Cordillera’s ‘Mr. Universe’ was more than just muscle
BAGUIO CITY—When American photographer Mary Ellen Mark, known for her starkly lit black and white portraits, was given Baguio as her assignment for the Philippine Centennial photo project in 1996, she sought out National Artist Benedicto “BenCab” Cabrera and a man in Barangay Brookside here.
Brookside that day in August was lit by floodlights as Sammy Ayochok was photographed in his white spandex trunks carrying his first grandson, Winston Kilimanjaro.
Why Mark would choose Ayochok as a subject was something of a puzzle to most Filipinos but for Baguio residents, it was a matter of course.
Simeon “Sammy” Ayochok is the Cordillera Atlas, the only Filipino to win Mr. Asia five times (1986 to 1989 and again in 1994). He was runner-up in Mr. Universe twice and was third in the 2001 Mr. Olympia.
Back when bodybuilding was part of the Southeast Asian Games, Ayochok won the gold in Indonesia in 1987. And, to top his career, Ayochok won the gold medal in the 2001 Professional Mr. Universe in Paris, France, and the gold medal in the Masters Mr. Universe in Cuxhaven, Germany, in 2003.
Ayochok died after a heart attack on July 16 in Shanghai, China, where he was working as senior club operations consultant for Megafit China Inc. He was 56.
His daughter, Genevieve, said it would take two to three weeks before they would be united with their father. And for now, all that Ayochok’s loved ones, students and fans can bring home are their memories of him.
“We want him to be remembered as one not only with the big body but also with big brains. Everything he said made sense,” said Genevieve, a lawyer.
“He always said to me, ‘Every time you fall, you should get up.’ If not for him, I would not have become a doctor,” said eldest daughter Christine. Ayochok’s youngest daughter, Aprille, is an electronics engineer abroad.
“His legacy to us is to get good education. He said, ‘I don’t want you to experience what I had experienced,’” said Genevieve.
In an issue of the Iron Pinoy Magazine in 2009, Ayochok wrote: “My best advice to young and upcoming bodybuilders is for them not to neglect their education, whether academic or technical. Not all of us can become star bodybuilders and make a living out of it.”
Ayochok was born on March 24, 1956, in Bontoc, Mt. Province. He studied in Bontoc up to high school and started having a muscular body because he had to carry firewood and tend the farm.
He studied at the University of Baguio and was spotted by the late bodybuilding pioneer Nick Domalsin, who took him as a protege. When Domalsin died, Ayochok started his own gym in Brookside.
“He paved the way for scientific methods in bodybuilding here,” said Larry Fabian, a bodybuilder turned photojournalist.
Genevieve recalled knowing their father was training for competition when he would eat only egg whites and give the girls the yolk.
“Our mother and us used to be irritated by the noise in the gym but since my father closed the gym to work in China, it has been quiet and we missed the noise,” she said.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.