pauline headshot photo-1

Growing up, I was never an athlete or even athletic for that matter. Being a first generation child of Vietnamese parents in Philadelphia, the priority was getting a good education and bringing home even better grades so that I could find a stable job and make my family proud. Therefore, I didn’t really choose the path of academics over athletics – I wasn’t allowed. My family’s resources (time, money) were very limited. As much as I wanted to participate in sports at school, I never felt like I “fit in” with my peers or had role models that looked like me or could relate to my circumstances. While I wasn’t “athletic”, I did have two older brothers, so I was pretty active in my free time always playing basketball, baseball, bike racing, etc. outside. Anything to not have to play alone!

Untitled design (13)Fast forward to college, I realized that I really needed to do something for both my physical and mental health. I was struggling after graduation, dealing with trauma and grief after losing a friend due to a car accident right after we celebrated such a joyous moment together. Just 3 weeks later, I had to move from my only home in Philly to New York City to start my career – and I was alone. It was overwhelming and scary, to say the least. My mental health took a major hit, and I found myself not knowing where to really turn for help. Seeking professional help for mental health was (and still is) taboo in our culture, but more on that later.

Fortunately, I found myself turning to fitness for help. It had the lowest barrier to entry and naturally I starting running, then started strength training, which is when I really fell in love. It hit me, physical fitness can have a profound impact on all aspects of my health and life – not just physically. I was able to manage stress better, I had more energy and I just felt happier in my own skin. 

I’ve learned that it is critical for AAPI people to not only pay attention to their mental health, but to prioritize it. Mental health is not something to be ignored and it took me so long to understand that there is SPACE for us. Whether you are taking care of your own health or one of a very small group of AAPI coaches in this industry, we deserve the care needed for both ourselves and for future AAPI generations. We need to understand how, when and why to seek help and be more pro-active about mental well-being. This is of no fault to my parents and elders, but their priority was basically survival – making sure to always have food on the table and create a better life for us. Just keeping our heads down and focused on the goal. My parents fled their home country as teenagers to escape the turmoil of war, and were refugees in the US. It’s a lot to take on at that age, and be able to build a fruitful life in a foreign place.

“It is critical for AAPI people to not only pay attention to their mental health,
but to prioritize it.”

Today, there is still a relatively small number of AAPI coaches and trainers, but I am connecting with and seeing more and more of us speaking up and sharing their journeys. I would like to be at the forefront of being a change maker. Given my experience, I know that not feeling included or safe is a reason to hold someone back from fitness or sports. The thought of that is heartbreaking. The core values of my coaching business are focused on inclusivity in fitness and helping people focus on their training and health in a safe and inviting environment because training is for every human.

pauline workingout-1I am whole-heartedly grateful for my journey and for finding fitness later in life. I realized I did not have to be an athlete to be athletic. Fitness and training have transformed my life in so many ways and taught me that it is never too late to invest in my health and well-being. It taught and still teaches me how to build and maintain confidence, mental resilience, and knowing when to rest and recover. I just want to share this with others and hope that it can be as transformative as it was for me. It’s almost like I found the fountain of youth but people believe it’s too good to be true, but I’m here to share that it’s not only real, it’s accessible and fun!