“I secretly love it when people underestimate me,” Chloe Tong says with a laugh. “I get a kick out of it. It’s more empowering than anything.”
Chloe is all charm and warmth when she welcomes us into her home, but as we chat, it’s clear that she has more mettle than her petite frame will have you believe.
She’s a mum of two young children (a son who’s approaching three and a one-year-old daughter), the wife of Grab CEO Anthony Tan, and daughter of Malaysian businessman Datuk Tong Kooi Ong of The Edge. And she’s a fitness junkie who can do 10 consecutive chin-ups in perfect form (trust us, we’ve seen it happen). It’s a lot of hats for a 28-year-old to juggle.
Here, Chloe talks to Shape Singapore about why she’s motivated to be a fit mum.
With so much on your plate, how do you find the time to do everything that you do?
Chloe Tong: People always ask me about time, especially since I’m a mother, but the truth is that fitness is something that I brutally prioritise. I go to the gym when my son is in school, or when my daughter is napping. I squeeze my lunch into just ten minutes so I can spend the rest of my time at the gym, and I live in T-shirts, shorts and white sneakers. I love the gym because it’s like an oasis of me time, away from my rambunctious household.
Have you always been into fitness?
Chloe Tong: Currently I work out four or five times a week: weight training at Ultimate Performance gym three times, and Muay Thai twice. But as a child, I used to do all sorts of activities. I was both a tomboy and a bit of a princess – one day I would be wearing my pink dresses and the next I’d be playing football with the boys.
Because I was always the smallest one in class, I knew I had to work harder at sports. So when I wasn’t tall enough for basketball, I told myself that I had to be the fastest to get the ball. I was and still am quite shy, but I was a different person on court. Sports became a language to express myself. I tried all sorts of things: flying trapeze, horseback riding, race cars, and even became a certified ski instructor. It helped overcome my shyness – when I was trying all these unusual sports, I felt a little more untouchable.
But on top of that, I really like the values that doing sports teaches. It’s really all about hard work and discipline. Those were values that really helped me connect with my husband, who’s also big on fitness.
You don’t have a typical life that other 28 year-olds have.
Chloe Tong: Our life is so unpredictable. I used to fly three to five times a week with my husband before I had the kids, but now it’s down to at least once a week. We could decide to fly in a couple of hours, and by now, it takes me just five minutes to pack.
People read about Grab in the news, but they don’t see the lows and the heartache and sleepless nights it took in those early days. I don’t have the usual issues other people my age have, and it can be quite daunting and overwhelming. But I’m just so proud that we managed to get here, and that we are impacting so many lives.
How do you keep fit when you’re travelling so often?
Chloe Tong: When I was dating Anthony, we were flying up to 10 times a week, but we would always find the time to stay active. We would hit 20,000 steps just running through airports, carrying our luggage up the stairs and doing little HIIT exercises in our hotel rooms. Once, we even walked across the border to Shenzhen from Hong Kong, because there was an urgent meeting. We had to stay fit to survive building up a start-up.
These days, our criteria is that the hotel that we stay in must have a gym. We also run, and walk a lot – we find a way to make things work.
Why is fitness so important to you?
Chloe: What I like about the gym is that it’s a level playing field. No one cares about who we are, what we do, or who I married. People just comment on how much I lift, or encourage me, and it’s a very motivating environment. It’s a complicated world out there, and being in the gym is like blocking out all the noise. The only thing I hear is, “You’re going to do it, and you can do it.”
But another reason why it’s so important for me to care for my health is because of my mother. When I was 18, she was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer and passed away just three months later. It was really tough, especially for my little sister who was only eight at the time and had to go through adolescence without her mum. My wanting to lead a healthy life is a tribute to my mother – I want to be able to travel with my kids when they are older, and eventually meet my grandchildren. I owe it to them to be strong and be prepared for anything.
What motivates you to push yourself at the gym?
Chloe Tong: I’m very numbers and goals oriented – because I don’t have a regular job, setting myself goals is kind of like giving myself KPIs. My goals change depending on my needs. It could be preparing for a photoshoot, or a special occasion like Christmas. When I started going to the gym after my second child, I set a goal of doing two consecutive chin ups. With the help of my trainer, I can now do 10, and we’re trying weighted chin-ups as well.
Why weight training, out of all the sports you’ve tried?
Chloe Tong: It’s a personal preference – I find that things like yoga and pilates are a bit too static for me. With weight training I get a kick out of seeing the load increase, and seeing how much my body is capable of. For example, I worked on training my shoulders and back muscles for 11 weeks before attempting a single chin up, and by the 12th week, I could do four. That’s why I love weight training – when you get stronger, you can do so many other things.
Are you equally disciplined when it comes to food?
Chloe Tong: Growing up, I never had any body image issues because I never heard the word diet. I’m so grateful to my parents for the childhood I had. It’s the same now – my husband and I don’t believe in fads or cleanses. We all have individual needs. I realised that my body didn’t respond well when I cut carbs, and it actually got leaner when I ate a bowl of white rice a day.
We enjoy food that makes you feel good. [Chloe points to three large glass bowls on the kitchen counter.] Instead of junk food, we fill our home with protein packs, vitamins and coffee capsules. I realised how much we, as parents, shape our kids when my son asked his teacher if the chocolate milk she was pouring for the kids was a protein shake!
A version of this story first appeared in Shape Singapore.