2001: The Moment

Following a family trip back to the Philippines (my birthplace) I returned to school for my first day of tenth grade, a few days removed from turning sixteen and already feeling anxious about the Higher School Certificate exams (HSC). It was a waste of energy since the HSC was still two years away and I still had to get past the school certificate exams at the end of this year, but from the moment you started high school you became aware of that mother of all exams and for many students it represented the end-all and be-all of their futures, where success meant a place at a good university and a bright future while failure could mean the end of life as they knew it.

Me, aged 15 during Summer break

Man, tenth grade sure was a trip. Unlike previous years there was no ‘feeling out’ process, so to speak. I hit the ground running from day one and the workload piled up quicker than I can say ‘gimme a break!’
By this time my friends and I were growing apart and my free times were becoming numbered. I had also become more interested in music than video games and so I spent most of my precious down time listening to the radio and watching music videos on TV while my video game consoles collected dust. I still played when I had the chance (sometimes with my father) but looking back it marked the beginning of the end of my gaming days.

As for my body, the man-boobs were long gone but I managed to find something new to gripe about – my height. At sixteen, I remained a skinny little shrimp while my other male classmates were tall and broad-shouldered and that’s not including the athletes. I guess my growth spurt wasn’t as dramatic as the others’ since I was genetically predisposed to being short and thin.
Aw heck, some girls in my year towered over me, as did some students from grades below me!


I felt like that chubby kid in sixth grade all over again. Being vertically-challenged sucked!!!!

But one day, in July that year (I don’t quite remember the exact date) my father gave me something that would change my life. A few months prior, he told me in passing that I should build some muscle on my body as I had become rather thin by then as a result of all the walking and I think he might have sensed my frustration about my height.
He gave me his old bullworker, a piece of exercise equipment that he had bought from a second-hand store when I was in elementary school. It consisted of a metal tube with two insulated, resistant plastic handles that can be pressed inwards to develop pushing strength, plus a couple of strong chords that can be pulled to develop pulling strength. This little portable gym, developed in Germany, could even work one’s legs, abs and neck and was extremely easy to store.

Ze Bullworker

He gave me the gift and the manual that it came with and I read that thing from cover to cover, all the while wondering if this thing could work wonders for a dork like me. I remember looking at the guy that demonstrated the exercises within the pages. Granted, he had a funny 80s hairstyle, was fake tanned and was wearing tight white gym trousers but he was muscular and ripped. Perhaps this weird contraption could work wonders.

After perusing through the manual for a good two or three days I took that bullworker to my parents’ bedroom and, after having completed my homework for the day, I chose a few exercises and began my very first workout following a half-hearted warm up and some basic stretches.
It took about twenty minutes and I didn’t feel any different afterwards. My heart rate wasn’t racing, nor was there a drop of sweat on my face. Either I had underestimated my strength or I didn’t push myself hard enough.


Nevertheless, I performed the same routine again the next afternoon.


And the next afternoon after that I picked up a few new exercises and performed another routine. And this time, I felt my heart rate go up and a few drops of sweat rolled down my face once it was over.
From that day on I had a 30-minute date with the bullworker five days a week without fail, even getting some work done during weekends if I felt up for it. I guess you can say that it was love at first sight.
That being said, I didn’t exactly become a fitness freak, there were no drastic changes to my diet or lifestyle and I was still down about my height.

But the results were a pleasant surprise. After a few months of grinding I noticed that the muscles in my arms, chest and back began to emerge and I also felt fitter and stronger during the day. It kind of made me wonder if I could finally hold my own against my more athletic classmates during sport and P.E but that was probably my long-dormant ego talking.


Calm down, boy. One step at a time.


But unfortunately, like most teenage boys I quickly fell into the bad habit of over-training the ‘showy muscles’ and all but neglecting the others, though they were very important for the body’s overall functionality and structure. I worked my chest, arms and abs overtime while my back and legs didn’t get as much love.
Consequently, I eventually came down with some pretty bad lower back pain, probably due to the strain of my under-trained core and lumbar muscles having to carry my upper body. And my leg strength was lacking in comparison to my upper body. And for a kid with natural chicken legs I couldn’t afford to look like one of those guys with big upper bodies supported by stilts.
And so I wised up and I began to train my entire body once more, focusing on the whole article rather than picking and choosing what I thought was of higher importance. I guess you can say I realized that all muscles matter.

By the way, I ended the year 2001 on a pretty high note. I achieved great marks during the school certificate exams (well, better than I expected, anyway) and attended the Year 10 formal, opting for a white suit that made me look like an Asian James Bond rather than going with the ol’ black suit, white shirt combo that most of my male peers opted for. Can’t say I was terribly garrulous during that night as I spent most of it on the sidelines watching everyone else dancing the night away with their dates and I didn’t attend the after party. But apparently, I was considered the most uniquely dressed among the boys so I’ll take that as some form of victory.

A few days later came year ten graduation. Just as it was for my Year six graduation I left rather quickly with my family once it was all over, though I did make it a point to shake hands with the students that I was on friendly terms with and wish them all the best for the next year before leaving.
And once again I had to put up with the scenes of students openly weeping as they hugged each other good-bye. What can I say? These folks were most likely going to hang out together during the Summer break and go to the same school the following year so I didn’t see the point of getting emotional. Looking back now, I guess they just got caught up in the moment, which is fair enough.

I continued to work out during the Summer break, using that as another means to pass the time rather than sitting in front of the TV all day like I did a few short years before. My body continued to slowly transform but I also felt that perhaps it was time to turn up the intensity. I had gone through all the moves provided in the bullworker manual several times over and was beginning to grow bored, I was ready for a new challenge.
Little did I know, however, that the next two years were to be the most challenging of my adolescent life – and not just in terms of my schoolwork.

1998-2000: Walk On

1998-2000: Walk On

If I had to pinpoint exactly when my weight began to creep up on me as a boy I would have to say that it was when I was ten years old.

As you can see below, photos from when I was four to six years old showed  a rather slim child but once I turned ten all hell broke loose. The inactivity and voracious eating must’ve caught up with me because photos from 1995 onwards showed a growing figure and by the end of 1997 I was chunky.

Aged 5
Aged 8
Aged 12









As you can see, I wasn’t quite on the level of that character, Üter, from The Simpsons or Eric Cartman from South Park but I was still chubby enough to have the rounded face, the big gut and (ugh!) the man-boobs.


Damn man-boobs…….they got me into some pretty awkward situations at school.


Swimming lessons were compulsory for the kids at my school and while I was a good swimmer and could hold my own against some of my more athletic peers, none of that shit mattered once the other boys caught sight of my not-so-lean physique after we’d stripped down to our trunks. I was quite a sight in those blue speedos and the laughs and jokes flew, particularly about how I looked like a ‘normal’ sized kid with clothes on but turned out to be a fat ass without them.

Shoot, even the bigger kids were laughing at me! I didn’t stand a chance.

I’m not going to lie. Every jab was like a knife to the heart. I don’t care how tough you think you are, being mocked for your appearance hurts and it hurts bad. You see people going down a dark road when they are insulted and body-shamed all the time and it’s a feeling that I know all too well. So while I hid behind a fake smile and laughed off most of their cruel remarks I felt sick deep down.

Yet all that teasing didn’t motivate me to change. I defiantly continued my sedentary lifestyle in front of a screen when I wasn’t focused on my schoolwork and while I was swimming, taking karate lessons and played soccer with some of my classmates during lunchtimes, I barely did any physical activity outside of them and ate until I nearly burst like only a young boy can. The swimming and karate, activities that I picked up when I was eight years old, were over by the time I turned twelve. I guess it was then that my weight shifted from mildly chubby to dough-boy with moobs as the inactivity continued.

And inactivity was exactly how I spent a majority of the Summer break of 1997, just gaming, watching tv and being lazy in general. But, you know what they say, ‘time flies when you’re having fun’ and those six weeks of fun came to an end in a hurry. Before I knew it I was getting ready for my first day of high school.


Here we go. A new adventure begins.


I headed out the front door with mixed feelings. While I was thrilled at the prospect of a fresh start in a new school (no more man-titty jokes, yaaayyy!!!!), I thought of high school as a place with stricter teachers and a heavier workload, meaning that I would have to set aside time during the weekends to study.

Much to my horror, that part turned out to be true.

But there was a welcome change. Because my new school was close to home I began walking and it did my chubby body a world of good. The weight fell off fast and after a few months I noticed some changes to my body composition. The stomach was smaller, the infamous man-boobs shrunk, my face narrowed a tad and I didn’t feel as lethargic anymore.


And all I had to do was walk. Nice, huh?


Traveling to different rooms and buildings on campus throughout the day for different subjects also had a positive effect. The days of sitting in one classroom and learning everything from one teacher were over as different subjects called for different teachers and classrooms. Lord knows you couldn’t conduct science experiments anywhere other than a science room supervised by a qualified science teacher and it required a special type of room to house musical instruments.

The result was more walking and it served as the perfect form of incidental exercise outside of lunch hours. It felt good to get some fresh air into the lungs as opposed to spending a large portion of the day sitting and falling asleep on my desk in the same stuffy classroom until the bell rang. At least now I had up to six new classrooms every day to almost fall asleep in!


Ok, all kidding aside, all that walking and fresh air did wonders for my overall focus.


There were also changes at home. Now that we were older my mother assigned my sister and I with chores to do around the house. At the time I thought of it as cruel and unusual punishment and a distraction from my study and gaming times but looking back it was definitely beneficial as I was forced to get up off my ass and be more productive.

There were also some changes to the activities I enjoyed with friends during the occasional weekend hang-out. Long hours spent parked in front of the TV gave way to going for walks, playing basketball and, occasionally, practicing wrestling moves. Pro wrestling was pretty huge in the late 90s among young guys and so my buddies (and almost every male student at school) passed the time by practicing the safer stunts and moves that they saw on TV on each other, much to the annoyance of their teachers and, I’d assume, their parents.

I wasn’t really into that so when my friends decided that they wanted to imitate the likes of The Rock (before he became a full-time film actor), Bill Goldberg, Stone Cold Steve Austin I stayed on the sidelines and watched those knuckleheads go at it but at least I was on my feet outside rather than cooped up indoors in front of the TV.

And while I was far from being skilled I still joined in during basketball games. I missed the net far more than I scored but I still gave it my best and worked up a good sweat. And apparently I was good at ‘defending’ or whatever the hell that meant. Not bad for a non-athlete, huh? I will admit now that any physical activity back then made me feel superhuman, such was my lack of physicality

But don’t for a second think that I had suddenly turned over a new leaf. I was loafing around less but bad habits die hard. I didn’t do any exercise outside of house chores and walking and I completed my homework while seated, not while walking on a treadmill. True change happens over time and I had years of bad habits to overcome.

The sports carnival in the middle of 1998 was a humiliating reminder of how far I still had to go. During my elementary school years I was more of a spectator than a participant during school carnivals and on the rare occasion that I did take part I usually flopped during my events and was left winded and writhing on the grass like a dying fish afterwards.

Anyway, I reluctantly took part in a race that year – one that involved running the entire circumference of the field as quickly as possible – and not only did I come second to last (no shame in that), but I once again collapsed in an exhausted heap after stumbling past the finish line, having foolishly gone all-out from the word go instead pacing myself first and gradually building up speed like the others did.


Ahhh muscle cramps and laboured breathing, how I’ve missed you both!


The euphoria of not having come in last place did not dull the agony of total exhaustion.


But on the bright side, I finished that year slimmer than I had been in a few years. No more man-boob jokes for good ol’ me, I guess the bullies had to find something new to pick on me about – which they did but we’ll save that one for another post.

And over the next three years my body continued to transform. As I got older I began assisting my father with some of the more strenuous chores around the house such as cutting grass, taking out the garbage, helping him fix things and washing the car.

So this is what being a grown-up is all about.

As a family, we traveled whenever we could and often made it a point to go out during weekends, whether it’s visiting the beach or amusement parks or special exhibits they might have near our area or the city. As the years rolled on these outings became more frequent and at times I began to wonder if my parents were deliberately trying to get me off the couch to enjoy the outdoors.


By the end of the year 2000 I started to see a hint of a jawline on my once-chubby face and my school uniform continued to loosen up on me, particularly around the waist. I guess puberty was doing its job but I do owe plenty of it to all that working around the home and more time spent outdoors.

And I wasn’t even trying to lose the weight. All I had to do was get up and start moving. However, my athletic ability remained on the loser end. It was one thing to get up and move more but it was another to enhance one’s power, strength and stamina. I just didn’t have it in me to focus on any of that. And even if I wanted to, I didn’t have the means to get started.


But not for long.


I didn’t know it then, but the first step towards real change was coming………