The accent of my last name is on the first syllable, not the second. I never asked my family why this distinction was created, but in hindsight one reason is rather obvious. When I was a chubby grade schooler my teacher brought up the etymology of surnames. I cringed and waited for the inevitable teasing.
But it’s been decades since then. And I believe that growing up hearing all the possible permutations of jokes about my last name—and I studied in an all-male educational institution by the way—inadvertently sharpened my wit by learning how to retaliate creatively. If any of you want to learn how to inject more wit and dry humor into your writing, that’s one way to do it.
While I was able to turn the teasing into an advantage somehow, the portly body I’ve had most of my life became a definite disadvantage. At first it was merely embarrassing discomforts: difficulty fastening seatbelts during airplane flights, squeezing into very small city cars (I notice some people watch in fascination when I enter a Suzuki Alto, Kia Picanto or other tiny cars), or event t-shirts being a tight fit.
And when reviewing cars, I suspected the extra cushioning I had was insulating me from the harsher suspensions of some cars. I never found the Toyota Fortuner matagtag for some reason.
But eventually my excess fat led to a more serious dilemma—I developed sleep apnea. I wrote about this extensively in a feature that came out in the magazine in 2007, where I connected sleep apnea in general to drivers falling asleep at the wheel. To make a long story short, the extra fat was affecting my ability to sleep effectively. My doctor recommended, strongly, that I lose weight.
I had to, it was affecting my life and my job. So I slowly cut down on food and tried to exercise more. It’s not easy if you knew the kind of food we’re fed during events and lunches with PR people.
This is the steak I ate in Mamou with Subaru distributor Motor Image.
This is the breakfast buffet in Shangri-La Boracay during the Toyota Innova launch there.
While I wasn’t at my weight anymore circa 2007, obviously there’s still a long way to go.
Recently I had a chance to get a major push in having a more healthy body, as well as a better lifestyle. Late last year I joined other motoring media and motoring executives in a gym-sponsored fitness challenge. It was called the Fitness First Lose It, Lose Big Challenge Motoring Edition. It was a 13-week program supervised by a nutritionist and a physical trainer that will supposedly lead to significant weight loss. The ‘challenge’ part was a contest between those who participated; the one who loses the most weight wins the challenge.
We were asked to choose which Fitness First branch we wanted, and I chose The Fort. My gym buddy was Ian Peña from Motorcycle Magazine. And we were both assigned to Fitness First The Fort’s most engaging trainer, Irene Rafil.
I’ve enrolled in a gym before but I’ve never had a trainer. The closest I’ve had were the power-tripping ROTC officers I experienced in college. But in the course of the program, I learned that the good trainers don’t bark orders and tell you you can do 200 push-ups, the good coaches assess you and push you just to the edge of your limit—and sometimes a little over. At the end of each session, I felt that every ounce of my energy was rightfully expended.
The trainers in Fitness First all have resumes on the wall, and rankings like gold, platinum and so on. The resumes also list what they’re trained to do as well, and our trainer Irene had a list so long—it included sports like boxing and muay thai—I thought she would run out of space on her page.
But she put her wide range of calorie-busting talents to good use. She made us use equipment like the stationary bike, the stepper, the cross-trainer, the row machine and the various weight apparatus. I felt good not so much from the direct weight loss, but because I was becoming more flexible and stronger from the training.
Eventually we tried body exercises like push-ups, burpees, planking (not the pa-cute Internet pose, the grueling endurance exercise), lunges, sit-ups and other exercises whose names escape me at the moment. And there are interesting twists sometimes. Instead of a usual sit-up, Irene asked us to lift our legs to better isolate the abdominal muscles. In other words, it’s a sit-up but much harder to execute. After one set, my stomach muscles froze and didn’t want to budge—I was cramping. It was so pathetic I found it funny, so I laughed and my stomach muscles contracted, which added to the pain which I also found funny. So for a few minutes my face was alternating between laughter and contorting in pain. Now I know what it feels like to be schizophrenic.
Then we moved to stuff like boxing and muay thai, and I learned why boxers do so many stomach exercises. Movement in boxing comes from the abs, not solely from the arm, and definitely not from the wrist. When kicking during muay thai, I realized that the arms serve as a balancing mechanism; a counterweight. Before this I thought the arms were just flair for movie fight scenes.
In the long run I lost some weight but not as much as I hoped. The temptation of Christmas feasts was just too much for my willpower. But I learned so many things about fitness and health after the program. I don’t eat as much now, because Irene told me 70 percent of losing weight comes from the diet. I also don’t stuff myself because I have a very clear idea of how hard it is to lose all the excess fat.
Maybe I’ll come back to the gym when time and budget permits. In the meantime I’ll make more time to bike around my village and take more walks. I still like food a lot and eating is great, but it really is more fun when you don’t have to suffer its ill effects.