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Breaking Barriers

Giant ambassador Yu Hsiao is winning pro triathlons, setting new records, and changing people’s perceptions—all while working full-time as a Silicon Valley engineer

Giant triathlete Yu Hsiao training on his Trinity Advanced Pro bike near his home in California

Chris Milliman photo

When Giant ambassador Yu Hsiao won his first Ironman 70.3 race in Taiwan last year it was a homecoming of sorts. He was returning to his childhood home for the biggest race of his life.
 
But like most things in 2020, that trip was far from normal. Due to the global pandemic, Yu had to follow strict COVID-19 protocols. After arriving in Taiwan, he was required to quarantine in a hotel for 14 days without going outside—and the whole time he was never sure that the race would happen.
 
In the end, the race was held, and Yu accomplished what he set out to do. He won Ironman 70.3 Taiwan and broke the Taiwanese record time for that distance by 2 seconds. That was last September. In April of this year, Yu scored another major victory, winning again in Taiwan at the 2021 Ironman 70.3 Kenting event.
 
Those two victories have given Yu a big following in Taiwan, and the most astonishing part of his story is that he has done all this while holding a full-time job as a mechanical engineer in California’s Silicon Valley.

SINK OR SWIM

Yu’s journey to becoming a two-time Ironman 70.3 champion in Taiwan starts with his dad bringing the family to California in 1990 while he earned a master’s degree at Santa Clara University. Yu was just a year old at the time. Once his dad completed his degree, the family returned to Taiwan, where Yu spent most of his childhood. For the next 10 years, his parents always thought about returning to America. Then, when Yu was 11, his dad was offered a job back in California. They packed up and immigrated to the U.S. in 2001.
 
Looking back now, Yu remembers the initial struggles of trying to adapt to his new life. “The language barrier for us was tough, for me especially,” he says. “I remember my dad was too busy with work at the time, so he dropped me off at my middle school the first day of class like a dog. All the other parents took their kids in and helped them orient themselves before leaving, but it was sink or swim for me right from the start. Luckily, I was able to figure things out.”
 
Yu says coming of age in Silicon Valley helped shape him. “Outside of my college years at UCLA, I’ve lived in Cupertino since I was 11. It’s mainly known here as being home to Apple’s headquarters and having a very competitive high school. But there are also a ton of hilly roads for running and close access to great roads to ride like Old La Honda, Kings Mountain Road and Mount Umunhum.”
 
In fact, it was the pressure to earn good grades in school that helped Yu discover his passion for triathlon. “I always did terrible on written exams for physical education because I still hadn’t mastered English—and there was a ton of weird terminology I had to wrestle with. To make up for that, I had to do ‘lap derbies,’ which meant running laps on the track to earn extra credit. At first, I’d just walk and run like most of the other kids in class, but I eventually challenged myself to run non-stop. I got addicted to running, and also brought my PE grade up to an acceptable level.”
 
So, of triathlon’s three disciplines, running was Yu’s first love. “It’s still my strength because I’ve been doing it the longest and I have the most experience refining my technique. I’m still trying to improve my bike and swim—especially swimming as feel for the water is the most difficult to master.”
 
Yu entered his first triathlon when he was attending UCLA college in Los Angeles. It was a sprint distance event, and he ended up winning his age group. “I just remember racing in a Speedo and biking all out to try and keep up. It taught me that I can go harder on the bike than I thought I could.”
 
After graduating from UCLA, Yu continued to compete, climbing through the ranks to reach the elite level of triathlon. Propelled by determination and grit, he has always shown a never-quit attitude. One example of this came at the 2014 Ironman 70.3 Vineman race in California. He crashed on his bike 20 miles in, suffering lacerations to his knee. Refusing to drop out, Yu fought on and ended up finishing in the top-10.

Giant-sponsored triathlete Yu Hsiao

Chris Milliman photos

FINDING BALANCE

Many people are surprised to learn that, to this day, Yu continues to work full-time, balancing his career as a mechanical design engineer with his triathlon goals. Doing so requires discipline and commitment. A typical day for Yu includes waking up early to ride before work, fitting in workouts at lunch, then again in the evening.
 
“Mornings between 6 and 9 a.m. are the most productive time to train for me, and also the longest block of time I have in my day,” he says. “That’s why I ride my bike mostly in the mornings, it’s the most time-consuming sport. Making use of lunchtime is helpful, and I usually eat afterward while working. It also breaks up the workday and gives me more energy for the afternoon.”
 
Here’s what a typical training week looks like for Yu:
 
MONDAY: Bike 90-120 minutes before work, swim at lunch
TUESDAY: Longer bike ride (2-3 hours) before work, brick run (2-4 miles) at lunch. Run or bike 1 hour after work.
WEDNESDAY: 12-15 mile run before work, swim at lunch
THURSDAY: Bike 90-120 minutes before work, swim at lunch
FRIDAY: Bike 90-120 minutes before work, run at lunch. Acupuncture after work
SATURDAY: Swim before breakfast, 3-6 hour bike ride, 30-60 minute brick run
SUNDAY: Long run (15-25 miles), easy swim in the afternoon
 
When you’re racing against professionals, the best of the best in the sport, there are no shortcuts to success. Yu must carefully plan his days to get the most out of them.
 
“I find ways to steal time,” he says. “Things like microwaving my oatmeal and taking a shower at the same time in the morning. Or icing my legs during my drive to work. Wearing my swimsuit underneath my work clothes so I don’t have to change when I get to the pool. I have to be really good about doing laundry and organizing all my gear. I line up cycling kits so I don’t have to waste time looking for a pair of socks. It’s important to have the routine down so there’s no pause between waking up, working out and going to work.”
 
It’s not easy, but it works. Yu’s two Ironman 70.3 victories in Taiwan are proof of that, and his achievements inspire a growing legion of fans. Knowing this helps keep him going.
 
“In Taiwan, doing sports at a high level used to be looked at as a very dedicated and professional endeavor that required you to have no room for anything else,” he says. “But I hope I’m showing that you can still work hard in school, have a good career, and excel at sports. It’s great hearing fans tell me that I’ve changed their perspective about this. Some have mentioned that they’re shocked that some ordinary person like me can compete with professionals around the world. I didn’t have any specialized, professional sports background growing up, so it inspires them to push their limits and find out what is really possible.”

Yu Hsiao training at home in California on his Giant Trinity Advanced Pro bike

Chris Milliman photo

PROVING WHAT’S POSSIBLE

While Yu has certainly made a name for himself in his birth country, he’s also inspiring people in a different way in his own community. Traditionally, triathlon in the U.S. has been seen as less diverse than other major American sports like football, baseball and basketball, and even other Olympic sports like track and field. Yu hopes his story can help change that.
 
“From my personal experience, it’s not that triathlon in general isn’t inclusive or welcoming,” Yu says. “I find quite the opposite. Most of my mentors are white and they’ve always been very encouraging and supportive. I think the conflict sometimes comes internally from my own community—whether it’s my own fears and insecurities, or growing up hearing family friends tell me as an Asian person it’s probably best to do what we’re ‘usually’ good at like math, engineering, stereotypical things. It’s almost like we put limitations on ourselves before we even start.”
 
When asked, Yu says he does not see himself as a role model. But it’s also clear to see that changing people’s perceptions and showing what is possible is fuel for him.
 
“I’ve competed in triathlons mostly because it’s a fun process to push my own limits, but also to show that it is possible to do what you love at a high level and still balance all the other things in life,” he says. “I hope that my representation in the sport can inspire more kids out there that might have similar doubts that I had and been told they can’t do it. I hope they can see that if I’ve come this far, they can for sure go much farther. If more of us come and join the party, it will only help make our sport even more beautiful than it already is.”