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 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).
Rachel Isabel Yang (Instagram: @rachel.isabel.yang)
Occupation: Assistant Manger, SEA Clients & Markets, Deloitte Singapore
Status: Married with a two-year-old son
Diet: 5-6 meals a day; follows simple rules of low fat, non-fried and healthy; lots of fruits and vegetables; more carbo before training or competition; higher protein for post training.
Training: Trains pole vault every day except Sunday, with strength and conditioning after
Have you always been a sporty kid?
Yes, I have always been a very sporty kid. My mum was my greatest influence even though she was not a sporty person at all. I grew up with four younger siblings and my mum would bring us to the basketball court opposite our home to play on weekday afternoons when we were in kindergarten. During school holidays, she would bring us to the community centre to play badminton.
My dad was my inspiration even though we did not play any sports together. He was an all-round sportsman during his school days and won many trophy and medals across various sports and track and field events.
During my primary school days, I swam and also played badminton competitively. Recreationally, I did tennis, volleyball, basketball and cycling. When I went to secondary school, I played badminton, volleyball and track and field for my school and subsequently only continued with track and field when I went to Hwa Chong Junior College.
When did you first try pole vaulting?
At 23 after meeting my husband. He was full-time pole vault coach then and spent most of his time coaching, so to spend more time with him, I took up pole vaulting. To be honest, I did not like it at first because I’m afraid of heights and it seemed difficult and dangerous. At my first training, I tore my anterior cruciate ligament during an accident. Subsequently though, I grew to like it because it is so beautiful if done correctly and I like the challenge.
When was your first competition in pole vault?
Unfortunately, being the sole woman pole vaulter in Singapore at the age of 23 back in 2006, I was not given any opportunity to compete locally or overseas because the priority of Singapore Athletics Association (SAA) was to develop youths and juniors. Then I took a year off from university to train full-time, in the hope that I will be supported to represent Singapore. I was clearing a good height then – between 3.40m to 3.60m. I remembered my coach kept writing to the Association to request to send me for competition.
After almost a whole year, they finally allowed me to compete in Penang in December 2006, on condition that I have to pay the full cost if I did not do well. I was the sole competitor and I cleared 3.40m but it could not be considered as a national record because there needed to be at least three competitors in order for the record to be recognised.
How did you progress from there?
My enthusiasm and motivation was dampened due to the lack of support so I returned to Australia to continue my studies in 2007. Then in July 2007, I was given the opportunity to represent Singapore for the first time. SAA sent a contingent of 21 athletes and decided to add me in at the last minute on condition that my coach was not allowed to go with me.
I was actually nursing a very bad ankle injury then but it was the first and opportunity to prove myself so I decided to go against all odds. It was the Asian Athletics Championship held in Jordan and I spent over $300 on my phone bill talking to my coach the day before my competition because I was so worried that I could not perform. To everyone's surprise, I won the silver medal and it was Singapore's sole medal out of the 22-strong team.
What is your most significant achievement?
That silver medal at the 2007 Asian Athletics Championship because it changed my life. Before that, SAA refused to support me or send me out for competitions. I was all on my own prior to that. My husband and I spent about $30,000 buying poles, going to overseas competitions and conferences. It was only after all of that then SAA started to recognise me.
What’s next in pole vault?
After clearing 3.90m at the SEA Games this year to clinch silver and set a new national record, I am hoping to represent Singapore in the Olympics Games next year and also aim to win a medal at the 2019 Asian Games.
Have you not been confident about your body?
I used to be fat during my school days. At some point of time, I was classified as 'overweight'. I only became fitter after I became a pole vaulter because weight can be an issue. Then I got pregnant and it took me about a year to get back to pre-pregnancy shape. However, I am now in my best shape of my life and it is the first time I can see my abs and have toned arms and legs.
What did you do then to improve your confidence?
I tried to exercise to lose some weight, put highlights in my hair and put on make-up!
How much weight did you put on during pregnancy?
I put on about 15kg during pregnancy and lost about 10kg right after giving birth. I took about six months to resume to my pre-pregnancy weight (note: not the body). During that process, I actually broke a pole in training because I was too heavy. I kept a low-fat diet and went jogging, as well as did weights training.
As you grow older, how have your opinions on fitness and body image changed?
As I grow older, I think fitness and body image very much reflects our health and not so much of being attractive. A person who is fit and toned is in better health conditions than a person who is fat and unfit. A healthier person would also be a happier and more confident person.
Do you see yourself as an inspiration to other mums out there?
I hope to be an inspiration to all mums out there, especially the modern Singaporean mothers. We have so many things to juggle and there are so many things we want to pursue and excel in. It is all about setting priorities right and having good time management. I have made pole vaulting and keeping in shape a part of my life, so it will always be one of my priorities.
What example do you hope to set for your son?
I hope that he will be a resilient person and never give up without trying. He doesn't have to be the best in everything to make me happy. As long as I know that he has put in his best effort in everything he does, I will be very proud of him.
Why should people make an effort to lead an active lifestyle?
Life has become very sedentary with the advent of technology. It is so convenient to find excuses not to exercise. The lack of activities hence, has led to health problems. An active lifestyle is vital in today's world to prolong one's life. Furthermore, exercising and playing sports are good ways to bond with friends and family.