Heidi Gan Discusses Rio Olympics And How Swimming Changed Her Life

“Swimming has changed my life in so many ways. I’ve met so many people, learned so many skills, overcome so many challenges and I’ve been able to experience so many things that I would not have been able to without swimming. I am the person I am today because of my sport.” – Heidi Gan

heidi gan black and white
Photo credit: heidigan.com

Heidi Gan is a lot of things – she’s a full-time graduate lawyer, a motivational speaker, an ex-swimming instructor and now she’s also our Malaysian female representative for the women’s 10km open water swimming event at the Rio Olympics! This will be Heidi’s second appearance at the world’s largest sporting event after scoring 16th place at the London Games in 2012.

I am very fortunate that I am able to compete at the highest level in my chosen sport and to represent my country and experience something as great as the Olympics. The greatest thing I’ve learned is to appreciate this and share this experience with others so you can give back to the community that supported you on your journey there,” she said.

Heidi was born in Kuching but raised in Australia. Equipped with a degree in law and commerce and now a committee member of the Women Lawyers Western Australia group, she currently resides in Perth and is the vice-president of the Perth City Swimming Club, where she trains religiously with coach Matt Magee and the rest of the squad. Due to her impressive record in swimming and her zeal for the sport, she has been invited to give motivational speeches to a broad range of audience around schools and corporate firms in Perth. She also volunteers as a surf lifesaver at the City of Perth Surf Lifesaving Club, which is where she learned excellent and practical lifesaving skills.

In her free time, she enjoys baking and shopping for unique pieces of clothing to add to her growing collection at home, in which she has a separate room just for her clothes! We had the privilege to chat with the incredibly talented 28-year-old swimmer on her background, her love for swimming and her meticulous training regime for the Olympics.

heidi gan portraitPhoto credit: heidigan.com

KAODIM: Hi Heidi! We’re so excited that you’ll be representing Malaysia at the Olympics. How do you balance the demands of your full-time job with your swimming career?
It takes a lot of discipline to make my schedule work. Time management is essential as I work full time as a lawyer while training 10 times a week. There’s also gym, physio, massage and sports psychology sessions. There are also demands from my personal life, such as paying rent, bills, food shopping, cooking, house chores and dividing my time equally among my boyfriend, two dogs and my loved ones. In essence, I simply have to be extremely organised and disciplined. I’ve learned to prioritise certain areas in my life so that there is balance and happiness among the chaos of my busy schedule.

KAODIM: We understand that you’re also a motivational speaker and a mentor. Could you elaborate a little more on the motivational talks, mentorships and volunteering that you currently do?
I mentor young athletes and university students on both a formal and informal basis. Depending on the topic I am asked to speak about, I usually like to share what the journey to the Olympics is like for elite athletes, the challenges and discipline which comes with balancing work and sport, and also the life lessons I have learned along the way. 

KAODIM: When did you start to swim and what sparked that competitive edge?
I guess I always had the competition bug in me. I was first put into swimming lessons by my mum at about age 4. I excelled apparently from very early on, and was begging to race the 50m butterfly event at the State Championships when I was 5 and I was swimming above my age group from the very start! 

heidi gan open water swimmingPhoto credit: heidigan.com

KAODIM: What do you love most about open water swimming?
I love how every course is different and there is a much greater emphasis on skills as opposed to speed when compared to pool racing. Being an open water swimmer means you need to be adaptable because even if you show up on race day  and it’s storming, the sea is choppy, you still have to deal with it and race! I also just love being out in the open instead of a stuffy chlorinated pool. It’s magical for me.  

KAODIM: In your opinion, what are some positive effects that swimming has on the body and mind?
Physically, swimming is a low-impact sport so it’s great for weight-bearing injuries, which sports like running can often cause. Mentally, it’s a really self-immersing sport where, when you’re in the water, you’re in your own head for most of the time and you learn self-discipline and how to really test yourself.

heidi gan open water swimming2Photo credit: elle.my

KAODIM: Can you describe your swimming training sessions for the Olympics?
I train 10 times a week in the pool and average about 70-80km a week. My sessions range from 7-8km sessions on average and they take approximately 2 hours. I also train twice a week in the gym with my strength and conditioning coach Simon Le Couilliard of Formidable Strength and Conditioning, where we focus on a more functional, almost crossfit style of training. Given that I’ve been struggling with an injury in the last few months, there has been a greater focus on injury rehabilitation and strength and conditioning in the gym in preparation for this particular Olympics. 

KAODIM: What is your nutrition strategy for the Olympics?
I follow a very clean diet – it’s somewhat paleo but not how the media portrays it. I basically avoid processed foods and eat as much whole foods with a focus on nutrient-dense food groups like loads of fresh vegetables, good quality meats and try to eliminate sugar. Although coffee is definitely my weakness, but it’s kind of natural, right? 

KAODIM: With your experience as a swimming instructor, what are some of the important tips and techniques you try to impart unto your students?
Generally I try to teach my students to relax in the water – if you fight it, you will only lose, although this of course takes a lot of practice.

heidi by lewis catalanoPhoto credit: Heidi Gan & Lewis Catalano Photography

KAODIM: How has swimming changed your life and what are some lessons that swimming has taught you over the years?
I’ve been swimming competitively for over 2 decades now and I’m only 28! It has changed my life in so many ways – I’ve met so many people, learnt so many skills, overcome to many challenges and have been able to experiences so many things that I wouldn’t have been able to without swimming – I am the person I am today because of my sport.

Swimming has also taught me not to take anything for granted. I am very fortunate that I am able to compete at the highest level in my chosen sport and to represent my country and experience something as great as the Olympics.

KAODIM: Finally, what are you most passionate about?
For me, it’s not the number of medals I will remember when I retire, but the friendships, experiences, life lessons and skills I have learnt along the way that I will remember.

I am passionate about educating others, particularly younger athletes about the importance of the work/life balance and I am also very passionate about sharing the life lessons I have learnt along my journey with the next generation, especially the importance of work ethic, respect for others and sportsmanship. My ultimate goal in life is to be truly happy and content with myself and what I have achieved, and to give back to my community in a meaningful way.

heidi in brazilHeidi representing Malaysia at the Rio Olympics in Brazil / Photo credit: Heidi Gan

Swimming has shaped such a big part of Heidi’s life. Like she said, it’s a low-impact sport that doesn’t weigh down too much on the body. If you’ve never picked up swimming before, it’s never too late to plunge out of your comfort zone! Apart from sculpting your muscles and increasing your endurance, swimming contributes towards healthy weight loss, cardiovascular fitness and mental health.

Feel free to introduce your kid to the benefits of swimming too, as this sport has been proven to aid children’s cognitive development. When you’re ready, visit Kaodim to hire certified swimming instructorsTell us what you need and we’ll match you with qualified and dedicated swimming coaches.

Heidi is now in Rio awaiting her 10km open water event on August 15! Don’t miss out on the action. She is the second Malaysian swimmer who qualified the Rio Games after Welson Sim, who will be competing in the men’s 200m and 400m freestyle events. Let’s continue to cheer our amazing Malaysian representatives and support them throughout their journey in Rio!

by Carissa Gan