ALTHOUGH Candi Soo grew up in a small town, she always felt that she was meant for bigger things.
By the time she finished Form Five, she was, in her own words, “dying to get out of that little town.”
“Small town life doesn’t fit me because I’m very active – I can’t be still.”
Today, at 42, being active is a part of what she does for a living. Soo is a fitness trainer and is the proud co-owner of a fitness centre that carries her name. Candi Soo Fitness Training Systems opened in Desa Sri Hartamas in July last year.
Although she never aspired to work in the fitness industry, Soo found that she was drawn to it.
“I was initially thinking of becoming a fashion designer or a commercial artist,” she says.
Her interest in art was heightened when she enrolled for a course at the Malaysian Institute of Art. But she was still trying to figure out what she wanted to do in life.
During her study break, Soo decided to earn a little extra money.
“I joined Joanne Drew International. It was a figure salon that was very popular at that time,” explains Soo.
This was during the 1980s when the fitness industry in Malaysia was beginning to gain momentum.
Soo, who loves dancing and performing, found aerobics very appealing. Aerobics, by definition, are rhythmic exercises that are designed to be performed to music and are especially beneficial for the heart and lungs besides being an effective way to burn calories.
“I fell in love with exercising to music,” she says enthusiastically.
“I began teaching lots and lots of classes and doing lots of shows because I was on a promotional team for Joanne Drew,” says Soo adding that she was trained to be a trainer at the centre.
What started out as a holiday job turned into a full-time career. Soo stopped studying at the institute and decided to focus on exploring different facets of the fitness industry.
“At that time, I took part in competitive aerobics and won various championships,” says Soo, citing the 1985 Aerobic Marathon competition in which Soo took part in the team and individual sections.
Soo’s team won the championship and Soo was the first runner-up for the individual competition. She was also the first runner-up in Fitaerobics, a competition organised by The Star in 1986.
However, despite these achievements, Soo confesses that she felt restless and discontented.
This was the point when she made a spur of the moment decision. “I just stopped working and went to Australia. You know me, I can’t stay in one place,” laughs Soo.
Once there, Soo wanted to continue working in the fitness industry but she realised that it was far more advanced in Australia and she needed different qualifications.
Never one to shy away from a challenge, Soo decided to take up fitness courses even though she did not have much money and did not know anyone in Australia who could help her.
“At one time, I was surviving with four jobs – I was teaching aerobics part-time, I was a food court takeaway waitress, I was a nightclub professional dancer and I was a karaoke DJ.”
Soo says that at that time, she never really gave it much thought. “I knew I was struggling with my courses and my jobs but I was young at that time and I knew nothing,” admits Soo who says that she managed to get through the hard times by focusing on improving herself as a fitness trainer.
Despite all that, Soo still managed to find time to take part in aerobics competitions in Australia.
“The competitions were very good and were of a very high standard. I got into the top five at the Renouf Aerobic Championship of Western Australia in 1988,” says Soo who was in Perth at that time. “I didn't have anyone to train me so I trained myself.”
After a few years, Soo came back to Malaysia for two years when she was offered a job as a gym manager at a hotel here.
During that time, she had the opportunity to enter the 1993 Malaysia National Reebok Aerobic Championship and she says that one of the proudest moments in her life was when she won the individual competition.
Inspired by her win, Soo went back to Australia and enrolled in the University of Melbourne.
“I wanted to upgrade my personal training skills and I received my personal training certification – a diploma – from the university,” claims Soo, adding that she is also certified by the Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation (ACPHER) to work as a qualified trainer.
ACPHER is a non-profit organisation that conducts teacher-training programmes for health and fitness professionals in Australia.
In Melbourne, Soo continued to upgrade herself by attending short courses every year in order to maintain her licence as a fitness instructor there.
“I became a qualified Les Mills accredited instructor,” she says. Les Mills is a fitness programme that is used worldwide by large fitness chains such as Fitness First in Malaysia.
Soo believes that fitness instructors should always be willing to improve themselves by keeping up with the latest trends in the industry where fitness styles change ever so often.
“It is just like fashion. Today it’s long skirts and next year it’s the mini skirt, so I strongly believe in updating myself to gain knowledge to maintain my passion for what I am doing.”
After five years in Melbourne, Soo returned to Malaysia when she was once again offered a job as a gym manager.
“I’m not going to mention the club but when I was working there, I decided that I just could not work for other people anymore.”
Soo found it frustrating when she was not allowed to explore new methods of fitness training. This led her to decide to open her own fitness centre.
It was around this time that Soo met her husband, Donald Stevenson, a businessman working in Malaysia.
Stevenson fully supported her idea. “We jointly opened Candi Soo Fitness Training Systems,” says Soo, adding that her husband handles the business end while she focuses on the training systems.
Soo’s fitness centre was officially opened in Bangsar Shopping Centre in July 2002. Soo believes that the timing was just right.
“When I was here (in Malaysia) seven years ago, I started to create a business and it was not happening because the awareness on fitness was not there,” she explains.
In July last year, as her clientele grew, Soo moved to a larger studio in Desa Sri Hartamas.
Soo insists that her business is not just a business. “We are not about selling membership. This is a gym where we give 100% personalised attention,” she says.
She claims that her centre is different from large fitness chains because classes here are very private. At the centre, Soo says that only the client and trainer work together during personal training sessions.
Only aerobics classes are conducted in small groups.
“People need to feel comfortable and not have to worry about others watching them exercise or looking at what they are wearing.”
Soo explains that her centre does not charge joining fees or subscription fees. Personal training is available to clients as packages of 10 sessions each. Each package is purchased by the client and Soo tries to tailor them according to the fitness goals and abilities of the client.
Soo also trains those who are keen to become aerobics instructors. “I have training modules which include a CD, booklets and photographs that show you how to lead a class. They can come into the centre and learn all this,” she says.
The personal training modules and group fitness classes are choreographed by Soo. “I created these based on 20 years of experience,” she says.
Although fitness training is still her first love, Soo says that these days, she spends most of her time focusing on running her business and creating new training programmes.
“The fitness modules need to be choreographed and updated. I come up with new modules every three months,” she says. Soo however, never neglects her personal fitness regimen.
“I work out in my own time but I don’t exercise in my own gym because to me, it is a work environment.”
Based on her experience, Soo says that becoming fit is a personal choice. “One thing I want to emphasise is that when a person really needs to get fit, they will come to us. We can’t push someone who is not ready.”
o For more information, please call Candi Soo at 03-23001253
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