charles Spaniel crosses whom I love as if they were my own genetic children – their names are Harper and Winston!
LA: What are some of your most memorable moments so far and how did you celebrate them?
H: Qualifying for my first Olympic Games in 2012 was a very memorable moment for me. I never really thought I was capable of achieving Olympic-level goals in my sporting career, I just never really considered myself to be an Olympic athlete at the time. I was in shock when I qualified for the 2012 Games and I definitely cried! It was a similar experience when I qualified for the 2016 Olympic Games although I had more confidence in my abilities then.
Another memorable moment for me was winning gold in the 10km marathon swim at the 2017 SEA Games in front of a home crowd! That was incredible and an experience I will never forget. My parents and some of my other relatives were there watching me and my partner and our friend flew to KL from Perth the night before to surprise me and watch my race. It was just incredible to celebrate such a great victory for Malaysia with local supporters and my close family and friends.
LA: Have you made any regrets in your fitness journey so far? If so, how have you learned from it?
H: My biggest regret is probably not believing in myself enough. As an athlete, you always strive for perfection and I was constantly comparing myself to other athletes who were stronger or faster than me, rather than focusing on my strengths and what I was capable of. Even as one of the best swimmers in the country and in the world, you can still doubt yourself! However, I have come to recognise my achievements as something to not take for granted and am trying hard to give myself more credit for what I do on a daily basis – it is an ongoing challenge but I am learning along the way!
LA: What do you think will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women after you?
H: Women now have more opportunities than ever available to them and with the spotlight on gender equality, it is now more timely than ever for women to step up and be what they want to be!
The biggest challenge for the next generation of women in my view will be to keep fighting for that change and to continue challenging the status quo, despite the fact they are likely to have grown up with opportunities afforded to them that their predecessors had to fight so hard for in the past.
LA: What does #JUSTBEautiful mean to you?
H: It means to just be you, whatever that may mean. To be genuine, passionate, curious, and individual. Because everyone is different and that is the nature of humanity and to me, that is a beautiful thing.
LA: What would your superpower be if you had one?
H: Ooh good question. To fly!
LA: What’s your favourite coffee and cake combo?
H: These two things are my kryptonite. ¾ Long Black with some sort of cake featuring dark chocolate and salted caramel. I’m not high maintenance, I promise!
*Cover image credit: Lewis Catalano