Sabah strongwoman keeps on lifting despite financial challenge competing overseas


Shu Xia performing various feats during competitions. Pix courtesy of Joyce Heng .

Shu Xia performing various feats during competitions. Pix courtesy of Joyce Heng .

KOTA KINABALU: Since two years ago, former bodybuilder Joyce Heng Shu Xia has been actively going around in and out of the country to enter strongwoman competitions.

The 32-year-old from Penampang previously started with international bodybuilding competitions but decided to change into strength athletics as there were more events held for this type of sport.

“My interest in bodybuilding started since 2005 but I professionally entered competition overseas in 2013.

“I won my first international bodybuilding event, the National Athletic Committee (NAC) Phils-Asia in Cebu, the Phillipines, in 2015, followed by coming second at the National Amateur Body-Builders’ Association (NABBA) Universe at the same venue, in the women's physique category.

“However, since there were not many competitions for me as a woman in this sport, I tried my hand at being strongwoman - the first in Donggongon, Penampang, itself in 2017, where I emerged first out of 15 participants,” she said when met by The Star.

From then, the gym owner said she went across the nation, entering competitions in Johor, Selangor and Sarawak and she has won gold in all nine local events so far.

She finally entered an international strongwoman competition in Johannesburg, South Africa, in May last year, and came third in the Arnold Classic Africa leg.

“After that, I went to Hong Kong for the Static Monsters there and I came in first, which qualified me to enter the World Championship finals to be held in June this year in Gold Coast, Australia," she said.

She also entered competitions in Thailand, Brunei and Indonesia this year, where she also emerged victorious.

However, despite her many wins, Heng said it was hard to keep up with the competitions as most events do not offer large cash prizes, especially international meets.

“The biggest (cash prize) I won was RM3,000 in Sarikei last year while the international events in South Africa and Hong Kong only offered medals.

“So, the winnings, of course, did not cover my expenses,” said Heng, who has been travelling on standby to get discounts as her sister works in an airline.

During the previous South Africa competition, she also ended up getting accommodations via "Couchsurfing".

Heng said she will get additional income if people asked for personal training (PT) sessions, besides running the gym.

Asked if she has ever tried asking for government or private sponsorships, she said she did when she was bodybuilding back in 2013 but to no avail.

“Since I love doing this, I will continue with it but it would be good to have some sponsorship or assistance,” she said.

Heng is the sole Asian strongwoman in the top ten of the Static Monsters world championship finals women's open category in the upcoming Australia event.