Women's Health (Malaysia) - - CONTENTS - By Sueann Chong

the dual olympian shares how she comes out on top no mat­ter what life throws her way.

Heidi Gan rep­re­sented Malaysia at the Lon­don and Rio Olympics in 2012 and 2016 re­spec­tively. This year not only is she com­pet­ing in the SEA Games 2017 on home shores, she is tipped to win the coun­try’s first-ever gold with her race sched­uled be­fore the open­ing cer­e­mony. What an achieve­ment, right? Well, that doesn’t even scratch the sur­face— she may stand at only 163cm tall but she is a formidable force!

When we first met the Perth-based ath­lete whose par­ents were orig­i­nally from Kuch­ing, we couldn’t count our bless­ings enough. Through some se­ri­ous long-dis­tance plan­ning, we man­aged to catch Heidi in be­tween her in­ter­na­tional swimming meets, and we felt even more for­tu­nate to dis­cover that she is fun, af­fa­ble and witty! And clearly, she also makes a great cover per­son­al­ity and role model...


You would think some­one who swims com­pet­i­tively and trains four to five hours a day would barely have time for any­thing else. (Heidi wakes up at 4:30am to train for a cou­ple of hours be­fore she heads off to work, trains again af­ter clock­ing out of the of­fice and goes home to cook din­ner, be­fore re­peat­ing the whole process the next day.) Not Heidi Gan! The full-time swim­mer and lawyer runs a tight ship on a daily ba­sis.

“It all boils down to ex­treme time man­age­ment and lack of sleep,” she muses. “Re­ally, what gets me through the day is a high level of mo­ti­va­tion, and I am in­trin­si­cally mo­ti­vated. It’s im­por­tant to al­ways want to do bet­ter and to reach your fullest po­ten­tial at some­thing that you love do­ing.”

The re­cently qual­i­fied le­gal ea­gle who bakes ar­ti­sanal cakes as a hobby con­tin­ues: “I some­times take on too much and that’s some­thing I need to work on—say­ing no and mak­ing a con­scious ef­fort not to spread my­self too thin. I have to sim­ply con­cen­trate on what

I’m pas­sion­ate about, and what I am not, I won’t do.” Eat your heart out, Marie Kondo; here’s how you re­ally de­clut­ter your life!

But how does some­one who seems to be on the move around the clock un­wind? “Bak­ing helps me ex­plore the cre­ative part of my brain that I don’t re­ally get to work on when I’m swimming or work­ing at the law firm,” she ex­plains. “I have mu­sic on when I’m bak­ing, and I re­lax and let my cre­ative juices flow.”


Heidi met her cur­rent part­ner of nine years, Si­mon Le Couil­liard, through the swimming arena. Although the lat­ter used to rep­re­sent Jersey Is­land in the Com­mon­wealth Games in the sprint cat­e­gory, they only got to know each other when Si­mon joined the same swimming club that Heidi be­longed to in Perth when he moved there to study. He now owns a gym and is Heidi’s strength and con­di­tion­ing coach.

“I was hes­i­tant about work­ing with him in the be­gin­ning, but now, I think we make a re­ally good team. He knows me bet­ter than any­one and has that ad­van­tage of know­ing me out­side of train­ing. He’s the one who ad­vises me on the sports that could ex­ac­er­bate my in­juries (I’m bit of a thrill-seeker), and is prob­a­bly the only one that can work around my stub­born­ness,” she re­veals when asked what it is like to work with some­one you are dat­ing.

With that in mind, how do you keep the sparks fly­ing?

“You have to sup­port each other, even in sep­a­rate en­deav­ours. While both of us were com­pet­i­tive swim­mers, we al­ways have each other’s back and I be­lieve that is the base of any good re­la­tion­ship—even out­side of sports. While a lot of our con­ver­sa­tions in the house­hold in­volve swimming, we try to limit it and talk about our in­ter­ests out­side of sports. We also do other things to­gether that we en­joy like din­ing out, try­ing new dishes and go­ing on na­ture walks,” she shares. “It’s good to have some­one who in­ti­mately un­der­stands you and what you do, and be part of your jour­ney!” The cou­ple are also proud ‘par­ents’ to a pair of pups.


Heidi started swimming com­pet­i­tively at the age of seven. Be­sides hard work and

ded­i­ca­tion, the record holder at­tributes part of her suc­cess to be­ing highly de­ter­mined. “I’m very com­pet­i­tive by na­ture. I’m also very stub­born, which I get from both my par­ents. I like swimming be­cause I could im­prove, and I was im­prov­ing very much at a young age and win­ning medals against 11and 12-year-old Aus­tralians,” says the elite ath­lete who was the first Malaysian to qual­ify for the marathon swim cat­e­gory in the Olympics.

Her tenac­ity didn’t stop there. When she was five, she wanted to com­pete in cat­e­gories that only al­lowed a min­i­mum age of six, but that didn’t hin­der her from sign­ing up. “I en­tered the six-year-old cat­e­gory as a five-year-old and swam the 50-me­tre but­ter­fly. I went on to win state medals in the but­ter­fly a cou­ple of years later,” she says.

But even the best of us go through pe­ri­ods where we feel de­feated (well, more so for us, mere hu­mans), so how does some­one who is so driven and so mo­ti­vated by suc­cess deal with ‘fail­ure’? As fa­mil­iar as she is with win­ning, the 28-year-old ex­plains her sim­ple se­cret of not crash­ing emo­tion­ally when things don’t go ac­cord­ing to plan...

“The lead-up to the Rio Games was a dif­fi­cult time for me. I was suf­fer­ing a lot of in­juries and the pres­sure to do well in the qual­i­fi­ca­tion round was im­mense. My shoul­ders were not co­op­er­at­ing; I was sick with stress and there were a lot of things go­ing on at home that made things harder for me, both men­tally and emo­tion­ally.”

She con­tin­ues, “Although I came 21st in the 2016 Rio Games—which wasn’t as good as the Lon­don Games where I fin­ished 16th—i think I ac­com­plished more in Rio. The fact that I was able to qual­ify de­spite all the ad­ver­si­ties and come 21st in an Olympic Games, when I wasn’t even sure I was go­ing to make it, is some­thing that I am very proud of!”

And Heidi does that by men­tally con­di­tion­ing her­self. “I just have to re­mind my­self why I do this and re­peat what my par­ents al­ways tell me. They say it doesn’t mat­ter what the out­come is as long as I’ve tried my best and I should be proud of ev­ery sin­gle achieve­ment,” she ad­vises. “For me, a suc­cess­ful com­pe­ti­tion is one where I’ve done ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing that I can and I’ve ex­e­cuted my race to the best of my abil­ity. I think what my par­ents have taught me is a true re­flec­tion of how I am to­day. Rather than hav­ing a par­ent that is al­ways putting a lot of pres­sure on me to per­form, this has been fun­da­men­tal to the type of ath­lete and per­son that I am to­day,” she says, beam­ing with af­fec­tion as she talks about them.


We have some of the most beau­ti­ful beaches in Malaysia and peo­ple travel from all over the world to dive, snorkel and swim in our wa­ters. De­spite the fact that we have so much to of­fer in the aquatic depart­ment, a lot of Malaysians are not con­fi­dent about be­ing near the wa­ter, let alone swimming in it. Things were dif­fer­ent for Heidi who grew up in Aus­tralia.

“My par­ents moved to Perth when I was quite young, and they wanted me to learn how to swim given that Aus­tralia is an is­land sur­rounded by wa­ter, and swimming ac­tiv­i­ties are a big part of the lifestyle,” she rem­i­nisces.

“I think it’s very im­por­tant for peo­ple to learn how to swim at a young age for wa­ter safety and wa­ter con­fi­dence. Swimming is great as a con­di­tion­ing sport be­cause it works ev­ery mus­cle in your body, and it’s a fun sport to know,” she adds.

Heidi also re­minds us that it’s never too late for any­one to learn. “I per­son­ally have taught adults how to swim, and it’s a skill you can pick up at any age. It may take a bit longer when you’re older, but it’s so worth it, as it opens up a whole new world for you!”

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