I’m pretty nervous about meeting Feng Yi Chew for the first time. As the top female competitor in Asia, she is something of a celebrity in the CrossFit community in Singapore.
I have only heard stories of her qualifying for the 2009 Games and of her feats at a recent Strongman challenge. I also know that her work is of a military nature. I anticipate a towering warrior princess of sorts as I sip my coffee and wait. Instead, I am greeted by a petite young woman, casually dressed and fresh from a workout. She immediately puts me at ease with her friendly smile, and over the next hour or so I learn about how the leading woman in Asia came to be where she is today.
Though Chew has always really enjoyed sports as a child, she, by her own admission, had never really been any good at them. She considers herself a late bloomer when it comes to her sporting background. Taking up canoe sprint kayaking at the age of 17, she was attracted not only to the primary racing component of the sport, but also the running and weights training elements that it incorporated.
Fresh out of kayaking and straight into her freshman year at the University of Michigan, Chew then took up rowing in a team of eight, where she continued to enjoy improving her fitness level. Unfortunately, her days of rowing were short-lived, as being a sport that favors tall people made rowing on a team difficult, and she felt she was unable to put her skills to good use.
Hungry to find something new to work on, Chew played around with a few ideas. Big ideas. “I thought, ‘Oh maybe I’ll start training for an Ironman,’” she says. “I really needed something to occupy myself, so I ran the Chicago Marathon in 2006.”
I check back on my notes for scribblings of any previous running experience. None. She laughs and tells me shyly how she finished under four hours, even though she went in cold.
Despite her ability to adapt to whichever sport she took up, Chew knew long distance running wasn’t for her. “It wasn’t really my thing, to spend mindless hours clocking the mileage,” she says. “I missed the variety and diversity that canoeing and rowing training offered.”
So she searched online for strength and conditioning classes in her area and came across Hyperfit USA/CrossFit Ann Arbor back in 2007. Chew enjoyed her first introductory class learning squat cleans, and was back the next week for more.
For two years, Chew trained on and off, either at Hyperfit or a regular globo gym by herself. She then went to what would later be CrossFit Joust, though it was not affiliated at the time. Chew competed in the Mid West Regionals in 2009 and came in 2nd place.
Though her lack of attention to details such as diet and more balanced programming didn’t stop her from qualifying for the Games, being in Aromas, Calif., was a big wake up call. A hamstring injury incurred during the 7.1K run, followed by the deadlift ladder did not favor Chew’s odds. Chew went away with the knowledge that CrossFit really did test a broad spectrum of fitness, and that people went to a lot of effort with lifestyle choices to enhance their training.
As fate would have it, in 2011 Chew was sent over to Australia for work, where she met Matt Swift at CrossFit Brisbane and was reunited with regular, consistent training, not to mention first class coaching. “The minute I walked in I thought, ’This is different,’” she says.
Chew was already considering competing again, so she wanted to make the right decision. The high standards of coaching teamed with a genuine interest in individual athletes’ needs made CrossFit Brisbane Chew’s choice throughout her stay in Australia.
Swift completely changed Chew’s perspective on how she should train, and she regards him as her biggest inspiration when it comes to CrossFit. “I think what Matt helped me realize was the importance of strength work,” she says. “I’m generally more predisposed towards met-cons. When I came to his gym I learned the value of strength training on its own, you know, what it meant to go hard during a 5x5 back squat. That this was the workout, not just what followed. [Swift] really changed my perception, my mindset, and he believed in me.”
Coupled with her recent dietary changes (eating clean, whey protein and fish oil supplementation), Chew’s progress accelerated.
Upon returning to Singapore, and in the lead up to this year’s Games, Chew has been training at The Pit, a functional training facility located in the heart of Singapore’s business district. She has been focusing on advanced gymnastics skills and Olympic lifts, which she considers her weakness.
In addition to CrossFit, she has kept herself busy with kettlebell training, Strongman and powerlifting. She has made a 180-degree turn when it comes to her training style, and even admits that though it would have been perfect a couple of years ago, the 18 minutes of hell during Open Workout 12.3 were quite challenging now that she has taken a step back from those once-favored grinding workouts.
Something which strikes me above anything else about Chew is how incredibly humble she is. She gently pushes away any flattery regarding her performance to date and insists that she is only where she is by luck. She is proud to be representing Singapore, and considers the opportunity to benchmark [herself] against the best athletes in the world an achievement in and of itself. “The 2012 Games are just another step in my journey as a CrossFitter.”
Athletes in this Article: