KOTA KINABALU: Joyce Heng Shu Xia often attracts more than just a glance from passers-by.
In fact, the 32-year-old woman’s masculine appearance has caused a few predicaments, especially when the former bodybuilder enters the ladies washroom and she has to explain herself to the female patrons.
But having been interested in bodybuilding since 2005, Heng has gotten used to the occasional quizzical looks.
“My family and friends are supportive. I’ve always been into sports, I started with archery when I was younger,” she said when met here.
Heng, who is the youngest of four siblings, turned to strongwoman competitions in 2017, a move from aesthetic competitions to those focusing on strength athletics.
In strongwoman competitions, she was required to do various feats to show her strength, such as deadlifts and log presses.
“I stopped doing bodybuilding competitions because there was less games or events for me as a woman.
“When I won my first strongwoman event locally in Donggongon, Penampang, I continued doing it across the country and outside,” she added.
Heng said the upside to being a strongwoman was that she does not have to keep track of what she eats compared to bodybuilding, where she was required to achieve minimum body fat to ensure muscle definition during competitions.
Heng has so far participated in nine local events nationwide and won first placings in all of them.
She has entered five international events where she won four gold medals and a bronze medal.
“Although I came out tops, most events, especially international ones, did not offer much cash prizes as they are more focused on medals,” she said.
She added that as such, the winnings could not cover her travel and accommodation expenses.
But she makes do by travelling on standby flights that are cheaper and using the Couchsurfing travel app that allows users to stay with a local, which she did during her South Africa competition last year.
Heng will be going to the finals for the “Static Monsters” world championship in Gold Coast, Australia in June, where she is the sole Asian strongwoman representative in the top 10 of the women’s open category.
Despite not getting assistance in sponsorships from the government and the private sector, Heng said she will continue doing strongwoman competitions as long as she can because of her passion for the sports.