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).
Occupation: Founder of gymnastics programme specialists Gym With Me
Status: Married with one son
Diet: Eats healthy with a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables, but never denies good food and lives by the'everything in moderation' rule
Training: Spends hours each day teaching gymnastics, as well as yoga and Pilates sometimes
Did you start gymnastics from a very young age?
Yes, I started gymnastics when I was four years old. I was a very energetic child who discovered acrobatics on my own at home and my mum was not impressed by the number of things I broke around the house. We had a neighbour who did gymnastics at the local club in England and I went along for a trial one day. That was it – I was hooked.
I found I was naturally strong and had a real grasp of the basic skills (forward rolls, handstands, cartwheels) straight away, so was moved into a development group almost immediately.
To what level did you compete in gymnastics?
I did my first competition when I was five and then didn't stop competing until I was 18! The first competition was at a local club in the UK. I don’t remember a lot, but I remember being really excited and happy to be wearing a proper leotard like all the bigger girls were wearing!
Over my 13 years in the sport, I progressed through the levels across various countries I lived in (England, Mexico and Singapore). At my peak I reached level 10 FIG (Federation Internationale de Gymnastique - the global governing body of competitive gymnastics) and had competed all over the world.
Why did you stop competing at 18?
Although my last competition was at 18, I've never stopped participating in the sport in some way. The only reason I stopped was to concentrate on my university studies, but it has always had a hold on me! I always found a gym to go to to practise at and was also a qualified coach from a young age, so that kept me involved in the sport through the years.
What other sports did you participate in competitively? How did your background in gymnastics help that?
Although my gymnastics schedule was very heavy, I also found time to compete in athletics - primarily 100m, 200m and 400m sprints and high jump. I also played for my high school touch rugby team in Singapore (United World College of Southeast Asia) and tennis.
Doing gymnastics gave me a strong athletic base for other sports, due to its focus on full body conditioning, flexibility, coordination, balance, core strength and overall aerobic fitness. The best thing about doing gymnastics is that you are so well-trained from a young age, so if you stay active you never really lose the benefits the sport gives you. Even today in my 30s, I credit gymnastics for my overall sporting abilities and strong, athletic figure.
What is it about gymnastics that you like so much?
Apart from the benefits I've already mentioned, there's so much adrenaline! You fight every natural instinct when you get on a beam and do a somersault, or swing around a bar and let go mid-air. The rush is unlike anything else.
Nowadays when coaching gymnastics, I find it so interesting that there is so much science behind performing skills optimally and being able to contort, flip and twist and balance. From the bio-mechanical aspects of the sport to the physiological aspects, we're constantly looking for ways gymnastics can improve their performance and execution of the skills. One of the things that amazes me when coaching is the kids' abilities, and seeing them improve and achieve a skill they've been working on for weeks. That's why I do what I do.
How has gymnastics shaped you as a person?
It has given me confidence, determination and an ability to see things through until the end – until I've achieved what I set out to. Gymnastics is also a very social sport, where you become very close to your teammates. That sense of comeraderie is fantastic - I'm still best friends with multiple people I grew up doing gymnastics with. I find that the kids we coach also become such close friends, who encourage and support each other in such a wonderful way.
I also believe that gymnastics has taught me the analytical skills and precision I've needed to start and operate my own business with Gym With Me. When you do a sport competitively for so many years, you develop excellent time management skills to juggle your life. That has certainly come in handy when running a business and balancing my family life!
Why should people take up gymnastics? What are the benefits?
Despite what many people think, you can take up gymnastics at any age. The benefits for young kids coming into the sport in early development years includes wonderful foundations of strength, coordination, balance and flexibility that will put them at an advantage for any other athletic endeavour they pursue in the future.
For young adults, it's great for keeping in shape and helps to maintain strength and overall fitness as they go through body changes and growth periods. It also gives teenagers a large amount of focus and body confidence. For older adults, it's beneficial from a posture point of view, building essential core muscles that are neglected when sitting at a desk all day. The strengthening and weight bearing is brilliant for building bone density and reducing the risk of osteoporosis. All the core strengthening also helps reduce common back problems and others aches and pains that comes with a sedentary lifestyle!
You have an 18-month-old who is doing gymnastics now. Why is it good to start them young in gymnastics?
My son, Cuali, is 19 months old. He hasn't started doing gymnastics properly yet, but he does join me in the gym frequently, playing on the equipment and exploring his movements, balance and confidence. While our classes accept children from three years old, the benefits of gymnastics can begin even younger.
The benefits include exploring an area that is soft and safe, allowing them to build strength to climb, learn how to roll down slopes, learn a number of different coordination techniques, and understand their limits and how to manage their bodies and control themselves. My son started crawling at 7.5 months and was walking by nine months, which I believe was helped by regular access to the gym. Now, he is capable of doing a forward roll completely unassisted.
When did you move to Singapore? Why did you decide to start Gym With Me?
My history in Singapore goes back a long way – my family moved here when I was 13, from England. Singapore was my home for all my high school years, until I went back to the UK for university. Then, in 2010, my husband and I moved back to Singapore and I launched Gym With Me later that year. I always knew I wanted to run my own business.
After gaining my degree in Sports Science and Masters in Strategic Marketing – and with numerous years of professional experience behind me – I decided to launch my own company going back to my gymnastics roots. What started out with just me has now turned into a medium-sized business with 20 qualified coaching staff, and Gym With Me is now present and managing gymnastics programmes in six different schools in Singapore. We also operate multiple gymnastics camps over school holidays.
What are some misconceptions about gymnastics that people have?
Probably the biggest misconception out there is that gymnastics is a girl's sport. It is very much a sport for men and women, and Gym With Me provides classes for both, at recreational, development and competitive levels. Male gymnasts are probably some of the best athletes in the world - their strength is beyond comprehension. All you need to do is search for names like Kohei Uchimura and Brandon Wynn to see what men in this sport are capable of!
Have you ever felt insecure about your body?
I am naturally quite a confident person with a positive attitude about my body, but the one time I definitely felt slightly insecure and out of control about my figure was during and after my pregnancy. Pregnancy is an amazing time, but it's difficult to give up control of your body and let nature take over! I stayed healthy throughout my pregnancy and continued exercising, meaning I bounced back quickly, but it was probably the first time I felt uncomfortable in my own skin. However, I wouldn't trade it for the world.
What are some comments you receive about your body?
While I've always received comments that I look toned, fit and strong, as a teenager I never saw that as a good thing. Today, however, I'm very proud that people see me that way. At the same time, I don't base my self worth on what others might think of me.
As long as I take care of myself, eat well and exercise, I feel confident about my body and happy in myself. I think that's so much more important than focusing on what others might comment, and that's the attitude we like to project for the kids in our gym classes. It's about feeling good and staying healthy.