Before I Was Boss: Car accidents inspired couple to help others in pain

PHOTO: AsiaOne

At the age of 19 and in the prime of his life, Evans Wu, now 28, never thought that a car accident would soon leave him crippled and unable to walk for nine months.

The NSman had been training for a triathlon in 2008 when his bicycle collided with the back of a car, leaving him with head, shoulder, forearm, and knee injuries.

Then seven years later in 2015, his then-girlfriend Valerie Low, now 32, was also involved in a car accident which left her in agony.

But it was their recovery process that helped shape a fitness studio they founded to assist others who are also living with pain.

Road to recovery

The road to recovery post-accident was a difficult one for Wu.

He ate instant noodles - the only food he could taste because the crash robbed him of his sense of smell - for two months, and put on 10kg. The weight gain motivated him to get back in shape, Wu said.

However, he found that he was not responding well to training despite his previous knowledge and experience as an athlete.

Determined to get back on his feet, Wu said that he started to research on the most effective way to train as well as the impact of food on the body.

Watching his cat Sophie leap nearly seven times her body height one day inspired him to delve deeper into bodyweight training.

A trainee working on his moves in the studio.Photo: The Brave Shapes

It took him about a year to come up with a sustainable training programme which allowed him to gradually build strength using his body weight and minimal equipment.

With this new method, Wu said he brought his body back to "a decent level of fitness" two years after the accident.

The former athlete put it to the test when he took part in a triathlon again in 2010, and was surprised to learn that he had beaten his personal best from before he was involved in the car accident.

Lending a helping hand

Over the next few years, Wu continued to refine the training programme but kept it to himself.

That was until his girlfriend, Low, needed help with her recovery from whiplash caused by a car accident in January 2015.

While recuperating, Low was unable to move from the pain. The strong painkillers she was taking also increased her appetite and made her gain weight.

"It was the moment where you look into the mirror and you get a shock," she said.

Desperate to lose weight, Low was about to try out a strenuous 12-week workout that promised fast results when Wu warned her of the risk of re-injury.

So, she challenged him to design a better training programme for her.

Taking Low's injury and other conditions such as a slipped disc and eczema into consideration, he devised a gentle workout that she could easily do in her living room.

After weeks on the training programme, she started to shed pounds and grow stronger. It also motivated her to quit smoking and drinking, which would have hindered her recovery, she said.

Seeing that the regimen had worked well for the both of them, Wu and Low set up a fitness studio together in March 2015.

They named it The Brave Shapes, inspired by their own accidents that made them pluck up the courage to start over again, and how they wanted to help people of all shapes and sizes.

And the training programme Wu had created to help himself walk again eventually developed into 'Gravity Endurance Training' (GET) which is now used in their fitness classes.

Unlike gyms that promise trainees quick results through strenuous exercises based on the 'no pain, no gain' motto, the GET workout prioritises building strength steadily over the appearance of bulky muscles.

But why open a new boutique gym when there are other big players already in the market?

They wanted to provide those who are suffering from pain another solution other than therapy, surgery, or life-long medication, the couple said.

Overcoming challenges

When they first started running the business from Low's home, people told them they were crazy.

But they pushed through with it and invested about $15,000 in the venture, and Wu got himself certified as a trainer and sports nutritionist.

Another challenge they faced while running the business was clearing up the misconceptions their clients had about fitness and nutrition.

"As our methodology was (and still is) somewhat unorthodox, we had to slowly convince the new trainees that we could get them to hit their goals, in spite of not training to exhaustion till the end of each training session," they said.

Running a new business together also meant that the couple had to take on multiple roles and what they learnt from their tertiary education in journalism and film studies came in handy, Low said.

The duo made a good team, with Wu acting as the chief trainer in the studio while Low manages other aspects of the business such as copywriting and design work.

Their studio was supported by family and friends in the beginning. But their clientele started to grow through word of mouth after people saw the results of the training in the photos she had posted online.

Photo: The Brave Shapes

Today, The Brave Shapes has two studios, three trainers, and serves about 150 clients aged between 17 and 75, with the majority of their clients being seniors - an unexpected outcome.

The gentle, progressive nature of The Brave Shapes' training programme is suitable for these older trainees, they noted.

This gym located along Waterloo Street may also be the only one where a friendly cat or two - adopted by the couple - may join in on your workout.

When asked about their plans for the future, they said that they are looking to serve more seniors as they see the need to help Singapore's ageing population stay healthy.

Reflecting on how their lives have changed after the accidents, Wu said that he will never take his health and physical function for granted again, while Low shared that she has become much healthier and is now more in control of her own body.

Working together has also strengthened their relationship, she added. The pair got married last year.

And for those who are looking to start their own business, the couple have one important piece of advice to share: "Be brutal about hiring the right people in your company."

"If the person's core values do not jive with your company, you should cut them loose, because you are going to waste time trying to get them to be on your side."