Over the years, Darren Ho lost himself in the process of building his career with his various start-ups and ended up doubling his weight, gaining nearly 70kg over the years to hit his heaviest of 146kg.
“It was hard to move all that weight around,” said the 34-year-old triathlete and nutritionist, who stands at 1.76 metres tall. “I also suffered from bad eczema, asthma, headaches, sleep apnea and woke up every day with swollen ankles.”
Darren was formerly on the national junior tennis team, having played the sport since the age of five. At 16 he started his first company and for the next 10 years, he had to juggle studies (he took a Masters), his businesses, as well as tennis training and competitions.
However, after he retired from the competitive tennis scene in 2008, he went from playing tennis thrice a week, hitting the gym four times a week and running every day to becoming completely sedentary.
He was also eating 12 bowls of white rice a day, downing a bottle of wine a day and easily managed a supper binge of five pieces of roti prata, mee pok and fried carrot cake.
“I kept giving myself excuses not to exercise and it didn’t help that I have a torn meniscus which got worse with the excess weight, so I used it as a greater reason not to exercise. Work hours were long, my eating habits were terrible and I was barely sleeping.
“My focus was all on the business and making money, and I completely neglected my health and well-being. One day, I just broke mentally,” he recalled.
In a blink of an eye, his weight soared from 78kg to 146kg in just one and a half years.
“I had let myself go totally, along with my self-esteem, so I consoled myself by saying that my career was doing decent, so it was alright to be overweight,” he added.
In 2014, Darren had to face the harsh reality of his state of health with a few wake-up calls. First, his health insurance required a medical checkup and that revealed some hard truths – his heart was not coping well with all this excess weight and his liver was hardening. Then his uncle passed away due to multiple organ failure, as a result of an unhealthy lifestyle.
This was when Darren finally had the courage to look himself in the mirror and allow the realisation to hit home. “I was in denial for a long time, refusing to acknowledge how my health had deteriorated. To make myself feel better, I was putting people down and I was snapping at people around me who cared.”
Determined to get back on track with his health, Darren hauled himself to the running track to try and jog. After just five minutes, he keeled over and nearly puked, only to see that he had jogged a grand total of 200 metres. He also went back to tennis, but often went home close to tears with his sore and aching muscles.
As he was still overeating, he only lost 7kg in the first six months and hence struggled badly to find motivation. People around him were discouraging him, telling him that it was “too late”, that he was “too old” and calling him “a blimp”.
Refusing to give up, Darren decided to change his diet – he cut off alcohol, processed carbohydrates and sugars and reduced his intake of sodium and sugars. Most of his meals were cooked at home and he also controlled his portions.
At the same time, he started doing interval sprints and jogging on the treadmill, as well as high intensity interval training, and that showed good results but his knee was not holding up well.
Thus, Darren picked up cycling and for the next six months, his regime of cycling, tennis and gym, on top of a healthy diet, saw him shed the excess weight. During this time, he cycled as far as 153km through the hilly terrain of Bintan and even won a local tennis tournament. That boosted his morale greatly and he eventually got back to the weight he was at before, 78kg.
This is only the beginning though. Darren has now set new goals for himself – he has gone into the sport of triathlon and will be completing his first Ironman – which consists of a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a 26.2-mile (42.2 km) run – in December. His long-term goal is to qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Kona.
“I’ve finally gotten back to the weight I was at before and my advice to anyone who wants to get in shape – you need to have a lot of consistent effort, you need to keep at it and mentally you just need to keep holding on to what you really want. It’s not impossible.
“You can’t just give up because it gets tiring or painful. It will always be difficult and it’s easy to get thrown off your game or put yourself down, but at the end of the day, you just got to stick to your guns. If you want it enough, you will stay the fight.”
A key member of Rock The Naked Truth (RTNT), Darren has been actively involved in some of the initiatives and hopes to inspire many to get back on track. “RTNT gives an opportunity to everyone to learn from all our stories and gain a second chance if you have lost your way some way or other, to lead a healthy lifestyle with the right mindset.
“With this platform, I was able to open up about what I went through. I felt awful about myself for a long time but it is not impossible to walk out of the darkness. It is important to have a strong support network and RTNT provides that community we need,” he added.