As the adage goes, don’t judge a book by its cover.
Each chapter in Linda Nguyen’s life may take you — and even herself — by surprise.
She’s a personal trainer, former contemporary dancer, business owner and a competitive powerlifter.
This energetic 28-year-old, with a dusting of freckles on her nose, an easy smile, painted nails, ready-for-work in leggings and a hoodie, wears confidence with grace.
She spent her early years in Vancouver where she was raised by her mother, Pam, who came to Canada as a refugee.
“My mom had moved here when she was 21 from Vietnam, three months in a boat and six months in two refugee camps. It took her a lot to get here,” Nguyen said. Pam learned English through TV programs and worked hard to build a life for her family. Then, Pam met Paul Cox (the locally famous singer and drummer in Triple Bypass) at hairdressing school. When Cox found a job in Prince Rupert, Pam and the children moved to the North Coast with him. Nguyen was seven at the time.
In Prince Rupert, Nguyen joined the Dance Academy where she competed three times a year. She picked up an ambitious work ethic from her mom and had her first job by the time she turned 12. At 17 she had three jobs; serving, working in a jewellery store and teaching dance.
After graduation, she moved back to Vancouver and danced for a contemporary dance company. She performed in shows, events and took on another serving job. Constantly on her feet, Nguyen over-worked her body and ended up with a tibia fracture in both legs. The dance company dropped her.
“It was a whole, okay, I need to figure out something a little more sustainable,” she said and a new chapter began. Nguyen moved back to Prince Rupert and spent the next year-and-a-half serving and taking courses to become a certified personal trainer.
At the time, there were no training studios or big gyms where she could work. A friend told her about Hecate Straight Employment, which offered a sizeable grant and step-by-step support to open her own personal training business.
“I just did it for a year to pay the bills and it just totally took off,” she said. She’s been busy ever since. One year turned into seven. Now, she’s the business owner of Pinnacle Performance, a personal training and group fitness facility that allows her to be her own boss, set her own hours and build relationships with clients.
“I guess my biggest achievement would be this business. Going from something that I thought would be a part-time job to help pay bills to a career. I didn’t really think that was going to happen.”
Still young, Nguyen continues to raise the bar and sets new standards for herself. Recently, a friend introduced her to powerlifting. “She said to give it a try, you’re kind of strong. So I said, why not. So I just got into it.”
Powerlifting involves squats, the bench press and the dead lift. Nguyen trained for four months straight and last October she travelled to Abbotsford to compete in the Fall Classic.
“I got there and I saw all these chicks. Some of them had just gotten out of prison and some of them were in the army and they had shaved heads and neck tattoos. They were tough looking girls. I go there and I’m wearing pink Lulu. I’m like, oh my God, what am I doing,” Nguyen said.
Despite her competitive spirit and training she misjudged herself. Nguyen placed first in her weight class and ended up tying the provincial squat record. At her personal best this seemingly petite woman can squat 245 lb, dead lift 300 lb and bench press 135 lb.
It wasn’t until after the competition that Nguyen found out about tying the record. She was two kilograms from setting a new squat record.
“I kind of want to go back for it. That’s just another goal, another reason. I will go back just to break that because now I’m kind of hungry for it.”
Nguyen is living proof that women who lift don’t necessarily get bulky and that it’s just a myth. She stresses that women shouldn’t be afraid of lifting.
Rupert is where she plans to stay to grow her business. It’s a place where she doesn’t have to wait in traffic or in lines, where she can enjoy the laid back pace of life and continue to be empowered by her own unexpected strengths.