ISU Dining employee aims to represent Malaysia at 2012 Olympics


Photo: Yue Wu/Iowa State daily

Chan Yew Woo, assistant manager of ISU Dining, is a member of the Runablaze Iowa running club and Malaysian marathon record holder. He has been running for 11 years, and his personal record is 2:26:28 in 2009.

Torey Robinson

Ten minutes a day is all Chan Woo allows himself to think about his next race.

He holds the Malaysian national record for a marathon at 2 hours, 26 minutes, 28 seconds.

He runs nearly 128 miles a week to prepare for races throughout the year.

He knows he must trim eight minutes off his personal record to represent Malaysia in the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

But 10 minutes is all the thought racing gets each day.

“If I give it more thought than that I am just hurting myself,” said Woo, assistant manager of campus dining services. “Even though sometimes I think it might, it can’t control my life.”

But Woo won’t deny it’s a big part of who he is.

Woo began his running career in Malaysia, but it was not until he came to school in the United States in 2002 that he became “strong at the sport,” he said.

Woo ran for Northwood University in Michigan for two years while earning a bachelor’s degree in management and marketing. He competed in NCAA Division I cross country and track for the University of New Orleans while pursuing a Master of Business Administration.

He moved to Eugene, Ore., and took a position at University of Oregon in dining, in line with his goal of becoming a top food service director.

But Woo still had bigger plans in mind.

That’s where Dick Brown came in.

“I told him the truth — I told him I want to go to the Olympic Games,” Woo said.

Brown, president of Eugene Health and Performance Foundation in Oregon, has coached 13 Olympic and World Championship athletes. He also was designated a Master Coach by USA Track and Field, the highest honor in coaching education.

Together, they compiled a six-year plan — beginning in 2006 and ending at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Woo is required to take off so much time per year in order to qualify for and adequately compete in the event.

Woo will be able to represent Malaysia in the games if he can complete the 42.2 kilometers in 2:19:00 in a qualifying race.

Brown observed Woo as a runner, and changed his technique and trained Woo on how to compete on a global scale.

“It was a learning experience,” Brown said. “It was all about learning the sport and learning about each other.”

Woo eventually took a job at Iowa State, and the relationship changed. Instead of Brown personally observing Woo’s running and monitoring the program, the pair must rely on e-mail and phone communication.

But distance is no obstacle for the duo, Woo said.

“We’ve got a good sense of what each other is talking about,” Brown said. “We got to spend two or three years together before he took the job in Iowa. I know he’s doing the best he can right now — that’s all I ask.”

Woo feels fortunate to have the opportunity to work with Brown.

“All my college career, assistant coaches and head coaches changed. It was rough,” Woo said. “I had four different coaches in four years. They come and they go. I’m lucky my coach hasn’t given up on me. He’s a big name in coaching and could have his pick at many runners, but he sticks with me.

“He believes in me. I am fortunate. He motivates me to be a better runner.”

But for Woo, Brown is more than a motivator.

“He’s my mentor,” Woo said. “He can take me in the direction I can be. He’s a wise person and makes wise decisions.”

The admiration in the pair is mutual.

“He’s a determined and disciplined runner,” Brown said. “He’s got passion to reach his goal and he’s gone much further than I originally thought he would — and I think he’s got a lot more left in him. He’s the kind of runner you don’t have to doubt. He’s committed.”

But Woo’s got more than running to be committed to. He’s got student employees and the Memorial Union food court to supervise — a job that can take nine or 10 hours during the day.

“I want to be the top food service director in the United States,” he said. “Iowa State gives me a good foundation in the field. My family has three generations in the restaurant business. I know I can do it if I aim for it.”

Despite a busy work schedule and professional goals, Woo said he will put in the time to get to the Olympic Games — even if it means running more than 100 miles per week.

Woo typically completes two workouts a day, one before his dining shift and one after.

“I make the morning workout the hard one,” he said. “That way I can’t skip it. There will be no excuses. If I put in a nine- or 10-hour day at work, I can go lighter at night because my hard workout is already done.”

Woo averages 15 miles per day and tries to clock 20 miles on Sunday.

He’s aiming for improvement.

Woo achieved his personal best time and beat the Malaysian national record at the 2009 St. George Marathon in Utah.

He finished eighth at the Marathon Oasis de Montreal in Canada on Sept. 5 — behind four Kenyans, two Canadians and an Ethiopian.

It hasn’t all been easy along the way. Woo had to drop out of the 2007 Korat Southeast Asian Games when he suffered cramps and severe dehydration.

“It was embarrassing, I was wearing my country’s colors and performing in front of the world,” he said. “But it was a learning experience. I got a new commitment to becoming a better athlete.”

Woo’s commitment to the sport doesn’t stop at preparing for the Olympics.

He takes time out of his training schedule to work with children at Youth Shelter and Services. Woo volunteered summer mornings to help adolescents living at the Ames Youth Recovery House train for 5K races.

The hard work paid off — two of the boys finished in the top three in their age division in Youth Shelter and Services’ Governor’s Cup 5K in August, Woo said.

“I wanted to show them if they try, they can do it,” he said. “I want them to be confident with their abilities.”

His efforts did not go unnoticed.

“Chan has helped support and strengthen the wellness program at the Youth Recovery House,” said Andrea Dickerson, residential program coordinator for the organization. “His commitment to the adolescents encourages them to strive toward becoming healthier.”

“Commitment is important in anything,” Woo said. “It doesn’t matter if it is a job or improving a sport. I am committed to getting to the Olympic Games and representing Malaysia.”

But the Olympic Games are still two years out.

For now, Woo is taking it 10 minutes a day at a time.