The Ironman Dream of Uncle Yee

16 July 2018

Malaysia’s oldest Ironman continues to push the limits of age and human endurance, inspiring others along the way.

At 81 years of age, most would give themselves permission to enjoy a relaxing retirement. Not Yee Sze Mun. Unlike most octogenarians, he’s as active as ever. Why? In his own words, “The dream is that there is potential in me to better myself.”

Yee Sze Mun, known affectionately as Uncle Yee, is Malaysia’s oldest Ironman. In the last 23 years, he has completed the Ironman triathalon several times: a feat of endurance which involves swimming, biking and running over a collective distance of more than 200km.

Uncle Yee posing with his medals and memorabilia from various races at his home. He is proudly wearing a jersey from the most recent half-Ironman (now known as Ironman 70.3) in Sri Lanka in February 2018.

With his boundless energy and spirit, Uncle Yee continues to defy the notion that with age one naturally becomes slow. “I had my personal best Ironman at age 72 finishing in 14 hours and 46 minutes; proof that you can improve with age. My first Ironman was in Hawaii. At 58 years old, I finished in 16 hours 37 minutes.”

Uncle Yee’s enthusiastic demeanour and pure passion is infectious. He is brimming full of stories from his 16 full Ironman races and over 150 triathlons. He even wrote and published a book in 2016, titled The Bumble Bee in Me: Living the Ironman Dream.

Since the release of his book, Uncle Yee has continued on his personal journey of self-improvement and exploration. In the last two years, he met with an accident while riding his motorbike in Malaysia, which added to his various age-related aches and pains. While his doctor advised him to slow down, Uncle Yee continues to participate in at least four races a year, a little less than his usual 10. Despite these hurdles he continues to look forward.


“Luckily, I found my last chance salon,” he chuckles, referring to two young physiotherapists and trainers who have agreed to take him on as a client despite his age. He explains that at his age it is difficult to find trainers who are willing to work with him because very little is known about how extreme races like the Ironman impact someone who is as advanced in age as he is, and even less is known about how to help train someone who is their eighties.

Uncle Yee started off 2018 with a half Ironman race in Sri Lanka in February, and is training to prepare for another half Ironman race in Vietnam in mid-May. In preparation for a full Ironman he trains 18 hours a week whereas he used to train for 20 hours a week. “I have to cut it down because you cannot fight father time, my body just cannot take it.”

But while he accepts that he may just be getting old, he does not plan to stop. He says he will keep racing because he simply enjoys it: “I don’t even rush, I enjoy.  Whatever you do you must enjoy. I don’t care how much time, and how much money I spend on it. If I look in the mirror and ask myself have I done my best, if the answer is yes the outcome is immaterial.”

As Uncle Yee continues his personal journey to better himself, he inspires along the way. He shares the story of meeting a lady in her forties during a book signing. “This lady said she needed some advice – she had participated in this race twice before and failed both times. To me it was simple. She didn’t make it the last two times and yet she was there again. Why? Simple: she was committed. So, I told her I would wait for her at the end of the race.” He pauses, laughs again, and adds: “And sure enough she finished earlier than me and she waited for me instead!”

His final parting words? “No matter what happens, don’t ever give up! If you give up, then game over.”

By Tamanna Patel
Photos by Teoh Eng Hooi

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