When Pei Ling, Malaysia’s National Aerobics gymanstics champion, moved to Sydney, her experience of gay and lesbian people was limited to her father’s commentary that homosexuals were animals.

Three years on though, after fin-ding a second family at Bayswater Fitness gym, Ling has found a well of strength from being surrounded by proud and open individuals which is helping her push on to the World Championships in Moscow this December.

After achieving the greatest heights of aerobics competition in Malaysia, Ling moved to Australia to train with renowned coach Tim Crowe. She recalls her first meeting with him as being somewhat of a culture shock.

Tim is probably the gayest man I’ve ever met, Ling told SSO.

When I arrived in Sydney it was Mardi Gras and I had to go meet Tim where he worked in Surry Hills. There were all these men dressed in pink and I just thought, -˜What am I doing here?’ Coming from a very traditional family and homophobic background, I felt really uncomfortable. But Tim has just become my biggest role model.

He took me to his gym, Bayswater Fitness, and that’s where I’ve trained ever since.

The staff and members there have been incredible. They’ve supported me so much in my competition and I came to realise that a lot of the friendships I formed there were stronger than most of the friendships I had back home because everyone was so unashamed, either of their sexuality or about expressing themselves. It was also refreshing to train in an environment that wasn’t filled with buff, heterosexual men checking themselves out.

Ling said the people she has met at the gym have fast become her family, taking on various supportive roles in her life and goals.

I don’t have any family in Australia, so they have meant a lot to me, she said.

Whenever I don’t feel like training I ring them up and they just say, come in and have a chat, and I always end up training.

My Dad still has a big issue with it. He always asks me why I want to put myself in that situation and says that I’ll become like that.

I just think how shallow, because I know that they are not what he says they are at all.

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