Susan Zeng: A Chinese Super Mom With Unmatched Spirit and Appreciation Who Technically Isn't Chinese.
Excited to learn more about another workout partner I had been exercising with for months but knew very little about, Susan and I met for a chat over after-work tea in Shanghai where she spends her weekdays working as a Process Engineer for global Engineering and Construction company Fluor. Very humble and kind to others, Susan is an example to live by when it comes to exercising as a group, yet I must admit I felt slightly intimidated when I first met her – an encounter that dates back to March 2017 during my early FitFam days. Wearing her usual sunglasses, cap and professional-looking sporty clothes I thought “She looks so fit, she must have been coming for a long time.”
Little did I know that Susan had only joined our community a few weeks before I did, and that her pre-FitFam days were not as active as one might think.
This is her story.
Once upon a time in Houston, Texas.
Susan spent her first twenty-something years in Dalian, a major city and seaport in the south of Liaoning Province in Northeastern China where she was born and raised. Hometown pride was very strong among locals, and Susan’s was no exception. She attended the Dalian University of Technology to study Chemical Engineering after which she enrolled at a local graduate school: "Only if you’d been accepted at the top 2 universities in Beijing would you consider leaving” she explained. As she neared the end of her graduate program, Susan grew more curious about what the rest of her country – and the world - had to offer. After receiving her Master’s degree, she went on to work at American telecommunications company Motorola in Tianjin near Beijing.
Susan was sent to Houston, Texas in the United States for a 6-to-9-month-long training program where she met her husband who was working for one of their vendors at the time. After heading back to China at the end of her training and keeping their long-distance relationship alive for 2-3 years, Susan eventually moved back to Houston where she and her then-boyfriend decided to get married. They built a life together in the United States for 10 years and welcomed their first-born son in 2006 followed shortly after by their daughter in 2007. They packed their bags in 2010 and moved to Shanghai where Susan’s husband had received a new job opportunity.
It all started at a boxing gym where she never actually boxed.
The first member of FitFam Susan came across was super active leader Harriet Gaywood whom she’d first met at the Cub Scouts of America club in August 2015 which they were active members of, but didn’t actually get in touch with until May 2016. Although I personally cannot stop myself from promoting FitFam on a daily basis, Harriet was able to keep it to herself for half a year and only began introducing the concept to Susan in late 2016. Despite her multiple attempts to get Susan to join one of the winter workouts, her leaving away from downtown made it too far of a stretch but eventually took her first step towards full FitFam addiction after meeting Sun Lei, another FitFam regular, at a Walkathon in February this year. After a few chats, Sun Lei added Susan to one of their messaging groups to join a workout at Golden Gloves.
At the end of her first workout, Harriet – who happened to be there as well – approached her with a mix of astonishment and joy: “OMG, you joined!!!” she said ecstatically. For weeks following Susan’s first day at Golden Gloves, Harriet would come to her and ask “Are you going to join us next time? Please do!” Jiao Tong University being the closest location to her home, Harriet eventually pulled Susan into the messaging group. She has been attending their workouts regularly since then: "Before my family and I moved to another apartment I used to go to the gym in our compound regularly because it opened at 5:30 a.m," Susan explained. "Unfortunately, the gym at our new apartment complex only opens at 6:30 a.m. which is too late for me. I became lazy and started to gain weight, but ever since I joined FitFam I lost weight and got fitter. I even showed colleagues at a company yoga class some of the movements I learned from FitFam! Push-ups on your knees, hollow rock abs, sit-ups… To them that was amazing."
At that point in our conversation, the waitress came with a QR code for us to scan and pay for our tea. I asked her in Chinese if I could use Alibaba's mobile payment app Alipay (I take pride in the very little amount of Chinese I can speak), to which Susan responded with shock: “You have Alipay?! How can you have Alipay?! I don’t have Alipay! Don’t you need a Chinese ID to have Alipay??” As it turns out, Susan lost her Chinese citizenship when she married her husband, which many years ago prevented non-Chinese citizens from accessing the payment app. “Since I’m technically not a citizen, I am on a work visa. Every year my company has to hundreds of dollars for me.” A Chinese who’s not Chinese!
After our short revolutionary break, Susan admitted she could barely execute one push-up before joining FitFam. Instead of succumbing to the peer pressure and giving up, she started practicing several movements at home to keep up with the crowd which helped her gain a lot more confidence. After seeing the dramatic improvement in Susan’s body shape, her husband felt motivated to start doing some exercises of his own. Waking up with her at 5 a.m., however, is still not an option… for now.
Time to take the wheel.
One morning Susan dared ask in one of our messaging group chats if anyone was leading an unofficial workout that coming Saturday. Ironically this backfired pretty quickly (as does everything else with some of our group chats) when people began suggesting she should lead it. Peer pressured into taking the lead, she felt nervous and excited at the same time. So much, in fact, that she stayed late at work the night prior to prepare her workout and print out the different stations: “I usually leave the office around 5:30-6 p.m. I think I left work at 8:30pm!”
Beyond work and FitFam, Susan has built a very close and trustworthy relationship with her children. She keeps them occupied on weekends with various classes including Taekwondo, math, painting, soccer, ballet and Cub Scouts but was quick to emphasize how little pressure she puts on them compared to other children. One day she asked her son who is now 11 years old: “When you’re a teenager, are we still going to be friends?”. He responded: “Yes, I think so.” But when Susan asked if he would introduce his future girlfriend to her so she could support them financially, he was honest about his thoughts on this: “No… I don’t want her to feel the pressure!” Smart kid.
Keep up the positive energy and spirit, Susan! From all of us at FitFam, we thank you for your commitment and support.