Australia

'Bodybuilding saved me': From refugee to iron-pumping champion

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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.

Ek Khammountry with his mother, early days in Australia.
Ek Khammountry with his mother, early days in Australia.

“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.”

Ek Khammountry's mother was a soldier for the Laos military.
Ek Khammountry's mother was a soldier for the Laos military.
Supplied.

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.”

EK Khammountry attributes bodybuilding to giving his life structure and discipline.
EK Khammountry attributes bodybuilding to giving his life structure and discipline.
Legacy Film Photography

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.

Ek Khammountry with his bodybuilding coach Chris Thomas at the NSW Arnold State Qualifiers.
Ek Khammountry with his bodybuilding coach Chris Thomas at the NSW Arnold State Qualifiers.
Supplied.

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.

Ek Khammountry hard at work.
Ek Khammountry hard at work.

“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.”

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