Friday January 25, 2013
Lilian proves dad wrong with historic world bodybuilding crown
By LIM TEIK HUAT
“YOU will not grow muscles and you will never make it as this is a man’s sport.”
These words from her father rang loud and clear in Lilian Tan’s mind when she continued to lift weights on her return to Penang in 1997 after graduating with a business management degree from the United States.
It only strengthened Lilian’s resolve to go out and prove her father wrong.
Today, the 40-year-old Lilian is a world champion bodybuilder and the first woman from Malaysia to do so.
Lilian struck a historic first for Malaysia by bagging gold in the above 50kg division at the World Championships in Bangkok last month.
But the country would not have had a world champion if Lilian had not decided to take advantage of a two-week trial membership at the gym back in the 1990s when she was studying for her degree in Business Management in the US.
“The campus pool was under renovation so I took up a free membership offer.
“When my free trial ended, I felt compelled to sign up because of the helpful gym attendant who went out of his way to assist me in operating the equipment.
“I was an active swimmer at that time and I even swam for my college.
“Initially, my workout was limited to cardiovascular activities such as cycling and stepping on the treadmill.
“One day, a chiropractor visited the gym to test body fat for members. Mine registered over 20% which was appalling because I’d just lost 9kg. I thought I was lean and I did not believe what I heard.
“I began to include resistance training in my workouts to develop lean muscle mass.
“My body responded well to the new training regime and I started to like lifting weights.
“I was brushing my teeth one day when I noticed my biceps had grown bigger. I like what I saw as I was able to wear smaller dresses and you can imagine how I felt as a young girl,” she recalled.
Lilian realised there was no avenue to pursue her interest when she came back in 1997.
Competitive bodybuilding for woman was not encouraged in the 1980s as the sport was deemed inappropriate for the fairer sex.
Lilian decided to return to the US the following year and she lost sight of her passion momentarily after getting a job with the US Postal Service.
“I ended up gaining weight and I lost sight of my dream.
“But one day someone criticised me and said I will never make it as a bodybuilder if I looked like that.
“I woke up and I decided to diet again and pick up from where I left,” said Lilian.
She received a green card later and that enabled her to take part in local bodybuilding competitions.
Lilian took part in the San Diego Natural Bodybuilding Competition (Open category) and emerged second. A year later, she moved up to the top spot and in 2004, Lilian won the Miss USA Overall Natural Bodybuilding and Fitness Competition (Open category).
That saw her earning her status as a professional natural bodybuilder.
She won a silver in the Natural Olympia Competition (Open category) and a bronze in the women’s Professional Category that same year.
However, she had to stop her involvement in the sport for a few years after a serious infection.
“We are into the sport for health reasons. I decided that my health was more important than anything.
“But it was not long before I caught the competition bug again. I called the national bodybuilding association to ask if I was able to represent the country.
“I was told the ban was still in place but I could enter for any competition as long as it was outside the country,” she added.
That was when she was referred to former Mr Asia Terry Gallyot for advice.
The two then struck a chord and he is now her boyfriend.
Lilian returned to Malaysia in 2009 and she took part in the body physique categories at the Asian and World Bodybuilding Championships the following year. She won two bronze medals that year. She got silver at the Asian meet but only placed fourth at the world level.
“That was like a slap in the face for me. I was never placed below third and I decided to go back to the drawing board.
“I was also approaching 40 last year and I thought how nice it would be to achieve something at the highest level.
“I trained for a year for the World Championships. All the hard work, going on diet and getting the best ripped muscle shape paid off when I won.
“It was an emotional moment for me when I was declared the winner,” said Lilian.
It is not easy for Lilian to be what she is today and it is exemplified by the cooler box she carries with her everywhere.
“There are certain dietary requirements I have to follow. I always bring a cooler box around so that I can have my meals ready anytime.
“I am a personal trainer as I have to work for a living as well.
“It gets worse when there’s a competition. I have to go on a strict diet 16 weeks before the competition.
“I can eat only certain foods and I need to prepare and cook myself. I also need to stay on a high protien diet,” she pointed out.