KAREN SIAH has been running for as long as she can remember. Her pursuit and passion in running has seen her participating in many local and international marathons and Ironman triathlons. Pregnancy did not deter this young mother of an eight-month-old boy from running and keeping fit. Growing up in SS14 Subang Jaya, she remembers playing hide and seek and climbing trees. She has since turned her passion into a profession as a fitness instructor, personal trainer and even as a certified pre and post natal fitness instructor. We “caught” up with her recently to find out more about her passion and what drives her forward.
Tell us about your association with Subang Jaya. Were you born and raised in Subang Jaya? Where did you live, study and play in Subang Jaya?
I was born in Klang but my parents moved and brought my brother and myself to subang when I was 1 month old. I lived here, in ss14, for over 30 years, till the day I got married. My parents still live here in the same house. At the back of the house is a pedestrian only lane where no cars come through. That’s where I played catching, hide and seek and climbed trees with my neighbours
- Your mother is a school teacher. Tell us about her and how was it like for you studying in the same school that your mother taught in.
My mom, Puan Yeo, as she is well known as, was an English and Geography teacher in SMKSJ. When I was in my final year in the school, my mom was Head Discipline Teacher. It wasn’t easy, especially since I’m not exactly a Model Student. After assembly every Monday, we always had to walk through a line of prefects who would visually check us from head to toe for any offenses like long hair or nail polish. At the end of this line stood my mother. I used to bow my head should she catch anyone in front of me (who was all my friends).
Also, sometimes she buys me “nicer food” from the teacher’s canteen, and walks to my classroom and tells me about it in front of all my friends. My friends get very jealous, but I always wished she told me in private.
- You are an athlete and a fitness trainer. What led you down this path? When did you first realise your gift for fitness? Was family or friends a huge influence?
I have always been very active, and yes my family played a huge role in this. My parents are health advocates too, so being active in sports was quite important to all of us. One story I like to share is that whenever exams were approaching, while other parents tell their children to cut down on extra-curricular activities, my parents never discouraged it. My dad believes that being outside, sweating it out and breathing in some fresh air will help with coping with stress, and I can’t say I disagree! So when it came the time to choose a career path, I knew I didn’t want a desk bound job. I also knew that I like encouraging people to lead better, healthier lifestyles, and I wanted to do that professionally, so that’s how I became a Fitness Instructor, and then a Personal Trainer. It was daunting at first, and my parents were sceptical if I could really make a living on just a “hobby” but it turned out, I was made for this job!
- What is your most memorable athletic moment? What made it special and how long did you train for the event?
When I was in school, I was a rhythmic gymnast and sometimes, I run. Now, I am a runner. My dad is a very good marathon runner, and luck has it that I got those genes from him. I also dabble in triathlon (swim, bike, run), though I find I am still the best at running, followed by cycling, and then my swim needs a lot more work. My most memorable event is the Ironman, which is a 3.8km swim, 180 km bike, and 42 km run triathlon. In 2015, I completed the Ironman in Langkawi. A lot of toil and sweat and tears were put into becoming an Ironman, I trained hard for about 6-7 months, averaging 12-15 hours of training a week. I have completed 2 full Ironman races now, and several half Ironman races. I wrote a book about it too, called How I Became an Ironman
- Your diet. Tell us more about what you eat and advise you will give to our readers?
People like to think because I’m a fitness enthusiast, I eat only grass, but actually I just eat everything in moderation. There is no special diet or any secrets. My advice to others is to eat less sugars (if possible take drinks “kosong”), eat as consistently as possible (at the same time each day), and to eat whole foods (nothing processed, or comes out of a tin/can). And drink lots of water. I don’t know why people find that hard to do.
- You are now a young mother. Can you share your experience and knowledge with our readers who may be expecting mothers and on exercise.
I received a lot of comments about my pre and post natal journey. Let me start by saying that I am a certified pre and post natal fitness instructor. When I got married, I knew that when I wanted to start a family, I also wanted to continue being physically active the safe way. So I got myself certified. Assuming your pregnancy is smooth, and your doctor gives you the green light, you can resume your usual lifestyle pretty much throughout your pregnancy. Of course, if there are any complications in your pregnancy, it is best to check with your doctor before continuing. But the rule of thumb would be to not try anything new. I have always been a runner, and running 30-40 km a week is very normal for me. So when I was pregnant, I continued to run, wearing a belly band to support the expanding belly, and slowing down after 7 months when the belly got very heavy. I also did prenatal yoga once a week, which helped to stretch out tight muscles and relaxed my mind through breathing. I had a natural birth, so recovery was quick. I could do light workouts by week 4 postpartum, and started running by week 6. So, again, this is because I have always been a runner and had a strong base to start from. If you are not a runner, you should start by walking, or do leisure swimming if you can swim.
By 3 months postpartum, I was already back to pre-pregnancy weight, but this has a lot to do with breastfeeding (and probably lack of sleep) too.
- Going forward, do you have any specific plans for your son? How soon before you enrol him for fitness activities?
My son is 8 months old now, and has already started swimming and little gym classes. But in all honesty, as much as I would like to encourage an active sporty lifestyle, it is his choice, whether or not to dabble in sport. But from a health perspective, I will try to instil good eating and living habits, for sure.
- Finally, do you think you would eventually settle back in Subang Jaya and raise your family here?
Although I have moved out, I find myself back in Subang Jaya 3-4 times a week because my parents help me to watch over my son, Ollie, while I go out and train my clients. I love Subang Jaya, and I know it like the back of my hand. I don’t think I will live in Subang Jaya, because my husband works in downtown KL, but Subang Jaya will definitely continue to be a big part of my family’s life.