Karen Siah is the embodiment of femininity, beauty and grace, but this fitness coach takes no prisoners when it comes to training clients. Blame her drive and dedication on her parents! They adapted to her “tomboy” lifestyle when it became clear that she preferred rugged activity over “girly girl” dolls. Karen admits to being a fearless child, climbing trees, hiking mountains and rolling down hills, but after discovering rhythmic gymnastics at age 10, she took her competitive nature indoors. A quick and limber learner, Karen advanced to represent her home state of Selangor twice at national MSSM championships. At 13, Karen ran her first 7km fun race, immediately developing a passion for running. But her dream — using her bachelor’s degree in commerce (management and marketing) in conjunction with her love of physical fitness — was destined to shape her future, thus she founded Kia Kaha Fitness. With so much going for her, it’s easy to see why Karen Siah’s clients love her.
RS: You run a business, train, coach and inspire. Is there more? What have you been up to lately?
Karen: My newest adventure is managing a run club in collaboration with Tom, Dick & Harry’s, a neighbourhood pub in Taman Tun Dr Ismail. We call ourselves the Kia Kaha Mou Man Tai Night Runners and of course, we started a Facebook page to share our accomplishments! The club is new — but we have more than 50 members already. We will complete in December’s annual Mou Man Tai run. We expect to show the world what a brand new club can achieve at the finish line!
RS: Given the range of coaching and training services you offer at Kia Kaha Fitness, it sounds like you’re an expert at most things. Anything you’d like to share about a sport or activity you’ve yet to conquer?
Karen: (Laughs). I am pathetic when it comes to games that involved balls, so if I can avoid them, I do — no sense ruining the illusion that I can do it all! I’m not a terribly good swimmer, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a go at it when opportunities arise, because I’m no quitter. Let’s say I do better on land than in the sea, okay?
RS: You fell in love with running at age 13. When did you fall in love with the idea of becoming a trainer/coach?
Karen: It dawned on me one day that I love working with people and can do anything I set my mind to. Since I had a business degree and understood organization and management, the coaching and fitness arena was a perfect career choice. I was so sure of my destiny, I launched my business four years ago—right after returning to Malaysia from studying abroad.
RS: It doesn’t seem as though you could make much money doing what you love, but you seem so confident. How is your business, Kia Kaha Fitness, doing? Does being a woman entrepreneur matter?
Karen: First, I think our nation is so committed to health and wellness that it wouldn’t matter if I were a man or woman running a business, so I face the same challenges any business owner does. I have a lot of control over how much I can earn because when you’re an entrepreneur, everything is relative. I make a decent income because I work hard, put lots of time in and treat clients like family. Did you know that about half of all businesses fail in the first year? I’ve owned Kia Kaha Fitness for three years, so I’m beating the odds. How can I not be successful when my work is so gratifying and enjoyable?
RS: Are you an equal opportunity fitness professional? Do you train men or are you a women-only coach?
Karen: I do train men — and some tell me they prefer me to male coaches because I’m tough but fair. I’m not equipped to undertake heavy weight training because I don’t lift heavy weights myself and it would be a disservice to male clients to offer my services in a fitness area in which I am no expert. Happily, I’m well connected, so if a man comes to me and wants to buff up, I send him to a professional colleague so he gets the best coach possible. I should add this: I don’t know how I got tagged with being a “women’s only” fitness coach when the only for-women-only activity I ran was a small ladies – only boot camp fitness class!
RS: What do you consider your crowning training achievement?
Karen: (Laughs). I don’t think you’re supposed to have “crowning achievements” after only three years of being in business, but I would love to take credit for the metamorphoses I see in the clients who work hardest and therefore give me a lot of joy. When I see clients actively making lifestyle changes that I have suggested and witness them turning from caterpillars to butterflies, I couldn’t be prouder if they were my children!
RS: Is it difficult keeping up with the latest fitness and coaching trends and training methods?
Karen: Look at how fast the world moves — you bet it’s hard to keep up with trends! Worldwide communications means every fitness trainer is privy to updates, improvements and training methods broadcast from just about every nation on earth. I owe it to my clients to stay abreast of as much of it as I can. It helps to have friends across Malaysia who are also tracking fitness trends, methods and advances so we can compare notes.
RS: Have you had occasion to invent a personalized training method, technique or training plan that’s new?
Karen: Like most running and fitness coaches, I put together signature routines and plans that are unique to each client, so I would have to answer this question yes and no. My clients seek general fitness improvement and weight loss systems and programs unique to Malaysian runners so as I work with individuals, my lists of tips and training methods expand. I am able to try out many of these principles when working with my Kia Kaha Mou Man Tai runners, corporate running groups I coach and overall, I think everyone has noticed improvement.
RS: We want to know about your current personal training goals and ambitions—particularly since we hear that you’re gearing up to run triathlons. Is the rumour true? Are hard on yourself when you train?
Karen: Ha-ha! Of course I am being hard on myself since I’m my own coach! Endurance racing has always been my cup of tea and I plan to keep going forever. Having been on the tri scene for a few years, I am somewhat addicted! My brother, who does Ironman races, is one of my greatest inspirations and I keep telling him that I’m doing an Ironman next year! He doesn’t know whether to believe me or not. I’m a typical sister; I like to keep him guessing. I think it’s extremely important to stay “in the scene” as much as possible to uphold my reputation as a coach. You can’t ask people to do what you won’t do yourself, can you?
RS: Could you suggest training tips readers could use for their upcoming marathon and triathlon runs?
Karen: I always share this critical advice: Get as much sleep at night as possible and take a proper rest day each week when training. If your readers are dedicated runners and triathletes, they probably already know how it feels to “get a high” from racing and if they’ve not had adequate sleep and rest, it’s fairly common to go all “gung ho” and wind up increasing their chances of being injured.
RS: You once completed the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon completely blindfolded to raise funds for charity. Any more bold challenges that you may try in future?
Karen: (Grins). Possibly.
RS: Can you disclose a challenge you’ve set your sights on?
Karen: I wasn’t joking when I told my brother than I’d see him at an Ironman. I’ve set my sights on Ironman Langkawi 2015. 🙂
RS: Mind if we end on a personal note? Society claims that strong women scare men off (happily, that does not include our male readers!) so we must ask, are you currently attached and if not, what kind of man attracts you?
Karen: I am so not going to answer this question! That’s for the men I meet to find out for themselves.
She’s all girl. All heart. Karen Siah has a smile that lights up a room, but she’s also a force to be reckoned with as a pre-eminent mover and shaker on Malaysia’s coaching, training and running scene. We’d like to know what part of Karen’s story inspires you most. Is it the stamina and strength she possesses that drove her to turning her passion into a business? Are you most impressed by her commitment to clients?