Just when you think you're tough enough


Triathlon Powers Couple Sue Kay and Rupert Chen To The IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships

She was already cycling and running, and practising bendy poses in yoga. He was one of Malaysia’s fastest IRONMAN 2016 finisher. Together, Sue Kay and Rupert Chen have now become one of our favourite couples in triathlon whom we love meeting at races.

Both in their late thirties, the Sarawakian brand manager cum yoga teacher and Selangor-born triathlon coach have known each other for 5 years now. Sue proclaims, “Rupert is such a funny man and I am a woman who loves to laugh!”

ToughASIA spoke to the power couple in triathlon to dig into the depths of relationship, strengthened by the three-discipline sport.

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Where did you first meet?

Sue: Hulu Langat, one of the cycling havens in Selangor. Rupert was there training for his IRONMAN, while I was cycling with my friends. He overtook me while I was speeding towards Peres, slowed down to say “Hello! My name is Rupert.” Then sped off ahead to show me how strong he is. Haha! We met again at the foot hill of Peres and chatted a little bit more there. That’s where it all began.

Who started triathlon first?

Rupert: Three weeks before the Kenyir Triathlon in 2009, I bought a steel bicycle for my first Olympic Distance – 1.5km swim, 40km cycle, 10km run – triathlon. I didn’t even know how to use the pedal with the foot cage and shift levers.

Sue: Back in 2016, I was NOT a swimmer. So the only multisport I could do was duathlon, which I was already doing even before I met Rupert.

It never occurred to me that I could learn to swim, until we took a trip to Malacca and I met Ben who is a swim coach, coaching TriKids in Malacca. My first swim lesson was with Ben and subsequently, I thought maybe I should give this triathlon a try! Rupert started coaching me in my swim, but he wasn’t a full time coach then, so I joined Aldrian Yeo’s Go Getters. It was only a year after that, when Rupert was seriously considering coaching that I began training with him.

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How often do you train together?

Sue: EVERY DAY. Lol! We used to train separately, because his programs were too tough for a then-newbie like me. But after a few years, we can finally train together as I progressed steadily.

Rupert: We have lazy days too. One of us will get the other off the couch and onto training. “You should go run” or “why don’t I set the bike up so you can spin for an hour?”

Can you describe how your relationship progressed since the both of you started triathlon?

Rupert: Having the same interest and goals definitely simplifies things when it comes to our relationship. We understand each other’s needs and expectations, we know how to play our part in each other’s triathlon journey. It’s like having a partner in every part of your life.

Sue: A training buddy who pushes you to be better; a best friend to laugh and confide in when times get tough; a partner who accepts every single flaw. I mean, if you can spend THIS much time with one person – you MUST like them a lot right?

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In their most memorable race together, both Sue and Rupert qualified for the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships.

What keeps your passion in triathlon going despite the cancelled races in this pandemic?

Sue: The triathlon community. Throughout the pandemic we do try to maintain some semblance of a normal training routine. We’ve been moving training sessions online, conducting virtual classes and talks. With MCO 2.0 more virtual training groups have been popping up and they, keep the triathlon fire burning. I suppose you can say, that the pull shifted from being race ready to being a participating member of the triathlon community.

Rupert: In mid-2020, we also started coaching youths in triathlon, something we had wanted to do for some time now. We were surprised at the response, with more than 40 signing up. Recently, we started swim training for youths too.
Furthermore, we have also identified new potential elites and are preparing them for the 2021 SEA Games qualifier by conducting time trials for selections. For our RC Coaching setup, we hired another full-time coach and sent all our coaches for numerous triathlon and related courses to upgrade themselves, including myself.
Race-cation in Thailand in better times

What is the most memorable race you have competed in together?

Sue: Our most recent race, IRONMAN 70.3 Bangsaen 2020 in Thailand. We both raced pretty well there and stayed in the room just above the Princess of Thailand! Also, we both qualified for the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships 2020 which sweetened the trip.

What are your next couple goals?

Sue: We had been looking forward to the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships in Taupo, New Zealand which has now been postponed to 2022. I’m very much anticipating the post-race holiday and road trips.

Rupert: Furthermore, we had been planning some triathlon training camps and perhaps a few races, but unfortunately these did not happen due to the MCO.

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Sue, you seem to be the yoga aficionado. How has Rupert taken part in your interest over the years?

Sue: Oh, by far! His flexibility and mobility has improved so much and he impresses me every day. He used to have this horrible hunched (rounded) back, that’s gone now. His pigeon pose, which is the pose that he struggled most before, is near perfect now.

I am most proud of his daily meditation practice – he’s so disciplined. He would sit there, quietly for at least 5 minutes, belly breathing, improved posture. Always ending with a smile.

Rupert: .. and a “Namoooste”.

Sue practises yoga with triathletes to keep them quick and nimble.