There are many episodes in our lives that define us. For some, it’s a heartbreak, a career move, a new home, or a fortuitous meeting with a kindred spirit. For others, it’s as trivial as a show, a song, or a hobby.
In Valerie and Bebe Ding‘s case, the sisters behind the CruCycle and CruBox empire in Los Angeles and Singapore, it was their fitness regimes.
Valerie, Bebe, together with their brother, Calvin Ding, were born in Los Angeles. Their parents, however, brought them up in Singapore. When they turned 16, 12, and 15 respectively, their parents decided to relocate them to Los Angeles again.
“The reason why we moved to Los Angeles was because we were all so distracted,” laughs Bebe Ding. “We were actually in a local school here and we were at Zouk a bit too much! We were just going out a lot and school wasn’t a priority.”
Their parents’ decision to move them to a different environment to start afresh paid off. Instead of spending time at the clubs, the siblings found themselves in tennis courts, basketball courts, the rugby team, gyms, and boutique studios. “Because we lived in California in our later years of growing up, and California is such a healthy lifestyle city that you kind of grow into it, we became more active,” recounts Valerie Ding.
Valerie Ding herself played basketball, while her brother Calvin Ding played rugby and soccer. Bebe Ding was on the tennis team when she was in high school. Yet, those were the usual high school and college activities. It was never a priority in their lives — not until when they were in college.
“It never became a daily routine until I was in college and I felt like I needed it,” says Bebe Ding. “I was going through the usual college —”
“Mental breakdown slash I want to kill myself in school,” Valerie Ding chimes in.
So when the siblings travelled home to Singapore for vacations, they found themselves lost when it came to fitness. “Every time when I came back to Singapore, there wasn’t anything existing in the fitness world at that time. That’s why we began to wish, and wonder when we could do that here,” recounts Bebe Ding.
In 2014, the siblings launched CruCycle along Duxton Road, fuelling the nascent fitness industry that was just burgeoning. The siblings tended the concierge personally, while Bebe Ding led the spin classes herself.
It wasn’t soon after that the siblings decided to tap into another fitness trend. This time round, it was boxing. Fitness boxing studios were trending in Los Angeles back then. Yet, the siblings had more in mind. They wanted their boxing studio’s regime to be grounded in proper professional boxing foundations and techniques. They didn’t want their students to just be flailing their arms randomly at the sandbag.
It was to be called CruBox. The first location was set for Los Angeles’ trendy retail strip, Melrose Avenue.
So the sisters started searching around for a professional boxing trainer who was willing to design a programme for them. And they found Julian Chua, a professional boxing trainer based at Wild Card Boxing, a training club founded by the famed American boxer and trainer, Freddie Roach.
“When we walked into that gym, it was really intimidating for us,” recounts Valerie Ding. “Two petite Asian girls walking into a professional boxing gym with fighters. You know, they were real professional fighters. They were sparring, they were training, they were fighting — there was literally blood flying around and on the floor.”
The two of them approached them, telling them about their vision to open a boutique fitness boxing studio. “You know, I’m pretty sure half of them, in the beginning, were like, ‘Those two are kidding. They do not look like they are opening a boxing gym. This is going to be a joke,'” says Valerie Ding.
To prove their dedication, Bebe and Valerie Ding started training with them. “We were there three hours a day, probably six days a week,” recalls Bebe Ding. That went on for three months. They trained like professional fighters.
“And we became pretty good. We became real good, real quick,” Valerie Ding continues. Fighters who watched Bebe and Valerie train and grow were astounded. “There were definitely people in there saying, ‘Are those two fighters? What is happening here?’.”
It was a matter of respect. When the two ladies proved their dedication and commitment to this sport, they earned the fighters’ and trainers’ trust.
“I think that was the most important thing — for us to be respected in this sort of a world. Boxing is not fitness boxing. Boxing is a real sport. People die in the sport,” Valerie Ding continues.
The trainers eventually yielded to their dedication and helped them create a regime for CruBox. CruBox Los Angeles launched in 2017 while CruBox Singapore recently opened in January 2019. Both studios share a similar programme designed by Julian Chua. “He wanted to make sure that the foundation of our boxing programme reflected professional boxing,” Valerie Ding explains.
So today, be it in CruBox’s Los Angeles or Singapore studio, the instructor explains the reason behind every attack or defensive move. It’s not merely about burning calories, toning your bottoms, or getting a bikini-ready body. It’s about a real fight — guarding your face and ribs from the opponent’s attacks, and hijacking your opponent’s defence mechanism and attacking them at the right places.
In Singapore’s studio, the instructors come up to you before your sandbag, and start throwing calculated punches at you. You’re demanded to be fully focussed, to think on your feet, react fast, and defend yourself.
“Mental clarity,” says Bebe Ding. That was her greatest takeaway from her boxing training.
For her sister Valerie Ding, it was the sheer dedication, discipline and sacrifice she borrowed from the professional fighters.
And these are the values they want to impart to each of CruBox’s every student.
“We wanted it to be what it was for us. Especially for me personally, it just became my church. And I’m not religious at all,” says Bebe Ding. “It really did become my church — like, I needed it.”
When Bebe Ding walks into every CruBox class, “Nothing else matters at that moment. My phone’s in my locker. I’m being pushed. I get out of my mind and more into my body.” And when her body is exhausted, she tells herself one thing: “Giving up is not an option right now — because it is not.”
This is a mindset that she brings out of the studio, into her life. “It’s all mental. It is all mental,” she says. “Whatever you do physically — when you feel like you have zero left in your tank, you have 30 percent more mentally. And you just have to tap into that.”
As time goes by, you grow to be mentally stronger — and physically too.
“Physically, I am a lot stronger, I’m a lot more agile. I’m a lot more focussed,” says Bebe Ding. “I think the biggest thing for me is that — if I was walking down the street at night? I don’t feel scared.”
Before she could continue, her sister Valerie Ding cuts in and laughs, “Because she can beat someone up!”