A giant of a man with the tenacity of a warrior and the gentle soul of a zen philosopher, this is Augustine Lee in the raw:
What first inspired you to embark on bodybuilding not just as a successful career but also a way of life?
When I was young, I sketched out my vision of what a man should look like: muscular, symmetrically balanced, and strong. I was inspired by America’s Jack Lalanne — also known as the “Godfather of Fitness” and the “First Fitness Superhero”. I watched him on black and white TV doing jumping jacks, and admired his physique and the way he spoke so confidently about fitness.
This vision of physical strength and confidence stayed with me well into my late 20s. At the time, I was working as a manager of a manufacturing plant. I asked myself what did I really want to achieve in life and I came back to this vision. I decided I needed to get fit and strong first; and the rest would fall into place in time.
How did you get started in competitions?
It was the early 80s when I first started working out in a shared gym. I loved the feeling of weight training and seeing the results of both feeling and looking fit. There were local bodybuilding competitions being held at the time and a friend suggested I represent my gym. I thought, why not? At first I did quite well but when I didn’t qualify for the finals I realised there were others who were better than me and I had to see where I went wrong, where I needed to improve. I focused my training on my weaker areas for about a year before I started gaining confidence and winning competitions.
In the mid 80s, I took part in my first ASEAN Bodybuilding competition in the Philippines and won 1st place in my weight category.
What is the best — and worst — thing about competing?
The best thing is taking myself to the highest level while doing my utmost best.
The worst is being disappointed in myself when I’m not able to achieve my own set targets.
Being fit, for me, is about performing well in any given task. And competition is about striving to achieve perfection. In fact, my desire to compete is really about competing with myself.
What are your thoughts about perfection and strength?
To me, beauty is strength — and what you achieve with your strength is the art of perfection. Most people are led by their bodies, they are not the ones in charge. You can see this reflected in how they live their lives. I believe in becoming a master of your body, of your self … then you can become the master your life.
How did you make the leap from bodybuilding champion to successful fitness entrepreneur?
Starting my own business wasn’t my primary objective when I was competing. But then I started to see the value in using my expertise and experience to help others achieve their goals of keeping fit or competing. This is my way of giving back to society, to share what I have learnt. In a way, this is my legacy.
What invaluable lessons have you learnt from the sport?
Bodybuilding has taught me great lessons in discipline and focus. By nature, I’m very playful — not disciplined. It has been an ongoing process for me to learn how to be consistent in working hard, and never compromising. It has made me who I am today.
At 60, I was still competing and winning titles — for example, 1st place in the LA Championship Men’s Master’s in 2012 and 3rd place in the Arnolds Amateur Men’s Masters in 2013 in Ohio.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? And how has this set you apart from the rest?
Setting up Fitness Factory with Joan Liew. We built it up ourselves from scratch, with barely any funds. But we had faith that we would do well. While other gyms offered services that appealed to the mass market, we set out to be pioneers, specifically providing one-on-one personalised training to meet the individual needs of our clients. We’re not just personal trainers providing technical expertise, we are also therapists offering nutritional guidance and supporting clients who may have medical or health issues. Our desire is to help bring about behavioural and lifestyle changes that are necessary for overall wellness. So, our focus is not only on fitness performance, it’s about fuelling and sustaining that level of performance, and ultimately transforming lives for the better.
With such an illustrious career behind you – and no hint of retiring – what do you hope to achieve next?
My focus now is to keep creating champions — not just in the bodybuilding realm but in everyday life. To help people become their own personal champions. Through years of hard work and focus, I’ve succeeded in helping to groom an international champion in Joan Liew. The results speak for themselves.
My other goal is for Fitness Factory to become an established training academy for people who have serious desires to become professional personal trainers. This is the place with the best trainers and the first choice for people seeking premium fitness solutions and services.
Any advice for people considering bodybuilding as a career?
Think carefully if this is really what you want. You have to get into the sport completely as an athlete, which means you have to be whole hearted in body, mind and spirit. Giving up is not an option, so be prepared to very work hard and to learn a lot about who you truly are.
What keeps you so driven and inspired?
My desire to become better, every single day. I’m all for improvement and progression, understanding where I am now and working to get to where I want to be. It’s about discipline — I had to work on that first because I’m not naturally disciplined. I believe in walking the talk. Ultimately, I want to better myself so that I can help other people do the same thing.
What do you do on your days off? Do you ever ‘cheat’ or indulge?
At work, I’m always hands-on and at the frontline, and I’m very disciplined in all other aspect of my life. So when I have time off, I prefer to relax totally and not do anything. I don’t even make any plans, just go with the flow.
Yes I “cheat” and let loose from time to time — if I don’t, I’m not human (laughs)!
My indulgences are adventure, travel and speed. I love the new experiences and inspirations that come with travelling abroad, and I love the exhilaration of speed.
I also have a soft spot for animals — especially dogs. My best friends are a mixed breed rescue dog and toy poodle: Cherry and Boyka.
What misperception do people have of you?
I look fierce and my size and build can be intimidating, so people think I’m very serious and stern. I’m not that at all! I am easy going and lighthearted, but I can also be very serious, yes … when necessary (laughs).
What principles do you live by?
I follow the laws of nature, which are all about balance. When these laws are not heeded, there is disharmony and conflict.
I was born into a Christian family, so I believe in God and I have faith. I want to live a life that is about doing good, and being and giving my very best.
Where and when are you happiest?
I’m happiest when I’m in a quiet place, surrounded by nature … and my dogs.