May 22, 2014
Paying it Forward: Vanessa Fung
By Akshay Mathur
“My goal is for girls, specifically, to understand that sports and movement are for personal growth and not about being the best and beating others. Sports create better people and that has little to…
“My goal is for girls, specifically, to understand that sports and movement are for personal growth and not about being the best and beating others. Sports create better people and that has little to…

"My goal is for girls, specifically, to understand that sports and movement are for personal growth and not about being the best and beating others. Sports create better people and that has little to do with your 800-meter split time."

Photos courtesy of Rasmus Daniel Taum.

Vanessa Fung is well known at the Asia Regional. This will be her third trip to compete for the region’s one berth to the CrossFit Games.

Yet the high school social science teacher and CrossFit trainer responds with self-deprecating humor if you call her a CrossFit regional veteran. The more you talk to her, the more you get the sense the regional is simply a way to express the excellence she works for everyday at the box.

“Through CrossFit, I have learnt that everybody is on their own journey of excellence and everyone has the potential to achieve this pinnacle, whatever it may be for them,” she said.

She first encountered CrossFit five years ago, when she was living in Canada. The trainers at CrossFit Overdrive immersed her in the methodology, and set her on the path toward excellence.

It wasn’t a clear, easy path.

When she moved to Shanghai a couple years later, she couldn’t find a CrossFit box and struggled to stay on track. Eventually, two boxes opened in the city—CrossFit Iron Dragon and CrossFit MeWellness.

As a part-time trainer at CrossFit MeWellness and a dedicated athlete, Fung works to spread functional fitness throughout the region.

“While this is not an official role, I see myself as a promoter of the sport within the community. People are becoming more aware of fitness as a lifestyle, but I think there is much to be learned and accepted,” she explained. “People in China are still at the stage of cardio and achieving a ‘better-looking body.’”

She hopes CrossFit will gradually seep into Chinese people’s lives and shift their attitude from awe, intrigue and curiosity, to active interest. She wants them to see it and decide to do it themselves.

“While most of the members in the box are ex-pats, I am very hopeful of more locals joining CrossFit,” she said. “We have had a lot of inquiries from curious walk-ins, and I am sure that over time, curiosity will blossom into something more.”

Women and girls are the most reticent.

Women in many sections of the globe have encountered cultural push back when they lift weights, and develop their strength and athleticism. It’s further complicated in China where women are encouraged to focus on academics rather than athletics.

“I have a strong passion for developing female athletes and giving girls the opportunity to find strength, inspiration and possibilities through sport,” she said.

“The main challenge has been to get girls to want to participate in physical activity. They would rather sit on the sidelines and watch. Public schools in China only follow a prescribed exercise routine with physical education testing tedious tasks like maximum bumps of a volleyball or an 800-meter run.”

Facing these challenges has only seemed to push Fung further, and she has chosen to focus on deeper, less tangible benefits of sports, rather than gradable metrics.

“My goal is for girls, specifically, to understand that sports and movement are for personal growth and not about being the best and beating others. Sports create better people and that has little to do with your 800-meter split time,” she said.

By competing at the Asia Regional, Fung has been able to show her students what there is to gain from competing.

Students watched her prepare for last year's regional, and tracked her on the Leaderboard throughout last year’s regional weekend where Fung finished in third place overall.

After returning from Seoul, Korea, Fung was greeted by one student, a girl, who wanted to try CrossFit. Caroline Bao came to the on ramp class, and has been hooked ever since.

“It feels really good to be able to pay it forward,” Fung said. “To see the passion grow in other people.”

With the 2014 Asia Regional fast approaching, Fung is nervous and excited.

“I place rather high expectations on myself and that makes me nervous. Outside of that though, I cannot wait to spend a weekend surrounded by people who share my passion for this sport,” she said.

She recognizes the competition in Asia improves each year, and she’ll have to fight to get back on the podium.

“I am going out there with a smile and I will have a great time doing what I love,” she said. “I cannot control how I place, but I can surely control how much I get out of this experience.”