He had changed into his gym clothes by the time I arrived at the private gym. I went over to meet him while he was putting on his black knuckle guards, “these are really important with impact activities, they help to cushion the impact on your knuckles when there is impact. I injured myself a while back while lifting weights so I need these guards.”
He excused himself as he made his way to the bench press machine. His trainer Stanley was waiting for him.
A grimace spread across his face as he pushed against the oppressive weights. Every lift was a minor victory against the voices that said he could not do it. Every push a defeat of the negativity that used to surround him and the tyrannical repression of his weight.
Dominic Lim is a different person from what he was less than a year ago. His transformation began after he plummeted to his nadir.
But let’s go back to a decade before.
As a 21 year old, he tipped the scales at 90 kg and was sent to a special company for obese enlistees for his basic military training. He breaks the mould of Singaporean men who are at their fittest during their National Service by being fitter today, at 30 then he ever was in his early 20s. The change is not merely physical.
“This picture was taken when I had just ORDed (completed compulsory military service),” said Dominic while pointing to a picture on his smartphone. “I was more than Apache-sized (the name of the obese enlistees unit) then… I was fat for so long, I got used to it.”
I moved closer to take a look at the picture: receding hairline and transition spectacles. He looked like a stereotypical middle-aged Chinese man approaching 40. He was not even 30 then.
But size wasn’t a problem for Dominic then. He didn’t really care what people said…
No, I take that back. He stopped caring. That was what I took out from conversing with him, as he pointed to a picture of himself just after he had completed his National Service
He stopped caring because he really cared. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and the well-meaning admonishments served only to demoralise him. “I shut my ears to these comments. Your words don’t need to hurt me, no one’s words need to dictate my life”. The wound however would reopen on occasion. It hurt the most through the innocent voice of his nephew who called out to his “fat uncle” lovingly, “I knew he didn’t mean it, perhaps I was sensitive but it really hurt.”
The most common response to pain is to relieve the symptoms and the clearest symptom was caring. He took the panadol of not caring, but the root cause was not solved. And it was a matter of time when deeper issues caught up in more visceral ways.
Things came to a head in 2015. “I was diagnosed with diabetes at 29. I knew it was a real risk but I put it out of my mind until it struck. Finding out about it shattered me, I cancelled a dinner with an old friend who had just returned to Singapore for a short visit, I went home and stayed in my room. I needed time to come to grips with how I had let myself become like this.”
“Diabetes is not a death sentence and I wanted to be free from this. This was not going to rule my life. That night I decided that I was going to turn my life around…”
“I had to.”
He started out by going to the gym, and began by going to the public gyms under the uniformed groups. The few sessions at these public gyms left him demoralised. Next to him were the already fit, people who were training to look good. Every time he looked at them, he was reminded of what he did not have. There’s no way I’m going to reach that, he thought. Lifting weights without knowing why was simply getting tired without moving forward. He needed help.
Ironically the constant concern of diabetes helped rally his spirits. He gathered himself and approached a private gym. He needed help to do this, and he was going to ask for it.
Keeping fit is a lifestyle, and the process is more mental than physical. “This was not a game anymore, I needed to do this right.”
He had just finished that sentence when instructor told him break time was over. His trainer passed him a barbell. “It’s heavier than the other time, give it a shot.”
It was hard. Simply watching the determination on his face tired me out. There was a steely resolve his eyes, it was the look of determination to overcome.
We got talking again at the end of the training. “Is gyming all the exercise you do?”
“Nope. Well at first, but now I gym and run on alternate days… “
“Exercise is not easy but it is gets easier with time. You just need to persevere. It’s the same with life. I was diagnosed with diabetes because I did not control my life.”
“But diabetes is not a death sentence and I can get back control of my life”