Vivacious beauty Vanessa Yoong walked the catwalk with poise and confidence as a beauty queen. Off it, she can kick butt too!
This happy-go-lucky mother-of-three doesn’t go round bragging that she has a black belt in taekwondo. In fact, many friends only found out about this during conversations with her.
Yoong is a homemaker. She also helps out in her husband’s feng shui academy as its operations and events manager.
The story of how she took up taekwondo six years ago may seem like a spur-of-the-moment decision. But it’s part of Yoong’s character; she loves challenges – of all sorts!
“I was learning taekwondo with a bunch of about 30 children aged seven to 16, in the hall, with parents watching. I felt pretty embarrassed at first,” confessed Yoong, 43, of Puchong, Selangor.
“Later on, I got used to it and began to like the lessons.”
That happened six years ago, when she sent her three children – Joelle, Jayden and Janelle (then aged 13, nine and seven respectively) for taekwondo class. She was their “driver” and was supposed to wait for them until lessons were over. But she did not want to idle away one-and-a-hour hours and so she joined them in taekwondo class!
She said: “My children were overjoyed. For a change, it would be their turn to guide me instead of me telling them what to do, as they were more senior than me in self-defence class.”
Her husband, Yap Boh Chu, a feng shui master and wushu practitioner, was supportive.
In 2015, after three years of lessons, Yoong’s “moment of recognition came” – the test of her skill in the martial arts.
There are various tests for the black belt. Exponents need to demonstrate technical kicks (including the turning kick, 360° turning kick and back swing), as well as spar with a red belt student and a black belt senior.
Yoong recalled: “There were other physical tests such as running 2.4 km in 12 minutes, doing 20 push-ups, 20 sit-ups, 20 leg raises, 20 back-hyperextensions and 20 jumping squats. One of the scariest tests was the two taegeuks (taegeuk 7 and 8) which are defense-and-attack motions.”
Also, she was required to kick and break two planks for the black belt exam.
“Well, the plank did not break on my first kick. I was feeling tense and frustrated. I then psyched myself up to give it all I got. The plank broke on my second kick, much to my relief. I jumped for joy, and also received a standing ovation and screams of joy from the parents, seniors and children who were watching,” she recalled. That year, Yoong received her 1st Dan (first level of black belt).
In 2016, a Facebook friend, who was Mrs Malaysia World 2015, convinced Yoong to sign up for the beauty pageant. She remembered telling her friend, “You must be crazy. I’m too fat for this kind of thing.”
Her friend replied, “You still have time to work on that.”
Yoong said: “It was almost an impossible goal. I’m not tall (160cm), slim and fashionable. The contest was a big challenge for me.”
During her first catwalk training, her teacher almost had a heart attack when he saw the way she walked. It was her first time wearing 5-inch stiletto heels.
Yoong recalled: “He asked me, ‘Miss, are you a gangster? Why do you walk like you are asking for a fight?’”
That, she said, was one of her biggest challenges as she was required to groom from head to toe whenever she had to go for training sessions, appear during sponsor visits and on community service outings.
“I didn’t even know how to stick those artificial eyelashes on. Sometimes, one eyelash was higher than the other. I trained myself to walk in those 5-inch stiletto shoes on different types of flooring.
“I even wore those shoes to the supermarket just to get used to them so that I would not fall down on stage during the grand final.”
Yoong won two titles at the contest: Classic Mrs Malaysia World 2016 (second runner-up) and Classic Mrs Popularity Queen.
For the talent segment in the 2016 pageant, Yoong did a performance that combined mixed martial arts (wushu, bagua chuan and taekwondo) and dance, using escrima sticks (used in Filipino fighting arts). It was choreographed by her husband, a friend Kean Chong (a wushu master) and taekwondo masters. She also broke two planks in the performance!
She said: “At the pagent, I achieved courage, friendship, confidence, make-up skills and survived wearing 5-inch stiletto shoes. But my greatest achievement was to show my children that anything is possible if you put your heart in it. I can still remember how proud my children were when they saw me on stage.”
A year later, she was crowned Classic Mrs Malaysia Tourism Queen Ambassador 2017 for her contributions towards the pageant.
Always game for new challenges and trying new things, Yoong first entered running competitions in November 2011.
“I started with the 5km run – and almost died! Then I entered the 7km, 10km, 15km and finally 21km half-marathon,” she said.
She accepted an invitation by a group of friends to hike up Mount Kinabalu, Sabah, in November 2012.
“Again, it was another challenge! I can climb but I’m afraid of heights, especially when going down slopes. It took me nine hours to reach Laban Rata via Mesilau Trail.
“The next morning, I was the last hiker to come down from the peak and had to close the gate near Gunting Lagadan Hut together with my mountain guides,” she said.
Hiking was also a totally new experience for her some five years ago.
She got lost in Apek Hill, Cheras, Selangor, while training for her second Mount Kinabalu trip in 2013.
She said: “We started hiking around 4.30pm and was supposed to finish by 6.30pm or 7pm. But that day, it was raining and Joelle had sprained her ankle. As it was getting dark and we did not have torchlights, four of us (myself, Joelle and two friends) ended up walking around in circles. We could not find the path out. Finally, other friends in the group found us and led us all out.”
On her second hike up Mount Kinabalu, she brought her eldest girl along.
She said: “It’s not about me showing off what I can do but rather a motivation for me to overcome obstacles in life. I will always remember how hard it was for me to reach Lowe’s Peak, whenever I face any obstacles, and they couldn’t be worse than that.”
Other than her outdoor activities, Yoong excels as a homemaker too. She loves to cook and sometimes bakes goods to sell. Since taking up a cake decoration course in 2006, she has often baked her children’s birthday cakes, cookies and even wedding cakes for her friends.
In 2011, she learnt how to make mooncakes from her ex-neighbour. She has made batches of mooncakes for charity before. Since then, she has gifted her homemade mooncakes to her friends.
Does she surprise people with her accomplishments? “Well, looking at me, nobody would have thought that I have run half-marathons, hiked up Mount Kinabalu twice and been a beauty queen,” she said. To add to the list, she is also a scuba-diver and former zumba instructor. She loves to sing and roller-blade as well.
Age does not get in her way. To her, one is never too old to learn.
She is also very charming, with her gregarious nature and ready smile. She believes that “people should always stay happy!”
Last but not least, Yoong lives by the motto: “Try first. Never say no.”