Words & Photos: Nadiah Aziz
Dr. Eliza Hafiz is one of those people that every person must have at least one of in their lives.
Affectionately known as “Doc” within the road cycling community, I met her accidentally one day while leaving a bike shop, as she was heading in with a bike that needed some TLC after a crash.
It was one of those chance meetings that might have never happened if I hadn’t been curious enough to stay and chat. Bubbly, energetic and enthusiastic, she’s one of those people who you can’t help but be drawn to, the type that have an annoyingly effortless ability to make immediate friends with strangers. You’d hate them if they weren’t so darn likeable.
She’s perpetually cheerful; as I got to know her better I couldn’t help but think it has something to do with how she lives life. The senior lecturer and physiotherapist at University Malaya’s Sports Centre is a mother of four, juggling a career and a new project she’s starting on the side, but shows no signs of slowing down.
The secret I reckon, is her ability to literally always keep moving. “I’ve always been doing all this fitness stuff,” she admits. “I was always into gym workouts and I like doing weights; I’ve been doing that since I was 18 years old. I was an Anytime Fitness member (while studying) in Australia, it’s always been my regime every morning where I go run and do some weights, then focus on my research stuff. I was also working as a physio and lecturer when I was there too.”
However, seven years of hitting the books took its toll on her body eventually.
“When you study, it’s pretty much a desk bound thing. Doing your PhD you study, you research. It was really good to be there, but I didn’t quite have the opportunity to be this side of me.
“So when I got back, I put on weight. I was bigger than I was supposed to be,” she laughs. Upon returning, she set about changing things with the help of one of her students, former national cyclist Sayuti Zahit, who helped procure her first bicycle, a Fuji road bike.
She soon progressed to being cycling mad, eventually joining the Oakley Cycling Tour in 2016, the first amateur cycling tour in South East Asia, going the whole hog in signing up for the 108km ride. Earlier this year she signed up for her first triathlon, the 113 Olympic Distance Triathlon Melaka 2018. You may have also seen her representing Cycling Plus Malaysia at the recent GCE Duathlon, finishing on the podium even, as the 4th runner up.
“The cycling, the running, the swimming has always been in me. Especially when I was doing my Masters in Australia. Triathlons are their culture; they have triathlons every weekend. And these hardcore triathletes will go for more than one of these hardcore events in a single weekend.
“They have small, local triathlon events, in one day even. I’ve always wanted to do that, though my studies had to come first, and I had a family and all that. But I always wanted to do that.”
I mutter something about temporary insanity and she laughs again, offering an extremely valuable piece of advice. “You have to go back to your goal, why are you doing this?” she asks.
“Obviously if you’re doing it as an Ironman you have to sacrifice your time. But I really focus on doing this as a lifestyle. Otherwise it becomes too much of stress on your body and your ecosystem. Whatever you do, it has to be realistic. If you sign up for an event of course, you have to practice for that. But it has to continue afterwards.”
Dr Eliza also has a novel approach to preparing for triathlons or big cycling events. “I’m taking it as a lifestyle. Some people finish a full marathon and take a day off that they’ve applied for in advance. Whatever event I go for, I believe that tomorrow I must wake up like normal and go to work.
“That means you’re fit and healthy. If the next day you cannot wake up, you’re not doing it right, you’re not conditioned for it. Unless you need to run at work, then that’s a different story. But if you’re desk bound, you shouldn’t need a recovery day. Active recovery helps you more than passive recovery anyway. ”
And it is this precise lifestyle that she wants to bring to the masses. “The government is doing their best through the Youth and Sports Ministry, but the information isn’t getting to the people. It’s not so bad now, we see increased participation in sports.
“But the problem is that they do not know the fact that they need to be conditioned to run, even 5km, or ride 30km. That’s why we have cases of people dying after exercise. In the Malaysian culture, the word exercise is so big. I think people need to realise that it has to be a lifestyle in general.”
It is one of her burning life missions, to help people live better lives. “My passion is always treating people, helping people to get better, to become healthy, to get their fitness levels up,” Dr Eliza continues.
“I’ve always wanted to teach, I’ve wanted to be a university lecturer for as long as I remember. I’ve always been a bubbly person and I like to talk. So in a sense, I’ve always wanted to do this, motivating people to do exercise to get fit and improving their health and wellbeing.”
Despite physiotherapy not being an initial part of her life goals, it’s ultimately become a passion. Dr Eliza is now teaming up with her husband to launch mobile physio services, to help people who are too busy to get help to solve their aches and pains.
These after hour mobile services will be capable of handling on demand house visits for those who need it, and will be expanded based on the response they get. They are still in the planning phase for now, but it looks like this project will take off very, very soon.
“We can see pretty much anyone. Although my specialty areas are muscular and skeletal, I can also treat people who have asthma and need chest physio, or people who need neuro physio like stroke patients, people with nerve problems. We will basically cover the whole spectrum of physiotherapy.”
With more and more folks becoming physically active, and even more needing help escaping their sedentary routines, it sounds like Dr Eliza is definitely your go to person for making a change in a big way.