Shiao-Yu Li has been a pioneer triathlon star in Taiwan and now there is a 21-year-old woman following in her footsteps.
Chia Chia Chang had a competitive breakthrough October 16 when she finished 5th elite woman at Ironman 70.3 Hefei. There she finished in 4:31:22, just 17:32 behind winner Radka Vodickova of the Czech Republic and 7:17 behind 4th place Parys Edwards of Great Britain. While Chia Chia almost always finishes 1st or 2nd at local Taiwan races, this was one of her first encounters with established stars.
The next weekend she had not fully recovered when she raced the Tongyeong World Cup sprint distance event and finished 40th – just another learning experience on the road to her dream of making a career in triathlon.
Because Chia Chia is not fluent in English, this interview was assisted by sponsor Henry Hsieh of KHS Bicycles in Taiwan.
Slowtwitch: Tell us about yourself.
Chia Chia Chang: I am 21 years old and am currently attending the University of Tapei.
ST: Tell us about your father and mother, brother and sister.
Chia Chia: My father Chang Shen Kai was a professional cyclist who had once been Champion of Asia Cup. After his racing career, he created a bicycle brand call CSK. He met my mother, Chang Mei Hua, who volunteered at a race. Now she is our support volunteer at the races we are attending!
My younger sister, Ting Ting, is 18 years old. She took 1st place female in time trial and 2nd place at the individual road race at the 2016 Asia Cycling Championship. We compete against one another in triathlon, but we have a friendly competitive relationship. Overall, I am better at swimming while she is better at running.
My brother Chia Hao Chang is 16 years old, but he is already beating both my sister and I in triathlon. At Ironman 70.3 Taiwan in 2015, he finished 8th against international stars in 3:54:14 - the best result for Taiwanese.
ST: What sports did you play at first?
Chia Chia: I started swimming in 3rd grade. I also ran track and took 1st place in my age group in the Taipei Cup in 6th grade.
ST: What led you to triathlon?
Chia Chia: Dad always wanted his three kids to race cycling, because that's what he did and knows best. But he also thought it would be dangerous to start bicycle racing too young because of pack-riding crash risk. So we swam and ran while in elementary school. When we were slightly older, my dad was training us in cycling. In 2009, when I was in 9th grade, triathlon started to become popular in Taiwan and a friend told me he was participating in one. I thought it would be fun so I asked my dad to sign me up for the kids sprint race. He thought, “She already knew all the sports, so why not?” So my sister and I entered, and I took first place!
ST: What knowledge of the sport of triathlon did your father bring to your development in triathlon?
Chia Chia: His knowledge was mostly in cycling and a little on running. However, he brought the experience of how to be an athlete and the discipline of athletic training to us. He also saw the potential in all three of his children. So he sacrificed his business and dedicated his energy to train us. However, I also understand that there are not many parents willing to support their kids taking up an athletic career, especially in Taiwan. Therefore, I could not achieve where I am without the support and sacrifice and dedication of my dad, my mom and the rest of the family.
ST: Where and when was your first triathlon?
Chia Chia: Yilan – a kids sprint race in 2009.
ST: Tell us about that race.
Chia Chia: I only remember that it was very tiring, but it had a nice cash award. I think it was about US $300, which was a large sum for me and encouraged me to continue.
ST: How did you do?
Chia Chia: I won the female middle school age group.
ST: How did that race make you feel?
Chia Chia: It changed my view on racing. I realized that there is a possibility of a life of triathlon racing.
ST: Have you had any setbacks of challenges - illness or injury or other circumstances - which you had to overcome?
Chia Chia: I broke three teeth when I first started training to ride, but it did not make me give up because of fear. I thought if I choose to give up this time, I will have wasted three teeth. So I chose to continue to train and I told myself to get stronger.
ST: How did you combine your work in school and your triathlon training?
Chia Chia: When I was in high school, I was caught in a rebellious phase. I did not want to train and I hated this sport. So I changed school. At the new school Song Shan High School of Commerce and Home Economics, I encountered a new teacher Hsin Fang Hsieh who has been in love with this sport and who enlightened me a lot and I grew to love triathlon.
ST: What words of encouragement did she offer you?
Chia Chia: She told me that I am very qualified, I should lead this team to move forward together rather than give up the lead, so I think I have to work hard to live up to her words.
ST: As you started doing more triathlons, were there any triathletes you admired and why?
Chia Chia: After high school, when I started at the University of Tapei, my university's team coach Wei Chan Chen was the triathlete I admired so much because he keeps learning and still has good results!
ST: Which member of your family inspires you in triathlon?
Chia Chia: My sister inspires me the most, she and I grew up together, eat together, train, and we are most alike in our love of the sport.
ST: What other training partners have encouraged you?
Chia Chia: My boyfriend Lee Yu Ren gave me the most encouragement. I often have been tired, want to rest and give up. But he always insisted I complete the workouts. He made me feel better when from time to time I lost the passion.
ST: As you started doing more triathlons, were there any famous triathletes you admired?
Chia Chia: Sorry, I don't know of many. Because our English is not very good and we were so focused on training we haven't really looked at international news. Oh wait, 2008 Beijing Olympic female gold medalist Emma Snowsill visited Taiwan last year at the Yilan Triathlon Championship. She is an inspiration. Looking at her results showed me where I need to be.
ST: When did you realize you were good at this sport?
Chia Chia: Because my father always asks us to do better, I do not think I am very good yet. But I am encouraged by some results. At the 2013 Taiwan National Games, when I was 18 years old, I took first female, beating more experienced athletes. I have won this event 3 years in a row now.
ST: What breakthrough performance made you think you might be successful at an international level?
Chia Chia: I am still a student now, so can't take too much time off to race abroad. However, in 99 percent of domestic races, I get either 1st or 2nd while sometimes losing to my sister. After graduation, I will participate in more international events.
ST: Tell us about your 5th place finish at Hefei 70.3 where you competed with international pros like Radka Vodickova, Emma Pallant, and Parys Edwards. Did they say anything to you?
Chia Chia: In fact, this was the first time I had been so close to these pros. So I really don't know any of them... I think they don't know me too... haha. So I don't know what they think about me.
ST: Why did you do so well?
Chia Chia: I think my finish was the result of my long-term efforts. My father was very surprised, but he is the man who is not satisfied! So I need to training more and getting stronger - but I really enjoy all of this!
ST:Tell us about your ITU race at Tongyeong.
Chia Chia: For the Tongyeong race, my dad and I knew going in that I was going to be tired and wasn't going to do my best because I raced a 70.3 event the week before.
ST: Do you see your future more at 70.3s or sprint and Olympic distance?
Chia Chia: I consider myself to be more of a longer distance endurance athlete. I will be more focused on 70.3 in the future, but will still participate in sprint and Olympic distances at home.
ST: What do you study in college?
Chia Chia: I am majoring in athletic training - sports psychology, physiology, focused on water sports. This major allows me to expand my knowledge on all aspects of sports training.
ST: Which discipline of triathlon is your best?
Chia Chia: Swimming because I started competitive swimming at 3rd grade. I am also very strong cyclist because of my dad's training regimen.
ST: What about running?
Chia Chia: Running is the most difficult for me because of my build - I am more muscular than most females. In addition my recent injuries forced me to reduce training and [I] gained some weight. However, I am more recovered now from my injuries so should be able to improve my run times this coming year.
ST: When might you turn pro?
Chia Chia: My dad and I have an agreement. When I can break 4:20 in a 70.3 then I'll have a chance to be a pro. Anything below that wouldn't make sense.
ST:What are your dreams in triathlon?
Chia Chia: I want to compete in the 2020 Olympics and win gold!
ST: Have you had any setbacks recently that you had to overcome?
Chia Chia: I had a weight training injury to my gluteus, which kept me from training fully this past year. It's getting better so next year I should be fully recovered.
Last year at Chengdu ITU World Cup, because it was first time I travel abroad without my siblings and maybe because of added pressure at an international race, I got acute cholecystitis and a doctor told me I couldn't race. However, I recovered very quickly. This year, I have participated in more international events, so hopefully I am ready to reach my potential.
ST: How have the Asian Triathlon Confederation (ASTC) and the Chinese Tapei Triathlon Association (CTTA) helped you develop your talents?
Chia Chia: I was the first ITU recognized athlete from Taiwan, thanks to Taiwan triathlon's support. This year, they have supported me in going to Asia Cup, Championships and a World Cup. They gave me a lot of opportunities to go abroad to race, so I was able to see the strength of foreign players. But that also let me know my weaknesses and I became more and more aware of the need to strengthen.
ST: What have sponsors done to assist your career?
Chia Chia: I want to highlight Wellgo for their superior pedals and financial support in many triathlon races in Taiwan, KHS for their carbon road bikes and parts and financial support in road and triathlon races in Taiwan and abroad, CPC for their contribution in free gas that my dad use while training us, and Car-Plus car rental for lending a vehicle for us to use.
Photos courtesy of Chang family