By CATHERINE SIOW
SHE calls herself “Lady Vanity” and lives up to it. Packing a mean punch in her “petite” 158cm-60kg frame, 26-year-old personal trainer and model Kimberley Chai throws her weight around with precise ease and grace, thanks to years of sheer hard work as a fitness freak.
“I came from a childhood of being overweight and unfit. From young, I admired muscular physiques and loved looking at pictures of men and women with muscles. One day, I decided I needed to overhaul my life. That gave birth to my fitness journey,” says Chai, who took up bodybuilding at age 15.
Looking at her move now, it seems like no mean feat but Chai begs to differ. “At the time, I did not have access to resources like the Internet and YouTube. I started off in a little ‘ghetto’ neighbourhood gym that was essentially just a shoplot with a single ceiling fan and some simple equipment. I mimicked whatever the men did.
“I used to get strange looks as I was the only female working out there. My parents initially had their doubts, but as they saw me grow and progress, they realised that I was serious about what I was doing and gave their blessings,” says Chai, who now gets “interested” looks from strangers.
Weightlifting became an addiction and Chai soon beefed up her fitness fix with a Sport Science certificate from the National Sports Council at age 16 and a Bodybuilding Coaching Level 1 certificate from the Malaysian BodyBuilding Federation two years later.
“I have also dabbled in powerlifting the past two years, not competitively though, as I enjoy being as strong as my body allows me to be. I have also begun training with various other implements besides the traditional dumbbell/barbell routines I grew up with, such as kettlebells, battling ropes, and ViPRs to upskill my training and coaching abilities,” she says.
Not one to toe the line, Chai is an aspiring fitness writer and thrives on living out of the box. “I am a strength and hypertrophy nerd. I hope to break the stereotype that bodybuilding and strength coaches are men.
“It was difficult in the beginning to be taken seriously, as people do stereotype me based on my gender. Today, however, my clients are mostly male – some of them are well built and tower over me, often resulting in jokes about who’s the trainer and who’s the trainee.
“My dream is to master all three elements – earth, sea and sky – so that would be bodybuilding/powerlifting, freediving and aerial arts,” she says.
“I am excited about testing limits and seeing what this body can do. I also have a lot of fun, defying the norms and stereotypes. I am a certified Zumba instructor. I am starting to do Artistic Gymnastics. I am also honing my skills in the aerial hoop, which I picked up after fitness poledancing.
“I believe not only in being powerful, but also flexible, graceful and poised,” says Chai, who is a freelance model. The workaholic may be pushing the limits every moment but she is not clueless to the job hazards.
“My biggest disappointments would be setbacks from injuries. I tore my trapezius and bicep doing fitness pole in 2012, and have chronic nerve pain to this day. I have two slipped discs from a botched and careless warmup in my ‘young and dumb’ days. But they have made me a more grounded person to manage the pain.
“It does sadden me to hear limiting beliefs which dictate that someone is too old or too weak to start something. I hope that what I do can inspire someone to pick up their torch and chase their dreams,” says Chai, who finds “no mountain too high, no ocean too deep, no weight too heavy.”