As a final wrap up to our Mother’s Day series, Priscilla and Sarah-Ann spoke to Hui, a mum and fit-preneur.
Being whizzed around in a pram is no big deal for baby Asha. Ever since she was three months old, she has progressed from long hikes at Kiara Hill mountain bike trails to 10km races in a pram like at the recent Borneo International Marathon (BIM) 2017 – all with Mommy behind the wheel, of course! The rides are so much fun that Asha sometimes falls asleep halfway through a marathon.
Meet Asha’s mother, Hui Mathews, a successful entrepreneur and super fit mum. Her youthful appearance and sweet voice belie a sage mind and spirited determination.
Her fastest record for a 10km race was 46 minutes, but with the additional weight of her 10kg baby and 15kg pram, it took her an hour to complete BIM 2017.
“Firstly, I just wanted to see how it felt like, being a mom, racing with a pram,” she explained with a wry smile. “I probably should have gotten myself a bell to ring while saying ‘excuse me!’ to the other runners!”
Secondly, I wish to inspire or encourage other moms in the same position. If you don’t have a choice – when everyone else is busy and no one is available to babysit – just do it! It’s a great way to bond with your child as well. I also take it as a form of ‘additional’ training,” her eyes twinkled in amusement.
“I don’t know if it makes a difference… but I want my child to get used to waking up early and seeing people running, so hopefully in the future, it becomes like a norm or second nature for Asha to be out and about.”
After all, fitness has always been a part of Hui’s life. Growing up, her parents had instilled an active culture in the family and encouraged participation in outdoor activities. Hui remembers being shooed out of the house every day from 6pm onwards until sun down with her siblings, to ensure they weren’t stuck in front of the TV. Hui was also a regularly representing her school in track and field as well as basketball competitions.
The birth of Asha
The week leading up to the birth of her bundle of joy was a particularly memorable one – hectic and overwhelming, to say the least.
It was December 2015. Her due date had coincided with the week where she had been shortlisted as a top seven finalist in the Alliance Bank SME Innovation Challenge. It was a huge occasion, and she was preparing her pitches while being fully pregnant, juggling interviews and other media commitments. “I was trying hard not to stress out because I didn’t want the baby to be affected.” She was stuck in a dilemma and debated whether to pull out of the competition. She didn’t want to live with the regret if anything went wrong with the birth of her baby.
Her mother-in-law’s advice gave her the strength to soldier on. “Either way, I know it’s hard to let go. Your challenge, Hui, is to learn how to keep calm now and not stress out during the competition, because you don’t want to look back and regret that you gave up on this opportunity. There are many more times in the upcoming future where you will have to face this challenge – whether to sacrifice this or that for the sake of your child.”
“You must prepare yourself mentally and have the discipline to accept that no matter what, you know you have done your best.”
Hui had to sign a release form from the hospital, and went to the Award’s dinner with a hospital band on her wrist.
Hui shook her head in self-amusement at her thoughts on that day, retelling her experience of delivering her final pitch in front of a panel of seven judges and tearing up towards the end of the presentation: “Gosh, such a girly thing to be all emotional because you’re pregnant, Hui!”.
“The judges were quite understanding, but I didn’t want them to give me sympathy just because I was super-pregnant. So I tried to compose myself and proceeded.”
That night, she took home the Manulife Sustainability Award and a prize money of RM100, 000.00 in recognition for ‘making lives better’. But she did not have time to celebrate, because she gave birth the very next day.
On hindsight, she enthused, “It was a good experience as it made me realise that mentally, there is so much that I am able to do to strengthen myself. But I’m really glad that I didn’t just pull out from the competition and not give it my best shot!”
Ash Be Nimble
As Hui knows well, starting up a business can be a herculean task. She likens parenthood to owning a business – both signify the ultimate commitment to shoulder a massive responsibility. Ash Be Nimble is Hui’s home-grown brand that marries two of her greatest passions in life: fitness and fashion. “I wanted to build a fitness community that is supportive and inclusive,” Hui shared.
“It is a very humbling experience, knowing that I can provide employment to people. The work environment that they are in can either make or break them. I want my team to feel appreciated and satisfied with what they do when they work here at The Fox Den. I have high expectations and I demand a lot from my team, but I also spend time to coach and give feedback every month to every one personally. Whether they decide to stay or go, I hope their time here will make them a better employee or leader in their career.
“Being a mother, the nurturing side of me comes through. Ultimately, I want to be the kind of employer I want my daughter to have in the future.”
Her inspiration for the moniker ‘Ash Be Nimble’ was undoubtedly the main man in her life, Ashish Mathews. She credits her husband for being her biggest supporter in pursuing and building a brand that she believes in. It helped that Ashish was also a fitness enthusiast. Together, Hui and Ashish are a force to be reckoned with, conquering 50km and 70km trail races together (though such astounding distances were covered before Asha came along!). “Sometimes, we’ve even had 50km worth of arguments!” she half joked. “But these activities help with building our relationship and preparing us for having Asha!” She quipped cheekily.
Pre-planning and prioritising are two key lessons that motherhood has taught Hui so far. With a growing business and every working day being so unpredictable with a demanding baby in her hands, she relies on google calendar invites and to-do lists to make sure her schedule is fully utilised every time she goes into the office. “Baby sitting time is so precious! So every time I go to work or I attend a meeting, I ask myself, ‘What’s the purpose of this meeting? What do I have to achieve in these two hours?’”
There is a constant battle that every working mother has, and it is called ‘a mother’s guilt’. “Whenever I spend time with Asha, I’m always thinking about what work I have to complete or what preparations do I have to make for dinner…” Hui reflected honestly. “But then, I realised I wasn’t living in the present and being fully engaged with my daughter.” Likewise, she is sometimes unable to give 100% at work either as her thoughts will be on Asha.
“Another entrepreneur mum once told me, ‘Hui, you might regret not doing enough sales, but you will always regret not spending enough time with your baby’.” This is an advice Hui takes to heart.
“No one else will have the journey that you have, and you may also not understand someone else’s journey. You can compare notes with other mums, and many people can give you advice and suggestions. At the end of the day you have to figure out what works for you and what you are comfortable with. For me, I’ve learnt that being present and engaging with my daughter is the most important thing to me right now. I want to have as much time with Asha as possible.” Because when all’s said and done, life would not be complete without her beloved Asha and Ashish by her side.
End note from the authors of this series:
Listening to the stories of these seven mothers firsthand in the course of one month has been a humbling experience.
No doubt there are many other amazing displays of strength and wisdom by mothers whose stories have yet to be told. We will continue to look to such mothers – above all, our very own, for inspiration. And maybe someday, to be as great a mother as these amazing women as well.