Just when you think you're tough enough


Late Starter Kah Yi Makes Up For Lost Time With Podium Wins

Chua Kah Yi has been stepping it up once she joined the triathlon and trail running parties. (Facebook/Chua Kah Yi)

Although she was a late starter to the triathlon and trail running parties, Chua Kah Yi, has certainly found her own way to become a competitive, podium-winning athlete.

Born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, the mother of three daughters juggles family time with her own company that specialises in polished concrete flooring and construction engineering products.

ToughASIA wanted in on Kay Yi’s secret to success, so get ready to take some notes.

ToughASIA: What inspired you to take up triathlon?

Kah Yi: I started leisure cycling in 2016 when I was 39 years old. I had found some free time for exercise as my third child turned 5 years old then and had become more independent. I enjoyed my ‘me time’: away from home and job responsibilities during the weekends.

Cycling gave me a sense of freedom, serenity, and an avenue to release my pressure and stress built-up from work. Leisure rides, led to more challenging rides: longer, further, higher elevation gain, and difficult terrains and weather, from rainstorm to sizzling hot sun.

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While doing a night ride at Bukit Damansara in 2017, I hit a pothole and crashed while going downhill. The impact fractured my right wrist bone. I went through a surgery, installed a titanium plate but I had to be kept from cycling until I regained full grip strength and wrist rotation movement.

A good friend introduced me to running then, and it turned out to be a marvellous idea.

Just one week after my surgery, I participated in my first half-marathon and I stunned my friends (and myself too!) by finishing third in overall women’s category.

Since then, I joined a half marathon every month, and I kept winning.

After 6 months of recovery, my doctor gave me the green light to resume cycling. I signed up for my first Powerman Full Classic Duathlon. I got a sub-4 hour finish, taking the eighth position in my age group category.

I felt that I had just become a competitive athlete after my accident. I guess I wanted to make up for my one-hand condition and to prove to myself that I can perform even better than with two healthy hands.

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Once I started duathlon races, some triathletes I met shared how they all started with a single sport and slowly acquired skills for the other two disciplines. Then all of a sudden, “You are a triathlete already!”

One of them had said to me, “Running is the toughest sport for an IRONMAN, but for you, it is your advantage because you are a strong runner.’ In that way, they ‘poisoned’ me.

I could not swim at that time then, so I had to take up lessons with my children’s swim coach, just to learn basic freestyle and breaststroke, for a year!

Then I joined open water swimming events with open water swims. Finally, the year came when I attempted my first IRONMAN 70.3, in 2019. To prepare my swim fitness for the race, I took part in an adult swim squad for about two to three times every week.

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ToughASIA: What keeps you motivated to train now, even when there are no races? 

Kah Yi: I enjoy my workouts a lot. It becomes a part of my life. So for me, I won’t call it training, but my passion. The thing is that I normally don’t follow a training routine except when I have to train for races.

Nowadays, I do one trail running, one road running, and one cycling session on a weekly basis (when SOP permits) with a group of triathletes who share the same passion. However, due to strict restrictions at public pools, I have not been swimming since MCO started.

ToughASIA: Where are your favourite running and cycling locations? 

Kah Yi: When I was training for IRONMAN 70.3 in 2019, my training buddies and I did our weekly brick training at Bukit Jelutong–Latar.

But since the MCO in 2020, highway cycling has been ruled out. So, now we cycle from Rimbayu–Sepang (120km) or Rimbayu–Tanjung Sepat (100km). My other favourite cycling route is Ijok–Sekinchan (100km).

My running routes for trail include Gasing, Bukit Kiara–Sri Bintang, Kota Damansara Community Forest. But I also love to explore new forest trails further away from the city.

My road run routes will be around my home in Petaling Jaya because it is very hilly. For group running, I would go to Hartamas–Bukit Tunku.

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ToughASIA: What are the most memorable races you have competed in?

Kah Yi: For triathlon, it was definitely IRONMAN 70.3, which was my maiden IRONMAN race. I was like feeling, “Wow! I have successfully become a triathlete!”

Ever since I started learning to cycle back in 2016, and then started running in 2017, followed by learning to swim like a child in 2018, completing IRONMAN 70.3 in 2019 was a really fast transition for me.

Throughout that period, I went from just a regular full-time working mum who does literally no exercise, to becoming a recognised competitive athlete.

That was truly a cherished experience which I can share with my daughters – and future grandchildren – to encourage them.

But as for the most memorable experience which also packed complete enjoyment, that would be the Cameron Ultra 50km. Incidentally, It was also my first trail Ultra Marathon. The route was so breathtakingly scenic, with amazingly diverse terrains. I got to experience muddy trail, earthy trail, mossy forest, gravels, and tea plantation. It was a complete satisfaction and joy, rewarded with a 4th placing in overall women’s open category.

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Exhilaration paved Kah Yi’s way to the podium in her first ultra running race.

ToughASIA: How does your husband support your passion for sports?

Kah Yi: He lets me take time-off every weekend for sports while taking care of our children until I am home. He loves to buy me (birthday) presents on sports equipment and race gears that I need.

Furthermore, my whole family came to support me during my maiden IRONMAN 70.3 in Langkawi.

My hubby cheered for me and took lots of nice photos even though he couldn’t stand the hot sun. My children cheered me for me whenever I ran pass our hotel and hugged me at the finishing line.

They were about to do the same for last year’s Ironman Cebu 70.3 in Philippines but the race was postponed due to Covid.

ToughASIA: How do you manage between training and family?

Kah Yi: I wake up very early for training to make sure that I can be home to cook as well as take them for their activities. I also love to cook food that my family enjoys as we spend time together during meals and also have family movie night on weekends. When I plan my personal activities, I always to try to avoid taking family time so that we don’t miss one another.

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ToughASIA: Do any of your children participate in sports? 

Kah Yi: My eldest and second daughter have been training competitive rhythmic gymnastics since they were four years old. They competed at the ASEAN level in Japan and Hong Kong, as well as local PAKAT, MSSD competitions, through their gymnastics club.

Yes, I guess these two girls are as tough as me. And in some ways I inspired, encouraged, motivated them in sports.

ToughASIA: What keeps you going into 2021 and beyond as a triathlete? 

Kah Yi: My passion in sports keeps me going with my workouts. Our workout menus are designed to exploring new routes, touring trainings, or simply challenging our own limits. I have been hiking and trail running at different gunungs (Mounts) during MCO whenever the SOP allowed, because these are quiet and secluded places away from most people.

I also participated in a 100km road run last month with a group of ultra-runners. We created our own “crazy” challenge to make up for a race-less year.

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Family – her core, her support and her motivation.

ToughASIA: What is your sporting advice for all mothers out there?

Kah Yi: Seek out a sport that you enjoy and love, and go ahead and do it. Stay fit, strong and healthy. And most importantly, be happy, and you’ll find yourself always coming home happy to your family.