Ooi Kee Tzuen: Diving Into The Deep End

It’s not every day you get to hear about the story of how one becomes successful directly from the horse’s mouth. The stories of their achievements and successes are often hidden behind the positive words, such as becoming a millionaire at a young age or starting up their own business. But sometimes there is so much more to their stories. We often forget that they too are humans battling against their own fears. I had a change of mindset about how I looked up to my idols when I met Ooi Kee Tzuen, a former Malaysian competitive swimmer turned entrepreneur. Kee Tzuen (pronounced as “Kee Zoon”) was known for winning the gold medal in the SUKMA Games 2002 held in Sabah and the silver medal in the SEA Games 2003. But his journey to success wasn’t easy as he had to battle against his insecurities and fears.

A picture of a boy jumping from a cliff and trying to grasp the moon in the sky. A metaphor for doing things that you fear.
Overcoming our fears takes a lot of courage as it pushes us to step out of our comfort zone.
Image by 愚木混株 Cdd20 from Pixabay

The Beginning Of Ooi Kee Tzuen’s Story

“Extreme fear can neither fight, nor fly.”

William shakespeare (1564 – 1616), English playwright, poet and actor. widely known for his play, romeo and juliet

Born and raised in Kedah, Malaysia, Kee Tzuen was like any introverted child with a shy and timid personality. Whenever his mother brought him out to the mall, he would hold on to his mother’s dress as if someone was going to snatch him away. It became apparent that he was fearful when he had to transition to a new environment. Being in a new environment and doing new things was a challenge for Kee Tzuen. He vividly remembers starting kindergarten and being away from his parents and surrounded by unfamiliar people. But as a child, you don’t really have a choice to not go to school. So despite his fears, he slowly adapted and learnt to trust the process.

Kee Tzuen with other swimming athletes during the SUKMA Games 2002 held in Sabah.
Ooi Kee Tzuen (centre) aged 19, with other fellow swimming participants during the SUKMA Games 2002 in Sabah, the biggest sports event that takes place in Malaysia every two years. Kee Tzuen had won his first gold medal competing in the 200-metre breaststroke.
Photo credit to Ooi Kee Tzuen

At the age of seven, he discovered something that made a huge impact on his life: swimming. Through a club event at his school’s pool, he fell in love with swimming. Kee Tzuen found out that he had a talent for swimming and by nine years of age, he represented the club at a national level. Entering competitions marked his very big step to breaking down his barriers.

“We grow fearless by walking into our fears.”

Robin Sharma, canadian writer and author of the best selling book series, the monk who sold his ferrari

Swimming With The Waves

Sometimes, we drown in our insecurities and fears that we forget how they’re just playing with our minds. But it’s not an easy task to just forget about what we are afraid of and move on with our life. The fact that they linger in our minds is a challenge by itself. However, fear is intangible, which means that there is always a way to defeat it, despite it’s still being there. Kee Tzuen still had challenges with his self-confidence and insecurities even as he started to step out of his comfort zone. Through swimming competitions and the support of his mentor, Peh Gin Hai, he overcame one battle at a time.

A picture of Ooi Kee Tzuen in the pool with the other members of the national team that he is part of during the year of 2002-2003.
The national team that Kee Tzuen (second from the left at the back) was a part of during the year 2002-2003. His love for water became the incentive to slowly become more confident of himself.
Picture credit to Ooi Kee Tzuen

“Feel the fear and do it anyway.”

Ooi kee tzuen, managing partner of ACMF Human capital

There were times before competitions when Kee Tzuen would get so nervous to the point that he would throw up. His confidence took a dip when he started to compare himself with his much larger opponents. He was shorter and had a smaller feet size. These are considered a disadvantage in swimming. If he had bigger palms, he would be able to pull more water and swim faster. But instead of sinking under the water, he decided to continue swimming. Through hard work, determination and perseverance, he fine-tuned his swimming skills and work ethics. There was not a day when he did not attend his swimming practice as he was highly self-disciplined.

Battling His Insecurities And Fears

Kee Tzuen took advantage of what he was best at and used it to win his battles. The results of his battle were evident in 2002 during the SUKMA Games held in Sabah, the biggest national sporting event in Malaysia. It was his proudest moment ever since he had brought home his very first gold medal at age 19, after competing against his strongest opponents. Despite his smaller frame, the hours and days spent practising in the water gave meaning to Kee Tzuen’s battles.

“Trust the process. The stages of being involved in it, doing it and learning from it give meaning to why you are doing it in the first place. Just do it first and see the results.”

ooi kee tzuen

When I heard that Kee Tzuen was also a silver medallist in the Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) 2003 held in Vietnam, I was curious about how he had felt at the time. I expected him to say that it was one of the best days of his life but his answer was surprising. Kee Tzuen was not proud of it as he knew that he was not at his top form. He regretted and blamed himself for not winning the gold medal. The thought of not doing his best for the 4×100-metre medley relay brought back his insecurities. I then thought to myself that despite having many achievements, we don’t really know what battles others are fighting inside of them.

A picture of Kee Tzuen, his mentor Peh Gin Hai and another swimmer Dai Dai Look at the Summer Universaide Games 2003 in Daegu, South Korea.
Ooi Kee Tzuen (centre) with his mentor and coach Peh Gin Hai (left) and Dai Dai Look (right), another swimmer who was part of the national team, at the 2003 Summer Universiade Games in Daegu, South Korea.
Picture credit to Ooi Kee Tzuen

From Passion To Entrepreneurial Success

Kee Tzuen naturally transitioned from his passion for swimming to entrepreneurship. He first worked as a swimming instructor during his university days together with his mentor Gin Hai. After graduating from University Putra Malaysia (UPM) majoring in Computer Science, he tried to pursue a career as an IT Programmer. However, he decided to forego his pursuit and chose to stay in the swimming industry. Like any other parents’ concern, Kee Tzuen’s father asked him when he would find a “real job”. Then in 2007, Gin Hai offered him a junior business partner position in Advanced Aquatics (now known as D Swim Academy).

A picture of Kee Tzuen with one of his students that he coached during his career path at Advanced Aquatics.
Kee Tzuen with one of his students, 11-year-old Tan E-Shawn, coached and trained under Advanced Aquatics. In the picture, E-Shawn is showing off his gold medals for the National Age Group (NAG) swimming event in 2012.
Picture credit to Ooi Kee Tzuen

Working in Advanced Aquatics on the management side for about ten years, Kee Tzuen learnt how to deal with people. He attended many courses ranging from personal development to business management, which taught him the principles of the entrepreneurial world. However, the fear of dealing with the public and facing them became a huge challenge. During the personal development programme that he attended, he learnt how to be a facilitator and a coach. It was a challenge because he would have to stand in front of the room and give presentation to a crowd of attendees. This was his first public speaking exposure since his university days.

“What you resist will persist. So take it one fear at a time.”

ooi kee tzuen

What Motivates Kee Tzuen?

People often ask Kee Tzuen, “Who inspires you?” or “Who do you look up to?”. For him, there was no prominent figure who inspired him as a child. Heroes and act of courage from the cartoons he watched might have awed him, but they did not prepare him for the battles that he would face later in life. He realised that the cause and effect of life’s events was the sole motivator why he is still fighting against the current.

But he could not have been more grateful for his coach and mentor, Gin Hai. From the days as his swimming coach until today as a business partner, Gin Hai played a big role in supporting Kee Tzuen’s growth. Kee Tzuen enjoys working alongside Gin Hai on projects such as coaching, consulting and formulating training programmes for their clients. Both of them incorporate their own strengths in the projects and work as a team. All in all, Kee Tzuen continues to aspire to be the best version of himself!

A picture of KT and his coach, Peh Gin Hai during his swimming days.
During the early days of Kee Tzuen’s swimming career, Gin Hai’s (right) mentoring kept Kee Tzuen on his toes as he persevered through all challenges.
Picture credit to Ooi Kee Tzuen

The Importance Of Self-Awareness For Kee Tzuen

In 2017, Kee Tzuen had a breakthrough when he started to gain more courage in public speaking. He later joined ACMF Group with Gin Hai in 2018. ACMF Human Capital is the human capital division where they target Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) with teamwork, human resources or communication issues. They help businesses identify the root causes and recommend improvements. On this path, Kee Tzuen trained to be a coach to cater to his clients’ needs. More importantly, he is always striving to transfer the knowledge he acquired during his trainings to his clients.

For Kee Tzuen, self-awareness is very important. There are moments when he can’t control himself, and unsure of what to do next. When he is aware that he is facing a setback, he knows that it is pushing him back. He has a choice to either pick himself up or stay down.

A picture of KT giving a presentation for Advanced Aquatics.
Kee Tzuen has to face many people in his career. Despite his fear of public speaking, he knows that the only way out is to just do it and see what happens. This picture was taken in 2015 during a presentation for Advanced Aquatics.
Picture credit to Ooi Kee Tzuen

Being an introvert myself, I know just how tough it is to stand in front of a crowd to speak. Public speaking is a fear that you can’t overcome overnight. And I can relate so much to Kee Tzuen’s story in overcoming it.

“Having courage is not doing things without fear. Courage is having that fear and finding a way through it.”

ooi Kee tzuen

Kee Tzuen: “Be Your Own Champion

From a timid boy to an entrepreneur, Kee Tzuen has transformed into someone he himself did not expect. He went from the boy who would hold on to his mother’s dress, to a confident man proudly standing and speaking in front of a crowd. He knew that he didn’t have the natural characteristics for swimming or public speaking, but that never deterred him from trying. As he acquires more knowledge and gains fresh insights from all the battles he overcomes, he hopes that one day he can also instil the message to others. Now at a different stage in life with different priorities, he aspires to find a work-life balance. Chasing waves with the same intensity, he aims to capitalise on business opportunities with consultancy capabilities.

A picture of Kee Tzuen presentation for ACMF Human Capital where he is more confident to speak in front of a crowd.
Kee Tzuen presenting one of his speeches during a training programme for ACMF Human Capital. Being able to comfortably stand in front of a crowd and speak in confidence was Kee Tzuen’s win over his fears.
Picture credit to Ooi Kee Tzuen

“We all have our own stories and our own life circumstances, which are all equal in value. But one of the best gifts to ourselves is to be the best version of ourselves. As opposed to being the best amongst others.”

ooi kee tzuen

Treat Your Fears As Part Of Your Journey

Those fears will always remain in your head regardless of how you overcome them. They will instead act as a reminder that you have something to fight against and take control of. It’s a reminder that you were brave enough to face something that you could otherwise run away from. Despite the anxiety and fear still hovering above you, your initiative to change is a courageous act! As Kee Tzuen puts it:

“Do things that you are fearful about. Yet at the same time deep within, know that there is something more beyond the journey. It’s like a calling.”

Ooi Kee Tzuen

In the meantime, if you are an SME having teamwork and communication issues within your organisation, do check out ACMF Group. They have hands-on experience in observing the work culture and identifying the issues that businesses might have by coming into the office and interact with the clients and employees. They are reputable for strengthening bonds within organisations through their customised training and course programmes. Alternatively, you can connect with Ooi Kee Tzuen personally on Facebook to get first-hand knowledge on his journey to self-discovery and confidence-building.

About Atiqah GHAZALI

Grew up overseas in a melting pot of global culture to expat parents, Atiqah is well read, and expresses herself best through writing, art and photography. Architect by qualification, but makes a living as an interior designer.

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