Back in 2009, after almost 50 years of playing soccer, Chuan Nguyen found himself looking for a new way to stay fit and found his outlet at ZUM. Since then, he’s become a fixture in our community, even winning a Zummie award at our February Member Appreciation Party!
Chuan truly enjoys the journey that is life, and movement plays an important role in his human experience. In this interview, he opens up about the profound ways movement and exercise have effected him. We think Chuan’s life-long fitness journey is inspiring and hope you enjoy learning his story.
Chuan, I can’t remember a time when you weren’t a member. How did you find your way to ZUM and what were you looking for when you joined?
When I moved to Seattle, I heard about ZUM, but I didn’t check it it out until I decided I couldn’t play soccer any longer. You see, I’ve been an athlete all my life. I used to run track – 100 m, 400m relay. I also played a lot of soccer – a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot of soccer – like 6 times a week. I played all over for years. To make a long story short, I played so much soccer that I wore out the inside of my right knee. I have no cartilage left. When you play 5-6 times a week, and it takes 7 days to recover each time you play that’s a diminishing return.
When the time came, it was still very important to me to stay active, so Essie and I decided to join. That was around 2009 or so when ZUM was still over on 5th and Bell, and then we moved over to the new location. I took a hiatus while I was in Vietnam for work for 2 years, but Essie was still a member, so when I moved back, I rejoined. That’s how I found my way to ZUM. I was looking for a new way to stay active and fit.
Here you are all these years later, still spending hours at ZUM working out. What keeps you so engaged?
I think a big part of it is because it’s very unique. I’ve checked out a lot of the gyms around town. They’re nothing like ZUM. For me, ZUM is designed for people who are serious about working out – people who really want to make a change in their life or who are serious about conditioning and having a healthy lifestyle.
It serves me really well, because I love training. When I was playing soccer I loved training I almost more than playing. I love the process of getting ready for the season. You start working out outdoors – running hills to strengthen your quads and hamstrings, build up your wind doing sprints.
Now, I’m not training for soccer, but I am still very driven by the same process. When I workout I pay close attention to my body movement. I have a lot of problems physically, so I make adjustments to compensate. I pay attention to how I feel everyday and change my routine around accordingly. I increase or reduce intensity when something is effecting me. I pay a lot of attention to my body – how I stand, my posture, my motion/mobility. Most people don’t realize how important that is – a strong mind-body connection. And ZUM promotes that. Not many gyms around town do that.
Have you always had a strong mind-body connection or is it something you’ve developed as you’ve matured?
I’ve always been keenly aware of my body, but I do what I can to help myself. I read a lot about training. I’ve also worked with a couple trainers here – Jared at the old location and Chris Zilliax at this location. Since I pay attention to my body and I’ve been working on my mind-body connection all these years, I’m very receptive. When a trainer gives me an adjustment, I get it and apply it.
Now that you’re not training for soccer, why do you work out?
Primarily to stay fit. I love being fit. Working out makes food taste better. It makes the day much brighter. It gives me more energy. And it helps me cope with the sadness of the loss of Essie. I miss her dearly, but I don’t get depressed because there’s something I do everyday for myself that’s important to me.
You and Essie were together for a long time. Any loss is challenging, but that is significant.
We were together 37 years. It’s a loss that will never be filled because we were so in love with each other, and we’d been together so long. There was an album that Carlos Santana and John MacLaughlin made a number of years ago when they were disciples Sri Chinmoy named Love Devotion Surrender, and that’s what I decided to do the last 8 months of Essie’s life – love, devotion, and surrender. I surrendered myself to the love I have for her and devoted whatever time was left to be with her, because she was the most important reason for my life. I took a leave of absence from work and dedicated my life to taking care of her. She wanted to die at home, and she did. I was there by her side until her last breath. I’m an intensely emotional person, so I felt it down to the core of my being.
That’s another reason I needed to workout. I was devastated. I was starting to get into a depression. I needed to find something to do everyday that would give me some semblance of structure and would help me take care of myself and be as fit as I could. The first year I did that was 2016. I decided I was going to go to ZUM at least 300 times out of the year. I ended up going 320 times. And I continue that! I love working at it.
That’s a very powerful story and testimonial for to the power of movement. Thank you so much for sharing. I think a lot of people, myself included, can relate to working out as a coping mechanism and energetic outlet.
It has it’s objective benefits too. During that time, I went from 156 down to 144 pounds, and my body fat went from 11% to 7% I think I lost more than 12 pounds, I just gained it back in muscle. So I’m lean and mean!
That’s wonderful! Has that been your greatest achievement since joining ZUM?
Yes, I think so! I don’t set concrete goals – that’s not for me. My goal is to get fit and stay healthy, and everything else results from that. I’m more fit. I’m stronger. I have more muscle mass. My diet has improved. I’m enjoying food much more. When your digestive system and physical health is good, you enjoy things more.
What do you like most about ZUM?
I love ZUM because of the trainers. It’s a great place to workout because it’s not packed with people all the time. There’s lots of classes going on. I’m not a class person myself, but everyone is different. And everyone at ZUM is so friendly and happy to help.
What would you say to someone who is new to ZUM or thinking about joining?
It’s the best gym and workout space I’ve ever come across. Bar none. The environment is fantastic. The equipment is fantastic. It’s clean – the locker room is fantastic. The trainers are great, the classes are great. And there’s no pressure here. It’s not a meat market. People get along with one another and they’re very helpful. Really what more can you ask for?
Before we go into my usual “get to know you” questions, I’d love to hear more about your soccer experience! How long did you play? What position? What’s at the root of your passion?
I played from about 6 years old until I was 55. I grew up playing with the Brazilian, Peruvian, and Argentinian players in Bethesda, Maryland. It was such a unique situation because they were these amazing guys who had soccer in their blood. It was all about the joy of touching the ball, the joy of rolling the ball, making beautiful plays, not about scoring.
I played left back for the Brazilian Embassy team. Then I joined the Jamacian Nats and played left wing. I was a sprinter, so I was always fast and loved being able to cover the field. One time during a game, we had a counter attack against the other team and broke on a fast break and one of my guys carried the ball and shot. He beat the goal keeper, but the ball hit the post, but I was there when it rebounded and tapped the ball in. The goal keeper was like “where did he come from?” I sprinted 80 meters on this counter attack. I really did come out of now where. I had the speed and stamina.
That’s awesome! What’s a fun fact about you that we might not know?
Ha! There are so many!
I used to have long hair down to the middle of my back. I was a hippie. I wore sandals – even in the winter.
Another fun fact is at one point of my life I was making pottery – functional clay.
I have an edible garden. I grow a lot of my own vegetables. I love flowers. I just planted two flowering quinces a week ago. I got that from my mom. She always loved flowers and food, so I learned that from my mom – eat good food; eat the freshest food that you can buy – not too much. Get the best food, the best ingredients you can buy.
I’ve traveled a lot. I loved Spain – Catalonia, Barcelona, the Basque region. I also love taking road trips to National Parks in the US. They are treasures. This fall I I drove down to Yosemite to spread some of Essie’s ashes.
I know a lot about Washington wines and have a lot of wine-maker friends. My favorite is Cayuse. It’s outstanding.
My favorite restaurant is Tarzan and Jane. It’s a Spanish restaurant in Fremont and the chef is from Valencia. It’s the only restaurant I will go to at the drop of a hat. The chef is the best in Seattle bar none. It’s incredible.
I love food. I love wine. I love life. Live life.
It certainly appears so! Usually I ask about a guilty pleasure, but I get the feeling guilt is not really in your vocabulary. Is there anything you consider a guilty pleasure?
No, everything is a pleasure. I don’t have guilt. So many people live their lives with guilt. A Tibetan monk said “the life we live, we borrow this life, make the best of it.” He also said “the minute you’re born, is the minute you start to die.” It’s true! It’s not how long you live, it’s how you live your life. It’s profound. You can be scared, but death is inevitable. It’s the journey between. What do you do with your life? How do you live your life? For me, you try to live a decent life – not deliberately hurt anyone, but if you do, you recognize it and stand up and apologize – and you do that without guilt. You just remedy it the best you can.
You strike me as someone who doesn’t watch a lot of tv or movies. Do you have any favorites?
I don’t watch tv, no.
But a movie that really spoke to me was Wings of Desire. It’s incredible. It’s a story about an angel who was banished to Earth and fell in love with a circus performer. As an angel he had felt nothing, but as a human being he could feel. He stood there in the rain, felt the rain on his face, and realized this is what it’s like to be human. He wanted to remain human – to see the sunrise, feel the breeze on his face. It’s such an affirmation of life. He could live forever as an angel, but he didn’t want to because he wanted to live a life where he could feel. For me, that movie is an affirmation of life. It effected me profoundly.
Favorite music or artist?
Coltrane, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Bucky Hill, Archie Schepp – jazz. But I listen to everything – hiphop, Lady Gaga, everything.
Favorite book? Or something you’re currently reading?
The Encyclopedia of Wines – hahahaha.
You don’t take ZUM classes, so you probably don’t have a favorite, huh?
I used to take classes a long time ago. I’m not a class person, but I loved Yamuna.
Do you have a favorite movement?
I think my favorite is the cross body stretch.
I feel you’ve already given us some pretty profound thoughts, but do you have any final thoughts for us? Although, taking a page from your book, I suppose thoughts are never really final, rather always evolving.
Yeah! Thoughts are kind of like a compost pile. You keep on adding stuff to your mind and it keeps fermenting and good stuff comes out. I love information. I absorb it and it’s in the brain somewhere and eventually it comes out. Germination. For me that’s creativity. As an architect, that’s how my brain works. It’s a compost pile – throw stuff in there and eventually things start clicking.