A Higher Purpose: Marie Choo

by Susanah Cheok

The Audi Q3 personifies a style of functional intelligence that transforms and elevates the driving experience, to make it at once practical and ideal – perfectly versatile for any sort of family and adventure. The car of choice for luxury-loving, smart performers presents Marie Choo, a dog behaviorist-trainer and ultra-trail-running animal welfare advocate, who made bold changes in her career and personal life in order to become the best version of herself.

Deeply kind and fiercely loyal, Marie Choo is the quintessential “rebel with a (woofy) cause”. Make that a rebel with multi-hyphenate causes.

The retired marketing professional is now a dog behaviourist and trainer, as well as an ultra-trail runner – and she runs for a purpose: to raise funds and awareness for no-kill dog shelters. Pawsome purpose aside, this fitness enthusiast, with a voracious appetite for acquiring fitness-related skills, is also a certified trainer and brand ambassador for health and fitness marques such as Under Armour, Nuzest, Pure sports nutrition, SodaStream, and Essential Magnesium.

Part of why Marie courageously and astutely heeded the call for radical change in her life is that “I refuse to conform to stereotypes and society standards,” she says. She did not flinch when the discomfort and uncertainty of change loomed, but made bold strides to meet them.

To begin with, life would never have gone the conventional way for Marie. Says the steely over-achiever, “After graduating in fashion product management from university in London, I worked as a marketing professional in the luxury fashion and lifestyle industries, both as an executive and as the founder-owner of my own marketing agency. After I was introduced to the world of no-kill animal shelters and had a taste in helping marginalised dogs as a volunteer, I decided to give up a successful corporate life to pursue something more meaningful.”

Marie remembers wryly that “while running my own marketing agency was lucrative, the hectic, glamorous life came at the expense of my health. As much as I love the creative part of my job, the long hours and stress finally took a toll on me. At age 35, I had a health scare that made me change my life. It reminded me that I am not invincible and illnesses can strike anyone, anytime. It happened during my wedding and I had to put up a brave front to look like a happy bride, when in fact I was busy going for check-ups and preparing myself for surgery, which eventually took place after the wedding.”

Nearly losing her health became a catalyst for change, the defining moment for Marie – and that wake-up call forced her to take serious stock of what was truly important in her life, and also how she was going to pursue and preserve what truly matters to her. When Marie left marketing and PR, she never looked back, only forward, and found fulfilment and joy in working with one of her most beloved subjects – animals.

The resilient, relentless planner took that proverbial deep breath and found the courage to give up a stable and well-paying career to study dog behaviour and training, all the while also spending her days at the animal shelters to help other volunteers rehabilitate the shelter dogs. Marie truly traded her high heels for dog-walking shoes when she became the Dog Alchemist. When she isn’t helping the dogs at the shelters, she helps clients with pet dogs that display behavioural issues.

She remembers, “As a rookie with lots of passion but not much experience in the dog training world, I knew I needed to work smarter and harder to differentiate myself.  I gained practical experience through working with shelter dogs that had issues, and no aggression case was too tough for me to handle. I also offered to start and write a free column for a periodical for pets, as a way to share my knowledge and educate the public on how to handle and prevent behavioural issues in dogs.”

Working with animals may be inspiring and therapeutic, but that only took care of the stress. Marie was determined to recover with a bang and get her body not just well again, but in a new fighting-fit form.

Five years ago, she again reinvented herself quite unexpectedly. “The next pivotal point in my life was when I started running. My interest in fitness grew and I took a course to become a certified fitness trainer. My goal then was not to take on clients, but to gain knowledge on fitness, exercise and nutrition, as a way to enrich myself. I am a person of science and not fads. That led to people asking me on Instagram if I would take them on as clients, as they were inspired by my transformation and wanted the opportunity to train with me. I took on a few clients last year, but decided to stop this year to focus on my own training,” Marie recounts.

It is hard to imagine that as recently as 5 years ago, this ultra-trail runner and marathoner could not even manage a 2km run. But once she started to pound the tarmac and train on her treadmill at home and in the gym, nothing could stop her from out-performing her own expectations. In 10 short months, Marie went from zero to hero and completed her first marathon, and then some.

Fueled by her twin passions of fitness and animal advocacy, “after 2 and a half years, I went on to become an ultra-trail runner, who conquered 50km and 100km races to raise funds and awareness for no-kill dog shelters in Singapore. I am currently training for my first 100 miles (162km) race that will take place in Tarawera, New Zealand, come February 2020. My personal philosophy is to run for the greater good other than for myself. That was how the fundraising initiative for ‘I RUN FOR RESCUE DOGS’ came about. I wanted to combine my love of dogs with running, to help the less fortunate dogs in Singapore,” she says. In the last 3 years, Marie has raised close to $120,000 to benefit shelters like Madam Wong’s Shelter and Friends, Oasis Second Chance Animal Shelter (OSCAS), Uncle Khoe K9 Shelter and SoSD.

Besides raising awareness and funds for some no-kill animal shelters in Singapore, and training ceaselessly nearly every day (come slippery storm or scorching sun) for upcoming races, Marie is also investing in herself by way of nutrition. “Maintaining good running performance and eating healthy are a lifestyle for me, and I see pursuing and upholding these as a way of making sure I can continue to do what I love even when I am in my silver years. I would still like to be able to run a marathon even at age 70!

“I recently went back to adopting a whole food plant based lifestyle, and I cook more often and will share my recipes on my social media. I hope to inspire others to adopt a whole food plant based diet for their health and wellness, and to cut down on eating meat also as a way of showing compassion to animals and to rebuild our suffering natural environment,” she exhorts.

The benevolent soul is working towards sharing her life lessons and tips with others, in a more structured way, through a book she is writing, in hopes of motivating others to start taking care of themselves too.

“I do what I do because I believe my purpose in life is to be of help to others. I want others to know that we can all live a healthy and purposeful life, and it is not too late to make a change regardless of age. My dogs and husband are the pillars of my life and I want to be a better person for them. Being part of the family reminds me to always practise compassion and kindness,” expounds the firm believer of life-long learning.

Constantly learning keeps Marie buoyed and happy. “I completed a course in herbalism a few months ago and signed up for a diploma course in organic skincare formulation. I am a sponge for knowledge. I prefer documentaries over TV series, non-fiction over fiction. I read books daily and I have an insatiable appetite to acquire knowledge on a daily basis.”

The overachiever enjoys a meaningful challenge. “This is very evident in my running journey: from 0km to 2km, and progressively to a half marathon distance of 21.1km and full marathon distance of 42.195km. I didn’t want to stop just at full marathons and went on to challenge myself with ultra-marathons. I made my debut at 50km and then made a big jump to 100km. As mentioned, my next race is another big leap to 100 miles (162km). The fear of the unknown propels me to push my limits, to train to my best abilities to see how far I can go.” A few years ago, Marie also overcame her fear of the icy slopes and deep sea, and learnt to ski and dive.

At work, a spirit of fearlessness, determination and discipline, at play, a sense of adventure and spontaneity, and always doing everything with kindness and compassion, Marie considers herself a good balance of smart practical and artistic idealistic. “I am both. I believe in order to excel in whatever I choose to do, I need to have the science of knowledge and the art of execution. A little bit of idealism is what gives me hope to achieve what seems to be impossible from a practical perspective.”


This feature is produced in collaboration with  Audi. Artwork by Curatedition, all rights reserved.


Related links:

Audi Q3: Going Places

Brand New Boldness: Cheryl Lee

Audi Q8: Smooth Operator



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