Heidi Gan Conquers The Courtroom And The Open Waters Like No Other

From the courtroom to the open waters, gold medalist Heidi Gan shows just how much of a shark she can be. 

When she is not training even more vigorously than she already does in preparation for the 2017 SEA Games, she’s is walking her two dogs Harper and Winston while getting coffee, hanging out at the beach or going on gastronomical adventures with friends and family, all while balancing life as a lawyer. But this Kuching-born, Perth-based dynamite would not have been able to compete in the 2012 Olympics, and most recently the 2016 Rio Olympics, if it were not for planning goals and setting out to achieve them.

Heidi made headlines when she won gold at The Asian Open Water Championships. Photo courtesy of Heidi Gan

Congratulations on your achievements! We couldn’t be more happy for you. Do tell us a bit about yourself, and what you are up to.

Thank you! I am based in Perth where I studied law and commerce at the University of Western Australia. I train with a strong swimming club in Perth with my coach, Matt Magee, and a great training group that specializes in open water swimming so it’s perfect for me. After I graduated from university, I started working as a graduate lawyer in a local corporate and commercial law firm called Bennett + Co. I was admitted to practice in Western Australia on 2nd June 2017 (after studying for 11 years) and I’m now a full-fledged lawyer!

As for training, I fit it around my work schedule. I train in the mornings and evenings and work in the office in between sessions. Right now, I am in full preparation for the 2017 SEA Games in August.

Heidi Gan, 28, Lawyer and Open Water Swimmer. Photo courtesy of Heidi Gan

When did you know that you wanted to train to swim professionally? Can you describe what the journey leading up to this was like?

To be honest, I never “planned” to swim professionally. I always trained and raced because I love swimming. I took things one step at a time starting from state competitions, to national competitions, to being chosen to represent Wilayah at the SUKMA Games. As it turns out I was quite good at swimming and opportunities eventually presented themselves to me as I progressed.

Australia has great beaches and a culture that encourages participation in surf sports. So I took up open water swimming in 2010 and shortly after went on to represent Malaysia in the 2011 SEA Games winning two gold medals. The year after, I raced in the world selection trials for a spot in the 10km marathon swim at the 2012 London Olympic Games just 2 years after taking up open water swimming and secured my place as the first Malaysian to qualify for the Olympics! After that, well, the rest was history.

Photo courtesy of Heidi Gan

When did you know that you wanted to train to swim long distance professionally?

I had joined a surf lifesaving club in Perth and really enjoyed swimming in the ocean and doing shorter surf swims. Eventually the opportunity for me to race in a 10km Olympic distance event came during an Australian National Championship. I took the opportunity and fell in love with distance training and racing. Open water swimming also added another element to my swimming career which I was missing in pool swimming – the environment is always changing and racing in the open water is exciting and fun as opposed to racing in the pool which I had come to find as stuffy and stagnant.

Take us through a day in your life.

When I’m not training, I’m usually out with my partner walking my two dogs, Harper and Winston, to get coffee. I also frequent the beach and enjoy dining out with family and friends. I love to eat out at new restaurants and finding new specialist coffee joints around town. I catch up with my parents and family every week and love going to my parents’ house on the weekend for Malaysian delicacies like Kuching Laksa or Kueh Lapis which my parents make from scratch! My partner now also loves Malaysian food thanks to my parents’ cooking!

I’ve recently also taken on the position as President of my swimming club. I am really passionate about sports administration and with my background in law and swimming, I think I can bring something unique to the role. It’s a great experience for me at this point of my career and even though it’s 100% volunteer work, I love it and am very passionate about it!

Photo courtesy of Heidi Gan

What are your plans for the year ahead?

My immediate goal is the SEA Games. This has been my ultimate goal for a long time now and I would love nothing more than to win a gold medal for Malaysia in front of my home crowd! After August, I am going to take a well-earned break from swimming and decide what I want to do with my swimming career after that.

If you have a coach, can you tell us if there is a certain way your coach motivates you?

I have been with my coach Matt Magee for over 10 years now. We have a great working relationship and we trust each other intrinsically. My main motivation at training is to push myself and find out what my limits are every day. Matt keeps me motivated by providing me with challenging sessions every day which test my boundaries and build my character in and out of the pool. He’s a very clever guy!

Who are your biggest inspirations?

I love Misty Copeland’s story and work ethic and I also love Sara Sigmundsdóttir’s attitude when it comes to her training – no pain, no gain but have fun at the same time!