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.
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.
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.