By GARY KINGSTON
Once known as an entertaining cut up for his YouTube videos in which he’d pull pranks or hilariously portray an Asian gangster, Ryan Cheng now is tackling a serious hurdle -- trying to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
The 2008 B.C. high school hurdles champion from Vancouver quit track for an eight years period after a dismal Canadian junior championship. While also feeling pressure to figure out a career path, he took marketing classes at BCIT and focused on building a considerable reputation as online “influencer” Chengman, a social media personality posting to YouTube and Instagram accounts.
At his peak, he had a stunning 250,000 subscribers, was racking up 38 million views and was making a pretty good living. Note Chengman Youtube here
But he still felt the pull of competing. After coming across some hurdles while running one day, he realized he still had a passion for track.
So, a year ago, he returned to the sport, determined, he says, to reach his full potential as an athlete. And to promote track and field and entertain his followers by producing Vlogs (video logs) documenting his training while also providing useful information on lifestyle and fitness.
He would no longer be Boss Nguyen, running with his “boys” at the gym, at the car wash and at the club. And he wouldn’t be stripping to his speedo inside mall stores and gyrating wildly before being chased out by security.
The focus now would be on the value of proper nutrition, providing running tips and chronicling his Olympic journey, albeit while still maintaining some Chengman humor.
“Obviously, as I’ve transitioned into fitness, athletics and a new lifestyle, some of the people who followed me before aren’t interested, which is fine,” says the 27-year-old Cheng, who will run the 60-metre hurdles and 60-metre sprint on Feb. 3 at the Harry Jerome Indoor track meet at the Richmond Olympic Oval.
“But I’m making videos for people who love what I do. People email me to tell me that because of what I do, it’s pushing them to enjoy a healthy lifestyle, to start exercising. The feedback is giving me the motivation to continue making these videos.”
The return to track and field hasn’t been easy, though.
“The first three months was really tough,” says Cheng.
“I hadn’t sprinted or done any intense training for years and the first three months I was always coming in last in practices with my training group (with the Vancouver Thunderbirds track club). But I stuck to it and persevered.”
“I went through a lot of ups and downs. I got three to four minor injuries that completely took me out of practice. It was so depressing and I got so discouraged because every single day is crucial when you’re 1,000 days to 2020. But I just kept reminding myself what my goal was. I visualize that every single day and it gives that motivation to start my day and it fuels my passion and hunger to get better.”
He’s ranked 23rd outdoors in Canada with a personal best of 14.98 and 15th indoor with a personal best of 8.48 seconds in the 60-metre hurdles. He’ll need to cut a full second-and-a-half off that outdoor time to be in the hunt for an Olympic berth in 2020.
Cheng is confident he’s got what it takes to improve.
“My speed is fine. The No. 1 thing hindering me from runner faster is actually my technique. I was scared to really tackle these hurdles. It’s a very aggressive event and in order to maintain your momentum and carry you through the entire race, you have to lean forward.
“Last year, I was sitting back. I was too upright going over the hurdles. This winter, my coach and I have been working on really attacking, trying to throw myself into this and not be so scared. The last few practices, it feels amazing. I’m flying over these things, finally getting over that fear of attacking these hurdles. I’m very hopeful and optimistic that I will be very close to the goal this season of an 8/10ths of a second improvement.”
Cheng’s Vlogs (video logs) are quality productions with content that is very much reflective of his fun-loving character.
Last December, he teamed up with Hyundai Canada and the company’s #spreadthewarmth campaign. He and a couple of friends drove around Vancouver in a festively outfitted Hyundai Santa Fe XL, stopping runners on the Stanley Park Seawall and Jericho Beach and handing out $1,000 worth of toques, headbands, neck warmers, gloves and leg warmers. Hyundai also provided Cheng with another $2,000 to outfit two developmental Thunderbird athletes in track outfits and sneakers and to cover their 2018 club membership fees.
Cheng had some deals with a couple of other companies to promote their brands on his Vlogs, including one with TELUS designed to drive traffic to its holiday gift guide.
“A lot of these deals extend from agencies that approach me. They look for what type of influencer matches with the values of their client. Now, whenever they need someone in fitness, they know I can have a big impact on people.”
While he’s gone more mainstream now with Vlogs and no longer satirizes Asian gangsters, we wondered if those videos ever got him into trouble?
“So there was a rumor that I stopped doing them because people wanted to beat me up, where threatening me. It’s funny, it was the total opposite,” he says with a laugh “I’d be downtown and bump into some gangsters and they’d tell me they loved the videos. They’d say ‘if anybody is messing with you, let me know and I’ll beat them up.’”