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I met Hong Kong-based Bill and Shannon Ng last month during the Laguna Lang Co Triathlon race week in Vietnam. Together we visited a local elementary school to celebrate More Than Sport’s donation of a sanitary water filtration system and spent an afternoon playing games with the students therein. The Ng’s joy for the project was obvious, yet their optimistic attitudes also carried throughout every race week activity. Each time I saw them I was greeted with smiles and welcoming warmth as their passion for triathlon and for sharing their knowledge of Asia was immediately apparent. Bill raced in the inaugural event’s 30-34 age group category, and later I spoke with him to learn how and why this Equity Finance Trader for Credit Suisse became so enmeshed in endurance sports.
Triathlete.com: How did you come to live in Hong Kong?
BN: My wife, Shannon, and I moved here just over four years ago from New York City as part of an internal transfer with a previous employer. This isn’t my first time to live in Asia, however. While I was born in Texas, my folks were both originally from Hong Kong. My dad’s job took us around the world and so at an early age our family moved from Texas to New Zealand to Indonesia to Malaysia to China. So when the opportunity came as an adult for me to work in Asia I jumped at the chance. It feels like home–and now it is!
Triathlete.com: What’s your personal experience with triathlon? How and why did you get involved in the sport?
BN: I only started training for and racing triathlon in early 2012. Prior to that, I lived a fairly sedentary life. I wasn’t raised in a particularly athletic household and living an active lifestyle wasn’t really a priority I grew up with. As a result, fast forward to 2011 and I found myself in my early 30’s at the doctor’s office for a routine checkup being told that if I did not fix my diet and lose weight I was on the path for serious problems in short order.
That woke me up. With the encouragement of my wife and friends I started on a mostly vegan diet and began to jog. A few months later I did my first 5k race, then a 10k, and then just before Thanksgiving I ran my first half marathon. It was fun, but I got bored pretty quickly with just running so on a whim I told Shannon that I was going to sign up for a triathlon. The only triathlon I knew of at the time was the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii and I quickly realized that you cannot simply just sign up and go! So I looked for an alternative–a 70.3 distance sounded a bit more reasonable–and I signed up. I had no idea what I was getting into, but it sounded cool and everyone looked like they were in fantastic shape. Ultimately that was what kept me going–wanting to be healthy for my wife and our future family.
A few months later I did my first sprint triathlon here in Hong Kong. Even though I panicked and breaststroked my way through the swim, destroyed my quads on the bike and nearly vomited on the run, I was totally hooked! A year later I’ve completed eight triathlons, lost 45 pounds and gotten all my health related metrics way within normal ranges.
Triathlete.com: Tell me a little about your triathlon club, the Hong Kong Tritons.
BN: The club was founded in 2009 as part of Hong Kong University’s Institute of Human Performance Triathlon program. We are over 200 members strong and enjoy regular multi-sport training, racing and partying! We are privileged to be coached by four former Olympic athletes and have access to some of sport science’s latest and greatest facilities and testing equipment. So really, there is no excuse to not improve within your capabilities!
What I love most about the Tritons, however, is how they’ve become like a second family to me. These are people I look forward to seeing and training with every day. They are some of the most genuinely friendly, humble, helpful and motivated folks in Hong Kong–and all very accomplished outside of the sport, too. Triathlon can be intimidating enough as it stands, but having the dedicated support of teammates and coaches makes it all possible.
Triathlete.com: How would you characterize the vibe of the sport in Asia? Having raced in both the U.S. and Asia, do you have any humorous examples of things that are unique to that region?
BN: I wouldn’t say triathlon is the “new golf” in Asia the way it is back in the U.S.–yet. But in my very short time as a multi-sport athlete I’ve seen the number of both local and regional events, training opportunities and general interest rise exponentially. There’s a reason why the Challenge Family is staking their claim out here so aggressively!
Perhaps one of the reasons why I enjoy triathlon in Asia so much is because it hasn’t become the “new golf”. Races and competition and the level of pro involvement is still very intense at the pointy end of things, just like in the U.S., Europe or Australia, but because it’s a smaller community out here it doesn’t feel totally commercialized and corporate. It’s a more welcoming crowd, a slightly more relaxed atmosphere and a lot more luxury and bang for your buck.
As for funny experiences–I guess it all depends on your point of view! Some of the more established races, like Laguna Phuket, run like clockwork and rival the experience and organization of any event I’ve been to in the U.S. But newer events and less populated race locations have seen many an athlete be directed the wrong way on the bike or run, given confusing or contradictory race briefings, informed at hydration stations that there was simply no more water or ice, or, in my case, forced to stop on the bike course three times–twice for a herd of water buffalo crossing and once because two 18-wheelers were backing up, almost into one another, in the middle of a highway! As an age grouper you’ve got to laugh and take in the experience. I’ve also enjoyed the handful of times I’ve been told I’m “so handsome” or “so strong” in broken English along the race course. I don’t care if it isn’t true–I’ll take a free compliment when I’m busting a lung!
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Triathlete.com: Do you find plenty of opportunities to race throughout Asia? Would you recommend that U.S. athletes give racing on your side of the world a try?
BN: I would definitely encourage athletes from the U.S. to race in Asia–what better excuse to travel, experience new cultures, make new friends and stay fit! There are new races being announced almost weekly right now. It’s crazy! There are easily 10 races worth doing across the region–some have a lot of history and some have just started. Toss in some more established races in nearby Australia and New Zealand and you could spend your entire race season out here for years to come and not repeat the same course twice.
Triathlete.com: Tell me about your involvement with More Than Sport.
BN: Shannon and I have always enjoyed finding unique, authentic and sustainable ways to share the blessings we’ve been given with those less fortunate. When I heard about what Chris Lieto’s organization was doing, and its mission to use sport as a tool for transformation and positive change in the local communities we train and race in, I got really excited and reached out to see how I could help. To me, More Than Sport is the perfect expression of what I believe our true purpose in life is–or, as Frederick Buechner so eloquently said, “Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.”
Through MoreThan Sport, we’ve been privileged to help fund a mobile reading library in Phuket to bring books and education to children and families who could not otherwise obtain them, provide clean water to local schools and students in Vietnam (in some cases their only source of clean water) and actually spend time on the ground with the recipients–developing relationships and friendships and putting a face and a name to a basic problem. It’s about taking the passion and tenacity of an athlete and bringing it to bear on the material and holistic needs of the communities we are in. Whether you’re a professional athlete or an amateur like me, we won’t always podium, we won’t always have a great race, training can sometimes be miserable and at the heart of it triathlon can often be a very selfish endeavor. It’s when you take hold of a purpose beyond yourself and seek to serve those the world tries to marginalize–that’s the true breakthrough moment and finish line story of legends.
Triathlete.com: What are your race plans for the rest of the season?
BN: I just raced the inaugural Laguna Lang Co Vietnam triathlon this past April–an event I wholeheartedly recommend on a beautiful course. I’ll be racing Hawaii 70.3 in June, the N.Y.C. Triathlon in July and Cebu 70.3 in the Philippines in August. I’m considering the Beijing International Triathlon in September and Laguna Phuket in November, but we have our first kid on the way so we’ll have to play the latter part of this year by ear!
Triathlete.com: Do you intend to continue racing into fatherhood, and if so, what lessons gleaned from the sport do you hope to impart to your child?
BN: I joke with friends that 2013 is the “Tour de Coconut” for us with respect to race locations. We both definitely plan on training and racing into parenthood but I have a feeling that the first year or so will see the volume of race-related travel outside of Asia decrease a bit. Not to fear however–there are plenty of local and regional races to do and I am desperately trying to figure out how to feed and rock a baby to sleep while cycling. Is a Baby Bjorn aero?
I don’t plan on forcing our kid to be a triathlete, although we’ll certainly present it as a fun family activity to do. I simply want them to understand that an active and healthy lifestyle should be a priority. It makes you a more well-rounded person and conveys the value of hard work, passion and dedication. I don’t think it’ll be hard though–most young kids love to swim, bike and run. It’s just up to us as parents to develop that joy of playing into a lifestyle.
Triathlete.com: What’s your greatest triathlon goal?
BN: I have two–the first is selfish, the second is ultimately more important.
First–it’s cliché–but I would be in tri-nerd heaven to race the Ironman World Championships in Kona. It’s the race that inspired me to change my life. It’s the race I watched on TV over and over and over again. I just wanted to keep listening to the stories of age group participants, from all walks of life, who had overcome obstacles far greater than I have ever encountered to barely finish before the cutoff. These stories got me off the couch and into the pool, onto the bike and out on the track.
Second, I’d like to find a way to use my story to help motivate others to try a triathlon for themselves and perhaps ultimately help them find greater meaning in life. My story is not incredibly unique–but maybe that’s the point. Perhaps what some folks identify with most is the feeling of being comfortable but unhappy, unfulfilled but hungry for something more than simply another meal. They might not admit it out loud, but they know they’re dissatisfied with their life, lack a significant purpose, are unhealthy or out of shape–and no one likes feeling that way. I’ve found new meaning and motivation through triathlon and the opportunities it’s given me to refocus my life and give back to others. It’s a lot like training–small but consistent positive decision making yields sustainable progress, success and character. If I can do it, anyone can!
Follow Ng’s adventures in triathlon and life on Twitter at @williamtng.
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