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The business of fitness

The couple that gets fit together stays together: Edson Jao Tee and wife Shirley Lam fell in love while inspiring each other to lose weight.

I know what you’re thinking: “Why is there an article on fitness in Business Life? Shouldn’t this be appearing tomorrow, in the Health and Family Lifestyle section on Tuesdays?” Well, you have to forgive me, folks. It’s just that it’s hard to ignore this growing fitness trend that’s sweeping the country. Everyone seems to be getting into shape. And everyone seems to be getting involved in some kind of active lifestyle competition, e.g., runs, triathlons, or gym contests. I myself have been bitten by the “fitness bug.” I have been running regularly the past seven months and I entered my first official competition last month when I joined the 5K division of the Timex Run. I finished 104th out of the 2,200 who participated in my category. Not bad. The problem is, now I can’t stop running. But that’s good.

In a way, staying fit is a business story. The principles are the same. You run a business the same way you run and stay fit.   As in business, when you manage your fitness, you invest time and a little bit of money (for sports shoes and apparel). You draw up a strategy or a plan — taking stock of your assets (e.g., your still-working heart, your abused but functioning lungs, and your underutilized legs) and your liabilities (e.g., your painful back, your high blood pressure). You do a little bit of SWOT analysis. You determine your strengths (e.g., if your were into ballet when you were a kid, perhaps you can now do yoga) and your weaknesses (e.g., if you have asthma, maybe running along EDSA might not be such a good idea). And you also consider the opportunities (e.g., if you biked a lot when you were a kid, perhaps you can now do mountain biking — or participate in triathlons) and threats (e.g., if you’ve injured your knee before, badminton may not be too good for you). 

In fitness, as in business, you can win and you can lose. If you invest enough time, money, and hard work in your fitness, your ROI (return on investment) can come sooner in the form of a better body, increased alertness, zest for life, and improved self-esteem. However, if you don’t invest the right time and dedication, you can lose. You can injure yourself, or end up being fatter (and sadder) than you originally were. Of course, it’s also worth pointing out that the fitter you are, the chances of you doing better in business increase. No business can ever thrive if the person leading it is always sick. Apple thrived even during Steve Jobs’ illness because healthy people other than Jobs were managing it. If Apple was being run solely by Steve Jobs, it would’ve died. In big corporations, money is invested to ensure the health of key executives. It’s called “Key Man Insurance.” Why do companies do this? Because they know that a fit individual has a better shot at managing a company effectively compared to an unhealthy person who’s always on medical leave.

Two people who are really reaping great returns on their “fitness investment” are two new friends of mine, Edson Jao Tee and Shirley Lam, a couple I work out with at Fitness First. Theirs is a fitness and love story for the ages. They joined the “New You” contest of Fitness First, and they became close during the competition. The reason I thought they’d be interesting to write about is because their story is like a great corporate turnaround case study. What they did is pretty much like how General Motors and the big American auto companies have been able to “trim the fat” over the past couple of years and go from the brink of bankruptcy to a record-setting profitable year.

Edson used to weigh 223 pounds before he started going to the gym.

The pictures attached herewith speak for themselves. Edson Jao Tee was a 223-pound roly-poly.   He was in bad shape, man. But having said that, Shirley Lam, his future girlfriend (and future wife), was in even worse shape. She weighed in at a whopping 343 pounds. In fact, she was told that if she maintained her weight, she would no longer be able to walk after six months. It was that bad.

Recently, I had a chance to get together with this lovely couple. Their story is inspiring, not just from a fitness standpoint but also from a business standpoint. They are the perfect example that no matter how bleak the situation is you can turn things around with the proper discipline, determination, hard work and inspiration.

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Edson says, “God, love and life really do move in mysterious ways, that’s how I would describe it. I joined Fitness First because I was tired of being fat and having this shoulder injury. My weight and injury were affecting my daily life, including my work. So I told myself, ‘I’m going to focus and start changing my lifestyle; I want to live a healthy life and win back my life, I want to actually start living fully again without distraction.’ I gave myself a timetable — two years — after that I would start searching for the right partner who would love me and accept me for who I am. Wouldn’t you know it? Love was actually just around the corner. And she too had the same mission, vision, and determination. Soon we were inspiring each other. And the rest, as they say, is history.”

“It’s amazing,” said Shirley. “We didn’t really plan to fall in love. It was just a pleasant, unexpected reward, really. All I knew was that we had the same goal — that is to simply lose weight and to win our lives back! But as we lost weight together under the same trainer, we got to know each other more. Edson and I were college schoolmates. But we didn’t mind each other then.   It was only when we were burning fat together during Fitness First’s New You competition that we realized how similar we were in terms of our goals in life.”

Edson quipped, “So for us, it was fitness first, love second.”

Shirley added, “Our journey wasn’t easy. But we both gave our best every time we worked out, and we encouraged and supported each other in so many ways. You can’t imagine how hard it is to lose 200 pounds, but we showed it can be done.”

Edson added, “It’s really like business. In business, you’ve got to love what you do. For Shirley and I, working out was tough, but we learned to love exercising because we were focused on a goal, we worked hard every day, and we worked as a team and supported each other. The ‘return on investment’ is good because of the amount of work we put in. You get what you put in. And the goal now is to continue staying healthy and maintaining what we’ve achieved.” 

Shirley weighed in at 343 pounds before she started her weight-loss program.

So, folks, we can learn a lot from Shirley and Edson. If you want to do well in life and in business, your first responsibility is to stay fit. That’s priority numero uno. Because it’s hard to achieve anything when your body is not functioning well. And in trying to get fit, apply all the good business principles: i.e., study and research well, draw up a plan, take stock of your assets and liabilities, do extensive SWOT analysis, and above all, work hard and every day. Try to get inspiration from something that motivates you, be it God, family, or a loved one. If you put all of these together, you can never lose.

Except, of course, a little fat. And that’s not a bad thing.

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Thanks for your letters, folks! You may e-mail me at rodnepo@yahoo.com.

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