Meet our female Olympians: Heidi Gan

All July we'll be meeting women on the Malaysian Olympic team that's heading to Rio next month. First up: swimmer Heidi Gan

By ELLE Malaysia | Published: 16 Aug 2016

Olympian: Heidi Gan
Photo: Heidi Gan

[Updated 16 August 2016] Heidi Gan came in at no. 21 in the 10km marathon swim event yesterday. Despite the unexpected results, the Malaysian Olympian is still as motivated as ever. 

"To represent my country at my second Olympic Games is the biggest achievement & greatest honour for me. It was never an easy journey and it's been a somewhat bumpy ride, even here in Rio, but I tried my best and I wouldn't change a thing – I hope I did Malaysia proud!" Heidi said on an Instagram post. 


Today I came 21st in the 10km marathon swim. 🏊🏊🏊 It wasn't quite the result I was hoping for but I don't think I underperformed either. I think the quality of the field has continued to improve year to year and to be competitive in this world class Olympic field is something I am proud of. While I finished 21st, I never gave up & fought till the end with a pack which went to a photo finish. To represent my country at my second Olympic Games is the biggest achievement & greatest honour for me. It was never an easy journey and it's been a somewhat bumpy ride, even here in Rio, but I tried my best and I wouldn't change a thing - I hope I did Malaysia proud! I want to really thank everybody for their support. All the messages I have received have been overwhelming and I really appreciate it. Special thanks to my coaches Matt and Ian for all their hard work. I'll be hanging around Rio for another few days so watch this space for more photos from #Rio2016! #goteammalaysia #malaysiaboleh #tigermills #teammalaysia

A photo posted by Heidi Gan (@heidigan1) on


Twenty-eight-year-old Heidi Gan will compete in the open water swim category at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio in August. Heidi hails from Kuching but currently resides in Perth, Australia, where she works for a corporate law firm. Heidi won multiple medals in the SEA Games, is a Malaysian National Record holder and a SUKMA Gold Medallist. After qualifying for the 2012 London Summer Olympics, Heidi became the first Malaysian to represent our country in the open water swim category. Here she tells how she is preparing for her second Olympics.

How do you feel about going to the Olympics?
I am equal parts thrilled, excited, nervous and proud! The Olympics is just one of those events that brings out a variety of emotions in everyone!

How do you think you'll feel when you walk into the stadium at the opening ceremony?
Proud – proud that I'm wearing the traditional Malaysian garment at the opening ceremony, proud that I am able to represent my country at the biggest sporting event in the world, and proud of myself for achieving all this despite the numerous setbacks and hardships I have endured in my sporting career up until now.


A photo posted by Heidi Gan (@heidigan1) on

Will any of your friends and family be there?

Unfortunately, my parents and sister will not be able to travel to Rio. It is quite a difficult and expensive place to get to and I am also concerned for their safety given the number of muggings that have occurred there recently. But my partner of eight years, Simon, and another long-time friend of mine from England will be meeting up in Rio to cheer me on! It's really great to have their support in person, although I know I have a lot of other supporters who will be watching from Malaysia and Australia.

When did you first start training in the sport, and how did you get into it?
I first started swimming in a squad from the age of 5 – so it has been over two decades that I have been swimming now! My mother put me into swimming lessons from an early age because she wanted me to be safe around the water. I took to it very quickly and wanted to compete as soon as I could. I remember having to swim up an age group in junior competitions because there was no race category for 5-year-olds at that time!

How old were you when you first started to dream of competing at the Olympics?
I was around 11 or 12 when I realised I was fairly good at swimming – I was winning numerous medals at the Western Australia State Swimming Championships by that stage. I competed at my first SUKMA Games at 16, and it was then that I realised I was actually quite close to the Olympic B cut-off time for the 200m freestyle and that this could be a realistic goal for me in the future (and I qualified for an event 50 times that distance some years later!).

Can you take us through a typical day in your life in the lead up to the Games?
I wake up at 4:45am every morning and head to the pool at 5:30am to start training. I train until 7:30am and depending on the day might follow up with an hour-long strength and conditioning session in the gym. After that, I'll have an hour of physiotherapy or a massage session or I head straight into work which is a 10-minute bus ride from the pool.

If I don't have training in the morning, I am in the office until 4pm (I work as a graduate lawyer at a law firm in Perth). Sometimes, I have to run for the bus to make for my afternoon training session which starts at 4:30pm and goes on until 7pm. If it's my precious day off work (I am working reduced days at the moment to allow me to prepare for Rio), I usually spend it on rehabilitation exercises for my recent shoulder injury, and recovering. I'll also focus on house chores like shopping, cooking and cleaning.

If I have the time, I'll be catching up with my friends or my mum for a cup of coffee or I'll be walking my dogs before heading back to training in the afternoon. Then it's straight back home after training to cook dinner, see my partner, eat, pack my lunch and bags for the next day, then head to bed as soon as I can so I can get as close as possible to 8 hours of sleep. Then I do it all again the next day!

How many hours a day do you train?

Anywhere between 2 to 6 hours, depending on the day.

What do you do to relax?
I love to bake! On my days off I will often bake a sweet treat for my family and friends (I don't like to leave them in my house or I will end up eating it all myself!). I also really enjoy walking my two puppies, Harper and Winston, to relax. I will usually walk them to one of the nearby cafés around my house or to the lake nearby with my partner to let them run around and swim in the water.

What are the biggest challenges you've faced up until now?

Physically, I have suffered a number of injuries throughout my swimming career. I have a somewhat fragile build with hyper-extended joints which have spent many years floating in the water – good for swimming, not so good for land activities! So I've suffered numerous shoulder injuries – which are common in swimmers – and a tear in my hip and rolled ankles most recently. In the last three months, I've had to have a cortisone injection in my shoulder and countless physiotherapy and massage sessions to treat a recent case of bursitis which has flared up again. As I've gotten older, I've come to realise that each injury is becoming more difficult to manage and requires more of my time and attention to return my body to form.

What is something that no one understands about what you do?
I don't think people necessarily understand the level of investment I have put into my swimming career and the amount of organisation and commitment it takes to lead the life I do. Swimming is not just something I do, it is very much part of my life. I am also very passionate about the sport and the youth undertaking it, which is why I regularly volunteer to run swimming clinics, and mentor young athletes. I am also captain and vice president of my swimming club. Between waking up at 4:45am and going to bed at 9pm, there is just not much room in my schedule for down-time. But it's all part of the job and I do not regret the choices I've made to get where I am.

How do you stay motivated? 
I am an intrinsically motivated person. I have always wanted to do something to the best of my ability. To stay motivated, besides of course the big goal, the Olympic Games, I also have other smaller goals: daily activities. That's why I push myself to do the best I can do at every training session and at work. I guess it's just in my nature to be competitive!

Follow Heidi Gan on Facebook and Instagram for more updates. 

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