Ek Khammountry is eyeing off the national bodybuilding title. But the he's come a long way from when he was born in a Thai refugee camp.
It all started as a dare, but now newly-crowned NSW bodybuilding champion Ek Khammountry admits he doesn’t know where he would be without the sport.
“I was training with my mate … and he dared me to do a bodybuilding show. I had no interest at all,” Mr Khammountry told SBS News.
“We made a pact. He did his first competition in (his sport of) cross-fit so I had to back up my own word.
"I entered my first body building competition, fell in love with it and got the bug."
Born in a Thai refugee camp in 1985 as his parents fled war-torn Laos, Mr Khammountry attributes his work ethic to his tough upbringing.
“My mum was a soldier in the Laos military,” he said.
“We didn’t have much of a [Laotian] community at the time when we arrived in Australia.
"My parents had to adapt to the Western lifestyle pretty quickly and they worked really hard which I am very grateful for.”
With the lead up to a competition including 12-weeks of intense training, Mr Khammountry said bodybuilding can be a “lonely journey.”
“From the time I wake up everything needs to be perfect until the time I go to sleep – my training, my cardio, my nutrition,” he said.
“I stay away from temptation, you might even have to put your relationship on hold – which I have done before."
Despite the grueling exercise and strict lifestyle, Mr Khammountry said he “actually enjoy(s) the so called ‘torture’ of comp prep.
“It’s given me a lot of structure, a lot of discipline,” he said.
“I know at the end of the day when the comp is finished, I will become a better person [and] I will grow mentally and physically stronger.”
But Mr Khammountry’s fierce commitment to bodybuilding has helped him in more ways than one.
He attributes the self-discipline gained through the sport as giving him the strength to “say no.”
“During my childhood, [I] could … go in the pathway of going into underground gangs and so on,” Mr Khammountry said.
“Or [I] could go into the path of fitness and stayed the course.
“It [bodybuilding] saved me because … it made me really independent, so I wasn’t influenced by anyone to fall into that path. I made my own choice to turn away from that kind of influence.
"If I went the other path I would be in jail, 100 per cent.”
Having secured the number-one slot in the NSW State Arnold Qualifier in the men’s physique division, Mr Khammountry has his sights set on winning a National title.
“My goal is to turn professional,” he said.
“The way I see it is, if I ever win my pro-card at the nationals or the Arnold's one day, I just see that I [will be] doing what I love and living the lifestyle I want … representing my country Australia and hopefully one day making it to the Olympia.”