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Fit & Fab: Judy Vas

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 June, 2014, 10:49am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 October, 2014, 11:56am

Before Judy Vas became one of Asia's most successful women in financial compliance - and even before she was a senior investigator tackling white-collar crime at the Securities and Futures Commission - she was a Hong Kong policewoman. A daily regime of running and swimming helped her maintain a healthy body - and an even stronger mind - to deal with the rigours of fighting crime in Hong Kong.

"In my [police] days, we did all kinds of exercise like self defence and drills. They might give you a tree trunk to pick up in teams. Or you'd be running up hills with extra weight on your back," she says.

"During training, they'd just pick you up on a helicopter and drop you somewhere in Sai Kung and say, 'Make your way back.' We only had a radio, a bottle of water and a few packets of instant noodles."

In 1997, she suffered from Hodgkin's lymphoma and braved rounds of radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Throughout the ordeal, she continued to work and eventually made a full recovery.

"Life went on," she says. "It kept me sane."

And just as she'd thought she had been through it all, four years ago Vas discovered she had breast cancer. Surgery revealed further tumours. With a strong faith and an even stronger mind, she endured once again.

Although her circumstances have changed, her regimen has not. The current head of Ernst & Young's Asia-Pacific regulatory division for financial services, Vas prides herself on making time daily to exercise.

These days she jogs with her dog, swims and goes to the gym. At the weekends she enjoys horse riding at Sheung Shui.

The 53-year-old mother of two claims it's her healthy approach to life that has laid the foundation for all the successes that followed.

"When you exercise, when you push yourself, you develop not just physical strength, but also mental strength. That helps you to overcome your problems. It shows you that when you take one step at a time you'll get to where you need to go.

"I still like to push myself these days, but I don't want to have to any more," she says. "However, I still like it when a gym instructor gradually takes you to the point where you're really killing yourself. When I look at others struggling I tell myself I can do it."

What's a lasting memory from your police training experience?

One instructor took us to Lion Rock, threw down a rope and told us to climb up. That's when you say to yourself, "Figure it out." We looked for ledges and little protruding rocks, and then we started to climb. When you have no other way, you just have to find one.

We were always given tasks like this, some that we could not accomplish. But it's not about completing it. It's about looking at it head on, planning and being nice to those around you, even in defeat.

In your experience leading teams, could you see the difference between those with an exercise regimen and those without?

Absolutely. I know for myself that my mind is clearer after exercise. You can actually work better and more effectively.

The sad thing is I've seen many juniors over the years who've been unable to manage the work-exercise balance - they think they can't take a slightly longer lunch break to fit it in.

I've always encouraged people to be more flexible, to get out and do some exercise and make up work later.

What do you believe is the most important ingredient for leading a good life?

Positivity. You have to look for the small things to appreciate. Don't get hung up about losing something - you may lose a tree but you have a forest. When you step further, you can see more. It all starts in the mind.

What stands out most from your cancer experience?

Now I understand how sick people feel. These days, I work in the church to pray for the sick and I understand how they feel and what they need. They don't need another person crying or being sad; they need someone to be perky and positive. Pain drags you down; it is something that seemingly no one can share with you. But if you have someone standing next to you saying, "I understand how you feel", it can help a lot.

Do you count yourself as lucky?

I think everyone is given opportunities. Some people may look at an opportunity and say it is too difficult, or too small, or they are not interested. But when opportunity comes, just do the best you can. Give life a try.