As agents of change, every one of Marie Claire Malaysia’s Amazing Women of 2018 has a unique story to tell. Their secret weapon? Inner strength, and a conviction to see things through till the very end.
Chief Executive Officer, Curves Malaysia
An accountant by training, Alison was working in Australia for several years before returning to Malaysia where she joined the finance team of a fitness company. This sparked her initial interest in health and wellbeing. She found the gym to be a fun and uplifting environment, and over time, began to feel the benefits of working out regularly. She encouraged her mom, who was in her late 50s at the time, to join the fitness bandwagon, but mom was hesitant initially. “So many women have dedicated their entire lives to their children and careers, and the weight would slowly pile on” said Alison. However, her mom wasn’t comfortable with the idea of working out alongside young women in revealing attire, so she decided to join a boutique studio near her office. While doing strength training exercises, her mom pulled her neck muscle and developed a herniated disk which caused her tremendous pain. Alison and her mom felt the injuries could have been avoided if her personal trainer was more attentive – her mom’s personal trainer had pushed her to step up her exercise routine before she was ready. “It was a terrible time – it took her six months to recover, and she was almost paralysed,” recounted Alison. This incident prompted her to find solutions to help her mom get healthy in a safe and controlled environment.
Alison found her answer when she visited her cousin in Perth later that year. Her cousin was in great shape despite being in her 40s and credited her fit physique to Curves – a unique fitness centre for women that practised safe(r) exercise methods involving specialised hydraulic equipment. “The community is an extremely welcoming one, and is made up entirely of women, for women. One thing led to another, and I met the founders Gary and Diane Haven. Gary is particularly passionate about strengthening women. When he was a teen, he
discovered his 40 year-old mom, who suffered from hypertension, had died in her sleep. He didn’t want any child to go through what he did,” Alison shared.
Later on, he ran regular gyms but noticed that from the age of 35, many women didn’t have the time to take care of themselves – they tended to put their career, kids, and everyone else first. So, he started Curves so that busy women could get fit easily. “Each exercise programme only lasts 30 minutes and incorporates strength training, cardio and stretching exercises,” she elaborated. “A personalised smart chip worn on the wrist keeps track of your heart rate, and all you have to do is go on the circuit for the stipulated 30 minutes – no more, and no less”.
It was challenging bringing this concept to Malaysia, due to issues with logistics and finding the right team for the job. It was also difficult to get members to buy into the idea, as many women did not have time to exercise. To cater to different priorities and schedules, Alison ensures that the Curves environment is a welcoming and conducive one. “We place emphasis on the community”, she stated, “We get to know them, make sure they feel welcome and follow through with their workouts. Curves is like a sisterhood, and many women have forged new friendships here. It’s a chance for them to rediscover and have time just for themselves”, said Alison.
After seven years in business, Alison finds that awareness about fitness and health has definitely improved since the early days. At a recent event, many women approached her to voice their concerns about high blood pressure and osteoporosis, and didn’t know where to begin. “That’s where Curves comes in”, she said. “Our circuit-based workouts are suitable for women of all ages and fitness backgrounds. The smart chip tailors workouts for each individual, keeps a record of your workout history, and shows the amount of calories burnt. The programme also ensures that you sustain your heart rate at a certain level, to keep the workout at a higher intensity, all within 30 minutes, so as to ensure optimal efficiency.”
Alison encourages women who are new to fitness to start with that first step. “You can start with the smallest thing, like walking around more, and being more active. As for your diet, focus on one thing at a time, like cutting down your sugar intake and reducing portion sizes. Losing the weight that has accumulated over the years is a gradual process, and doesn’t happen overnight. What’s important is that first step, and it just gets easier from there,” she advises.
“What my mom went through initially should not have happened. Fitness should be made safe, accessible and affordable for every woman,”she concludes.