NATIONAL OLYMPIC SWIMMER HEIDI GAN ON WINNING AT LIFE!
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...
FINDING TIME IN THIS MAD, MAD WORLD
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.”
THROWING LOVE INTO THE MIX
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.
THE TRICK TO GETTING OVER FAILURE
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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