Thailand's Strongman... not who you think
Patient is a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo living in Thailand. He also just so happens to be the 1st place champion of the 2017 Strongman weight lifting championship in Bangkok. Despite constant discrimination living in Thailand, Patient has overcome many obstacles to be respected as an equal competitor among his gym peers.
There are 99,000 total refugees and asylum seekers from over 45 countries living in Thailand. 7,000 are urban refugees mostly living in Bangkok. Patient is among those 7,000 in a vast population of 8 million. Thailand’s policy on refugees doesn’t allow for local integration in terms of documentation, access to jobs, health care, and education.
Patient broke the negative stereotype of refugees and proved refugees can be successful. He now has multiple sponsors and competes professionally. Today, Patient is a highly sought after trainer and role model for weight lifting and healthy lifestyles.
Patient and I are from the same hometown in Congo. We met again as refugees living in Uganda. His story is incredibly inspiring. I wanted to share Patient’s story because it shows a positive side of what refugees can do despite their challenging situations. They can break through.
Here is my interview with Patient…
1. What made you flee Congo?
When conflict broke out in Congo we were forced to leave. My brother and I fled to Uganda. We lived there as refugees.
2. How long did you live in Uganda and what was life like there?
I lived in Uganda for 9 years. Life there was so difficult because we didn’t know anyone or the language. Sometimes we didn’t eat food for a couple of days. We couldn't afford to live in a decent place, and sometimes the place we stayed flooded. We were evicted and kicked out of the apartment if we couldn’t pay. I became homeless.
I had to learn different skills to survive and make a little bit of money as best I could.
I became a photographer, mechanic, driver, built houses, tour guide for international students, fixing computers, radios, unlocking phones, and whatever else I needed to learn. There are many things that I am able to do because the situation developed a capacity in me. I had to do all of this so that I could survive.
3. What made you move to Thailand?
In 2014, I started having a few problems in Uganda. I was almost killed, so I decided to leave Africa. I was asking my friends in Uganda where I could go. One of them suggested Thailand. So I came here.
4. How was life like when you arrived in Thailand?
Thailand was totally different. It was very difficult because it was a new culture and I was seeing more white and Asian people than I ever had before. There were very few black people. It felt strange to have everyone look different than what I was used to.
I was welcomed to a church called Newsong. The first day I was there, it felt like home. I met my first friends, Pastor Daniel Ross, John Ross and Dwight Turner. I also met my best sister, Christie. I got to meet a lot of friends through the church and one of those friends introduced me to CrossFit.
5. What are the challenges you faced?
There weren’t that many, but my biggest challenge had to do with my race.
6. What motivated you to start working out?
My entire life I worked out, but I wasn’t that serious. I always wanted to get big, that’s it. When I got to Thailand, it was totally different. I was introduced to CrossFit. I even quit three times. One day I was sitting at home doing nothing and I decided to go to the gym and give all I had. From there, I started working hard from 6am to 11:30am everyday.
In 2014, we had a CrossFit competition. I saw that I could do well in competitions. In 2015, I competed in Thailand Strongman and then from there I started working hard to improve everyday. In 2016, I won all the competitions that I competed in. From there I realized that it is my new dream: fitness. From being a photographer, to a driver, to a fitness model, they are all very different.
In 2017, I was off for 6 months because of a back injury. That hurt a lot in my heart. Because I was told that I was never going to come back and do weight lifting again. But in my head, I didn’t believe that. I knew that I was going to come back. I took 6 months off to see the doctor and do physiotherapy. I started to recover. I started training slowly. A month earlier, they announced about the strongman competition again. I didn’t rush to prepare myself, since I only had one month. My dream came true and I won the 2017 Thailand Strongman, pound for pound.
7. How many championship and endorsement have you got?
8. How has your life changed since you became the Thailand Strongman?
My life has become better. I have become more recognized, which helps me to get clients and get jobs. I have become well known in fitness.
9. What advice would you give to other immigrants and refugee youth around the world?
Sometimes in life, you have to take three steps back, so that you can jump higher. Those three steps, that’s the challenges and setbacks you face to your purpose, your goal, your dream and vision. Whatever that is, don’t let anybody stop you. It can be anything. If you are an immigrant, you know exactly what I am talking about. We are all hard workers. We work hard to survive. Nothing can be easy. Whatever your dream is, keep working hard until when you achieve it. Whatever your vision is, keep dreaming about it. That’s the only way to success. If you stop dreaming, you stop seeing yourself as successful, you’re going to lose everything you’ve worked for. So, work hard, be creative and be a fighter as always.
10. What’s your plans for future?
I want to open my own gym one day and do my own thing. I want to help people to be healthy, which I am doing right now. I want to help immigrants too. I also want to become a world champion with a world record. I am not going to stop dreaming about that.