Muscle Masters

Five Asian American athletes who maximize mind and matter.

September 1, 2005

Josiah Ng insists they’re not groupies. They don’t want sex. Just hugs and autographs. Ng is talking about the hysteric throngs of crying pre-teens and middle-aged women that are the soundtrack of his visits to Japan and Malaysia—where he’s a bonafide celebrity. Since 2000 the 25-year-old pro cyclist has traveled to Asia from his home in Redondo Beach, CA to compete in keirin competitions. He battles five to eight cyclists in 40-mph sprints while spectators place bets on jocks like it’s the Kentucky Derby. And, well, it’s tough for the ladies not to take notice.

Ng wasn’t always a strapping babe-magnet, though. In his youth, little Josiah followed family tradition (his parents and two siblings are musicians) and played violin at weddings and church functions with the Ng Family String Quartet. At 14, a friend introduced Ng to cycling, and music quickly gave way to the whir of what he describes as a “self-propelled rollercoaster.”

A year later, he entered his first race; 10 years later, he qualified for the 2004 Olympics in Athens (competing for Malaysia). “I got what I wanted, because I worked for it,” he says. But four short months before the Games, Ng crashed while training in Switzerland. He split his forehead open, broke his wrist and nose, and burst blood vessels in his right eye. Surgeons placed pins in his wrist, forcing him to sit out the next six weeks of training.
But Ng not only recovered and competed in Athens, he placed fifth in keirin.

Now he’s training for November’s World Cup in Moscow. The 2006 Commonwealth Games are around the corner. And then there’s Beijing in 2008. Ng spends elusive free time at the beach and on road trips. The single jock doesn’t mind the scarce downtime or grueling 25-hour weekly workout schedule. There are definitely benefits to his training. Like, he says, the fact that girls love his legs and glutes. Apparently some girls want more than hugs and autographs. —Reeta Prakash


Height: 59

Weight: 175 lbs

Muscle Mastery: Top speed 60 mph

Favorite Body Part: Glutes and legs

Least Favorite: Upper body and chipped tooth

PHOTO: David titlow

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PHOTO: ejen chuang

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Yoo Kim grips his 15-foot pole and sprints down the track. He relaxes his torso and maxes his speed, so he can plant and catapult his body into the sky, over a crossbar some 18 feet above the ground, and safely onto the pit of foam pads below.

If everything goes right, the pole slips precisely into a grooved box on approach and “feels like you stuck your finger in warm butter,” says Kim. If things don’t go so well, the body absorbs the energy of a bad plant, and “feels like you got the wind knocked out of you.”

The 23-year-old former UCLA track and field star has gone through his share of butter and breathlessness. Kim moved from South Korea to the U.S. at age 13 for boarding school, and two years later began training with hall-of-famer Earl Bell in Arkansas, set the Korean pole vault record three times (most recently at 18 feet, 4 3/4 inches) and picked up All-America honors at the 2003 and 2004 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Championships. He then leapt onto the world stage to compete for South Korea in the 2004 Olympics, but failed to make it past the first round. “There are a lot of ups and downs in pole-vaulting,” says Kim, “but when you jump one centimeter higher, it’s all worth it.”

Kim is always raising the bar. He plans to push the Korean mark to 19 feet (the world record is 20 feet 1 3/4 inches) and qualify for the 2008 Olympics.

But Kim will have to find someone new to share those moments since the recent “mutual” break-up with his longtime girlfriend. He intends to date again soon, but says, “I definitely don’t see myself as a ladies’ man.” With a rock hard physique (he sports six-pack abs and seven percent body fat) and a sensitive side (he’s a closet John Mayer fan and wishes looks “didn’t matter”), Kim’s dating life shouldn’t have problems getting off the ground either. —Vinny Juan


Pole Vaulter

Height: 63

Weight: 187 lbs

Muscle Mastery: Squats 330 and benches 200 lbs

Favorite Body Part: Hands. “I can touch, feel, and grab with them.”

Least Favorite: Big quads. “They’re useless. I wish I had skinnier legs so I’d jump a little higher.”

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PHOTOS: Richard Spiegelburg (yoo KIM); Andy Wu (VERA KOO)



No way. No way can
a 58-year-old grandmother shoot ’em-up like an Asian Annie Oakley. But yeah, Vera Koo, a five-time
national and world action pistol champ, doesn’t just find a way—she blasts right through it.

“Would you like to see my guns?” she says excitedly, as if she were showing a knitting buddy a rare antique. Atop a Chinese lacquer table, an assortment of firearms, plaques and trophies rest on a silk table runner. Koo picks up her trademark piece, the seven-pound Remington Model XP-100, a long-distance pistol that shoots the length of two football fields. It’s heavy on the forearm, and aiming it steady at a target—an orange on a tree, in this instance—is challenging. But not for Koo, whose arms are toned after deciding a decade ago to expel her fear of guns with firearm safety classes at De Anza College in Cupertino, CA. Dread quickly gave way to an interest in competitive action shooting (targets as small as four inches move horizontally and you blast them, arcade-style). Koo started with small clubs and league shootouts and progressed to the pros.

Now she practices year round and competes in three major events a year. After a day of shooting, Koo’s right arm is sore from the repetition, her fingers swell from the recoil and she is physically exhausted. “My mental state usually reflects my performance for that day,”
admits the Atherton, CA resident.

Koo leaves personal problems, entanglements, and yes, even family, at home when she shoots. The first generation Chinese American doesn’t socialize with other competitors; the fewer the distractions, the better the outcome. “[Shooting] is 95 percent mental. It’s almost spiritual; you’re your own worst enemy.”

And sometimes your own best friend. Koo’s determination has pushed her to a perfect score of 1920 at a Bianchi Cup warm-up match. She’ll retire when
she hits that mark in an official event. Says Koo: “You learn that there’s nothing in life you cannot conquer.” —Genevieve Roja

Height: 55

Weight: 120 lbs

Muscle Mastery: 1.5 hours a day of
aerobic exercise, five days a week,
rain or shine for 35 years without

Favorite Body Part: Shoulder, upper
arm, forearm

Least Favorite: “My stomach’s not
as flat as it used to be.”

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Height: 60

Weight: 192 lbs

Muscle Mastery: 12 goals in 25 games last year

Favorite Body Part: “I really don’t have
a favorite part of my body. I enjoy working out as a whole. “

Least Favorite: “Obliques. My spare tire.”




Brian Ching is no stranger to pain. Injury is part of the job for a pro soccer player. Strained muscles, ankle sprains, torn hamstring, ripped meniscus, ruptured Achilles tendon, shattered cheekbone… simply work hazards when you’re a big target for the San Jose Earthquakes’ offense and opponents trying to deny you the ball.

What makes the first Hawaiian in Major League Soccer unique is his ability to bounce back. In 2004, Ching was anointed Comeback Player of the Year for returning just seven months after his August 2003 Achilles surgery to tie for the league’s scoring title. Cameos in the All-Star Game and national team matches underscored his recovery. The 27-year-old forward takes pride in his ability to rip off bandages and storm the field stronger and faster than before.

Truth is, there was a secret behind his Superman return. Yoga. “I did it a lot last year and I was injury-free,” he says.

After Quake players combined for some 100 games missed due to injury, the team offered yoga classes in 2004 to keep bodies lithe and strong. Ching, with goading from his now wife, became one of three regulars. But poor turnout led the Quakes to drop the downward dog, and Ching was left standing this season. In May he felt his hamstring tear almost completely away from the tendon while doing a back kick (knocking the ball backward with the heel). The injury sidelined him for over three months.

A disappointed Ching now acknowledges that yoga is an
essential part of training. “I’ve been fighting [it] for years,” he says. “The frustrating thing about these classes is that I’m terrible.” Unfortunately, hard kicking in the majors doesn’t translate into a perfect sun salute—a tough reality for the competitive athlete.

“I’m not as flexible as I should be,” Ching admits. But he’s resolved to stick to it, because he’s learned that hard bodies aren’t strong unless they can bend. —Jennifer Huang

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PHOTOS: Paul de Lumen (Brian ching), seng chen (kurt Suzuki)

Kurt Suzuki’s relaxed drawl is more fitting to one who rides waves, rather than rounds bases, for a living. Like any proper Hawaiian, the 21-year-old Japanese American catcher for the Stockton Ports (an Oakland A’s farm team) surfed in his youth in Wailuku, Maui. But he bailed when he decided his real passion was playing ball, not hanging 10.

“I used to surf in the mornings, and go to baseball practice in the afternoons,” says Suzuki (no relation to Ichiro), who also played soccer and basketball. “I always liked sports, but there was just something about baseball…. Sophomore year in high school, I decided it was something I could do for the rest of my life.” Suzuki focused his energy and earned a walk-on spot as a frosh at Cal State Fullerton in 2002.

There, he lived up to his moniker “Kurt Klutch” to the end: in his last at-bat, Suzuki drove in the winning run at the 2004 College World Series for the Titans, who played David to the University of Texas’ Goliath, winning 3-2. The A’s took notice and made him their second-round pick in the 2004 draft.

Suzuki is quick to acknowledge that his success is based more on hard work than natural abilities. “I don’t have the best speed, and I’m not the most physically talented, but I think I’m pretty solid all around,” he says. The 2004 National Player of the Year lifts three times a week before heading to the ballpark and gets to the bullpen three hours early to practice.

Now that he’s found his calling, he’s waiting for the call. If the big leagues bring him up, he’ll be one of few American-born Asians to represent. But with a career that’s only a year old, Suzuki’s not putting too much pressure on himself. “That’s something you don’t really have control over,” he says. “You just have to wait for your shot.” Or the next wave. —Julia Chang



Height: 61

Weight: 200 lbs

Muscle Mastery: Hit .413, with
16 home runs and 87 RBIs last season

Favorite Body Part: Hands. “Without
them, you can’t play ball.”

Least Favorite: Midsection. “It’s not too
bad, it’s just an area I’d like to work on.”

photo: matt Reamer, Model: paul michael aguilar

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