Much has been said about Alejandro Atienza or Kuya Kim, as he is fondly called. Little is known, however, about how bravely this guy has weathered many of life’s storms and defied countless limits. He says, “I defied three things in my life… my age, my sickness, and my ability to balance work time, training time, and family time.” An epitome of strength, discipline, and wellness, Kuya Kim proved that with the right attitude and the right amount of faith, nothing is impossible.
Kuya Kim has always been a fitness enthusiast. In the 80’s and early 90’s, he was a co-host of Muscles in Motion, a fitness show which aired in RPN 9. “I used to do a lot of aerobics then. In fact, one of my teachers was Vicky Belo. Before she became the Vicky Belo we know now, she was a very popular aerobics instructor.” Eventually, he left aerobics and got into bodybuilding. He lifted weights and became massive. At his peak, he bulked up to a solid 200 pounds and began joining contests. But all these had to take a backseat when he entered politics in 1995 and joined the entertainment industry. He says, “I was so in love with my new job on TV that I focused instead on my new job thinking that the fitness that I gained in the 80’s and 90’s would carry me through.”
In 2010, he suffered a stroke caused by the Patent Formen Ovale (PFO). PFO is a hole that can be found in the upper chamber of the heart that allows the passage of blood between the two chambers. Everyone has this opening while in the womb but it spontaneously closes at birth. However, for people with PFO, it remains partly open.
The road to recovery was an arduous journey. Gradually, he regained strength with the help of his personal coach, Miguel “Ige” Lopez, who happens to be an expert in triathlon. From taking slow walks, Kuya Kim started running and began joining marathons. After a while, he decided to get into biking and eventually learned how to swim.
But another tragedy struck in October 2013 when Kuya Kim battled with an auto-immune disease called Guillain-Barré Syndrome. GBS is a very rare medical condition in which a person’s immune system begins damaging the nerve cells, causing paralysis. This happened while he was training for IRONMAN Western Australia.
“I was at the peak of my training already. It was the hardest month… I have to bike 180 km, run 20 km after, the next day swim 4 km. It was very tedious already… After I did a long bike, after doing 160 km that day, I couldn’t move my hands. Being a stroke survivor, I went to the doctor right away,” he shares.
The doctor initially gave him anti-inflammatory medicine thinking that it was Handlebar syndrome. Kim went on with the training only to find out that it had gotten worse a week after.
“I went back to my doctor and said, ‘Doc, my feet na rin, I can’t move.’ The doctor ran a series of tests and said, ‘Kim you can’t go home anymore. You have to go straight to the ICU because you have Guillain-Barré Syndrome.’ So I stayed in the ICU for about eight days and another eight days in a regular room with paralyzed hands and feet. I got a bit frustrated because I didn’t get to do full IRONMAN, but it was then that I discovered God,” he says.
Kuya Kim’s spiritual encounter with God has become his new driving force. Whether it’s part of a divine plan or just chance, it seems that his GBS had to happen to touch another area of his life that needed strength and healing. He says, “No matter how strong you are, no matter how much you tell yourself ‘I can,’ in that instance, I realized I can’t. It’s really God. God can. Now I can run better, I cycle better.”
People in their late forties would have started complaining about the various illnesses that come with age. The late bloomer Kuya Kim, at 47, stops at nothing to maintain his fitness. After recovery from his first ordeal, he started joining marathons. The first triathlon event he joined happened in Cebu in 2011.
Training for endurance sports is a long and tedious task. It takes time to condition and harden the muscles, and years to prepare for the sport. Fortunately enough for Kuya Kim, he found a group of dedicated men to train with. They call themselves “GOTTA” which stands for “Gotta do this, gotta finish the race, gotta swim, gotta bike, gotta run” or as Erwann Heusaff puts it, Gwapong Trying to be Athletes.
Good training and proper diet goes hand in hand. Kuya Kim is lucky that his wife makes good meals, and they both enjoy good food. Suffice it to say that he won’t give up good food. What he does is eat according to glycemic index. Kuya Kim not only eats less, he also abstains from food with a high glycemic index and eats more of those with a lower glycemic index. For him, it is simply a matter of choosing the right stuff. He calls it smart eating.
“I am a smart eater because a triathlete cannot be scrounging on calories. You would get weak. You will lose weight, fine, but your performance will suffer. I eat a lot. I eat small meals,” he says.
Behind the camera, Kuya Kim is a husband, a father of three, and an athlete. How does he manage his time with the many things on his plate?
He explains, “I like the regimented lifestyle. I’m so used to that. I like schedules. I like putting things in order maybe because I also studied in the seminary in high school. In the seminary, my life was like that… one has to learn that. It’s basically time management. If you are able to manage your time well, then you are able to put in the time that’s needed to train, and the amount of rest also, and the amount of family time.”Parting Words
“I have defied a lot of limits. First, my age. I am soon turning 48, and to be competing, running, and beating guys half my age, and to be able to do this for a long time is such a blessing. Second thing I defied was my stroke and GBS. I have a metal thing in my heart and I had to gradually build up my strength from slow walks to brisk walk to fast run to triathlon… and GBS, because most GBS survivors are still paralyzed and unable to walk even after the treatment.”
Since he missed IRONMAN Western Australia last year, his goal is to sign up again for IRONMAN Asia-Pacific Championship Melbourne 2015. He will be resting a few weeks after the Cebu marathon then start training anew right after. For training, he will do long runs, 6 to 7 hour bike rides, and long swims.
While it is nice that more and more people are getting into the sport, Kuya Kim says that it takes more than just the desire to join. One needs a great deal of passion, consistency, and commitment; these Kuya Kim has in spades!
Take a peek into Kuya Kim’s everyday routine!
Wake up to have breakfast with his wife; this usually lasts for about 30 minutes
Out the door to start training
Twice a week, he runs 10 to 12 kilometers with a group. On weekends, he does long runs. After training, he’ll have a second breakfast with the team.
Leave for the sports club
Prepare for his TV shows
Read or take a nap
Work on TV Patrol script
Dinner with the family