Singapore #Fitspo of the Week: Marie Choo

Strong is the new sexy and fitness is the new party. With society leaning towards health and fitness, Yahoo’s #Fitspo of the Week series is dedicated to all inspirational men and women in Singapore leading active lifestyles. Know of any who deserve to be featured? Hit me up on CherylTay.sg and on Facebook,Twitter and Instagram (cheryltaysg).

Name: Marie Choo (IG: @mariechoo)
Age: 39
Height: 167cm
Weight: 54kg
Occupation: Dog behaviourist and trainer, part-time lecturer at LASALLE
Status: Married
Diet: Tries to be as vegetarian as possible; consumes only seafood if she eats meat; cuts out other meats by 90 per cent from her diet; also cuts out dairy products and processed carbs such as rice, pasta and bread
Training: Runs 5 times a week (mix of long runs, recovery runs and hill training); 2-3 times of gym and yoga to complement

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What kind of sports did you do as a kid? 
When I was in primary school, I was on the table tennis school team. In secondary school, I took part in 100m to 400m track races as a “filler” because each class needed a rep. I was not good and never won any medals! I also played basketball, netball and volleyball recreationally.

Then you stopped exercising once you started working. 
Yes, when I started working, I got busy and I just left out the exercising bit. When I was in London, I would jog occasionally at Hyde Park, but that was it! Up till two years ago, I was only walking my dogs twice a day, 30 minutes each time.

What made you decide to pick up running again?
I literally did a ‘Forest Gump’ because I was at the crossroads of my career. I have evolved as a person over the years and my interests have shifted into helping rescue dogs and leading a simple life.

So, my job as a PR professional was causing some internal conflicts in me as I worked with luxury brands, entertained at high society events, and all these required me to be in the scene and limelight as part of my job. I thought running will take some stress away and give me the clarity that I seek, so I started running to avoid falling into a depression.

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How was it like running again after being sedentary for so long?
The first year was not easy. I literally had to go through a steep learning curve. The first couple of months were just demoralising because I had no stamina. I had to employ the walk/jog strategy as I work on building my stamina. Thank goodness my neighbour Ab Facey was there for me at the beginning. She signed me up for races, gave me advice and even ran with me even though she was way faster than me.

I have always been an achiever, if not overachiever, since young, and the fact that I am not a fast and strong runner was seriously frustrating for me. That was when I learnt that it takes time to be a good runner. Unless you won the genetic lottery and was born a gifted runner, one would have to build a base and work on becoming stronger.

My impatience in the first year got the better of me as I pushed myself to run too much too fast too soon. I sustained injuries and never really enjoyed running. It was when I decided to run without expectations that I truly enjoyed running. That was when I ran the Standard Chartered Half Marathon in 2014 as a rookie runner with just seven months experience. I didn’t clock a good timing, I fell and scrapped my knees instead, but I had the best time of 2014 when it came to running.

I dressed up in leopard print shorts and a cat’s ears hairband, and I smiled at other runners when they smiled at me because of my outfit. I stopped and took pictures with the characters in Universal Studios on the way. I had great memories and lots of nice photos. My husband and good friends came to support me and presented me with flowers and cold drinks at the finish line. Best race ever! Since then, I told myself I will always just be a happy runner and not focus so much on timing.

What kept you going?
Support and encouragement from my loved ones kept me going. Also, signing up for races also ensures that I am constantly running. These days, I run to raise awareness and funds for rescue dogs. With this intention, the motivation is strong to keep me going even when the going gets tough.

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What are your objectives in running now?
My objectives are:

1) To keep running and get better so that my running story can inspire others to also start their own running journey. I couldn’t run to save my life two years ago, but now I run marathons. Being the underdog makes it easier for others to associate with me and some of my friends started running because they were inspired by my journey. My ultimate dream is to qualify and run the Boston Marathon.

2) To raise awareness and money to help rescue dogs in Singapore. I started doing fundraising using my running journey last year for D.O.G.S (Dogs Owners Guidance Support) and I managed to raise close to $22,000 to buy one year of food supply to feed over 100 dogs at Oasis Second Chance Animal Shelter.

This year, I am doing it from a personal capacity with my ‘I RUN FOR RESCUE DOGS’ fundraising campaign. I am doing two marathons this year and I am dedicating the races to rescue dogs. In just three weeks since I started the fundraising in the third week of Feb, I have raised over $12,000. I hope to raise more money over the next few months. I will be using the money to buy dog food for three local dogs shelters, namely SOSD, Mdm Wong’s Shelter and Oasis Second Chance Animal Shelter.

What made you decide to leave your corporate job to become a dog behaviourist and trainer?
My love for dogs and my passion in helping rescue dogs. When I started volunteering at local dog shelters in 2012, I knew then that I wanted to do more to help the rescue dogs. So I pursued a correspondence course with a school in the UK while working full-time managing my PR agency.

I love that I could combine my academic learnings with my practical experience training my own dogs and the shelter dogs. I managed to rehabilitate many dogs, including rescue dogs in the shelters that couldn’t be leashed and walked for years. The successful rehabilitation cases gave me the confidence and affirmation and I discovered that I am actually good at working with dogs.

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Why is it important to have a work-life balance?
Without a life, nothing else can exist. As much as we work hard to obtain financial wealth to pay for things in life, we must also not neglect our health. I personally had a health scare five years ago and that was my wake up call. It made me realise that anything can happen to anyone regardless of age. I started running and mindfulness practice concurrently about two years ago and I learnt that the “secrets” to happiness is mainly exercise, a dose of outdoor, gratitude and a positive mindset.

Was there any point in your life that you didn't feel confident about your body? 
I was very self conscious in my 20s. I am pear-shaped and I hated my derriere and legs back them. I also had some nasty colleagues back then who will say hurtful things about my body shape, even when they are not slim themselves. I suffered mild depression from a failed relationship in my 20s and I went on to gain lots of weight. I was my biggest then at 62kg and went up three dress sizes.

Are you satisfied with your body now and why?
Yes, I am very contented with my body. Firstly, with mindfulness practice, I have lots of gratitude in life. As much as I want slim legs, I am just thankful that I have normal functions of my legs. We usually take things for granted and we only appreciate what we have when we lose them. I remind myself on every run how awesome it is that I have legs to run.

Now that fitness is a way of life for me, I don’t care about weight anymore. I used to weigh myself daily and freak out if I gain a bit of weight. These days, I “measure” by how my clothes fit and how my abs look. I exercise daily and run five times a week, and I try to eat healthy and well at home, so I allow myself to indulge when I am out dining. You will never catch me counting calories or starving myself. I think I look fit and toned now so I don’t really worry about my body shape anymore.

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What are misconceptions about fitness in today's society?
As much as you work out or train in the gym, a healthy diet is still imperative if you want a flat tummy or nice definitions. It is true that abs are made in the kitchen and what you eat is important. Also, you need to train smart to achieve results, regardless of the sports you pursue.

I don’t lift weights or train much at the gym, but I rely on calisthenics exercises to build strength and tone up. When it comes to running, I follow my running plan. I believe in science and I don’t buy quick fixes.

I am now doing an ISSA course in fitness and hope to be certified as a personal trainer this year. I am doing it for myself so I can have more knowledge in fitness and nutrition.

Why should people make an effort to lead an active lifestyle?
As the adage goes, “health is wealth”. When you exercise, the endorphins will make you feel good and you will beam with positivity. Your body will be toned and you will look good too. Exercise is cheaper than therapy and it is a great way to manage stress.

Do something for yourself now that your future self will thank you for. Invest in your health now by taking charge of your life and embark on a fitness journey.