Singapore #Fitspo of the Week: Walter Tay

·7-min read
Walter Tay runs a hawker stall with his family.
Walter Tay runs a hawker stall with his family. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

Life goes beyond the digits on the scale and your body is capable of so much more! Yahoo’s #Fitspo of the Week series is dedicated to inspirational men and women in Singapore leading healthy and active lifestyles. Have someone to recommend? Hit Cheryl up on Instagram or Facebook!

Name: Walter Tay (@walkwithwalter

Age: 33 

Height: 1.82m 

Weight: 84kg 

Occupation: Hawker 

Status: Single  

Food: I eat mostly vegetarian meals and only eat meat in social settings. I get my protein from tofu and beans. 

Exercise: I go to the gym and fitness corners 6 times a week. I run or swim after working out.

Q: It’s hard to believe that you used to be bullied in school. 

A: I used to be physically weak and chubby during my childhood. I was bullied by others, even guys who were smaller than me. I also always had fainting spells in National Cadet Corps training.

I started playing basketball in Secondary 3/4, but wasn't too serious about it. It was only when I entered polytechnic that I wanted to drastically improve myself as a person and decided to throw myself into the toughest sport in school – dragonboat.

I would say my first three years into the sport was the most physically painful period of my life as I had to transform from a flimsy fat guy into an elite athlete. It paid off though – I got to represent the Singapore Armed Forces Sports Association (SAFSA) dragonboat team at the Club Crew World Championships in Macau and won multiple awards. We were awarded the SAFRA Colours Award and Best Men Team for 2010. The pain was all worth it, not just because I won races but to realise that in life, dedication and hard work can create miracles.

Walter Tay participated in the gruelling sport of dragonboating in his younger days.
Walter Tay participated in the gruelling sport of dragonboating in his younger days. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

Did you continue any competitive sports as you got older? 

Picking up girls as a sport (just joking), especially during the time when I was working as cabin crew and then for a multi-level marketing (MLM) company where I made a lot of money at a young age.

Jokes aside, I always push myself to the limit with whatever workout I did. I pace myself a lot more now for a sustainable healthy lifestyle.

What does fitness mean to you now? 

It is a ritual to remind myself that dedication and hard work is the basic ingredient for any positive changes

You mentioned a different type of lifestyle previously.

Yes, in my 20s, being a crew was the most carefree and fun part of my life as I was well-paid and got to do what I love most. Exploring the world, meeting people and enjoying all the delicacies from different cultures!

Growing up was uniquely difficult, as I was born in Sydney as an illegal immigrant and my dad was a big-time gambler. He will ensure food wasn't an issue but cyclical quarrels and home-leaving taught me that being poor was the root of all evil, at a young age. I just couldn't fathom why other families are so loving and happy.

I was introduced to my MLM bosses while flying and got exposed to their lifestyle and I thought I found the path to solve all the issues from home. I dived in recklessly and pulled all my most important friends into the company and we did so well that it damaged a lot of relationships and investors' money when the Ponzi scheme couldn't hold up anymore.

I was hooked to the validation that I received from society when I shilled my cars and organised parties almost every night. Girls loved to hang around us.

After a failed stint in an MLM company, Walter began organising fitness competitions in order to clear his debts.
After a failed stint in an MLM company, Walter began organising fitness competitions in order to clear his debts. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

Then your life came crashing down. 

Whew. The bosses started changing equity between old projects to new projects and it rose a lot of questions, but I was already blinded by the material things I had and chose to turn a blind eye to the problems and took whatever excuse they gave as valid reasons.

When I kept requesting for returns for investors, they couldn't give us a solution so I went to the bank to take out loans to cover first, thinking that there might be hope. In the end I took up too many responsibilities that I wasn't capable of handling and I landed in massive debt of high six-digits.

What was your wake-up call? 

My cousin shouted, "You will never ever be able to stand up in society again.” My best friend said to me, “You destroyed my family and my future.” Those remarks broke me. I wanted to prove them wrong and recover all the money everyone lost because of me, so I started a Korean cosmetics distribution company and organised multiple fitness competitions such as World Beauty Fitness Fashion (WBFF) Asia. But these landed me in more debt.

Then I met my life and business mentor Hideki Akiyoshi whilst organising WBFF. I just knew he could change my life somehow, so I asked him to be my teacher. He agreed but warned me about his reputation as the "devil" in the media industry.

He led me to the turning point of my life by showing me the right way to live. He taught me about marketing mindset, how to PR and network. My image today as "Hawker Hunk" is possible because of him.

How did you work on clearing your debt?

I managed to clear quite a bit of the debt after the MLM company failed, by assisting my friends with some of their projects. The cosmetics company was profitable, but WBFF failed so I ended up still having $200,000 in debt to clear.

Then my mum went to apply for hawker stalls without consent from my father and me, because she knew I was in deep trouble. It turned out to be a great decision. She wanted us to work together on a hawker stall; initially I was unwilling to work with family, but eventually I did because I know family can be trusted. It was also good that I can finally spend more time with them since I’ve been away from home since I started flying.

Over the last four years, I’ve just been working really hard at the hawker stall with my dad and I eventually cleared all my debts.

Singapore #Fitspo of the Week: Walter Tay (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)
Walter has learnt to be humble in his hawker career. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

In a way, you shut yourself out and just focused on working at the hawker stall to clear your debt. Did this change you as a person in any way?

I stopped being confident. Confidence was just a tough front I put up to hide the real timid and weak me. I used to be very "confident" so I would come off more attractive and give good impressions. But I don't care about being confident now, I will just do things that make sense. 

Now I take one step at a time and I just want to take good care of my family and friends.

How do you hope to help the younger generation not make the same mistakes you did? 

To achieve a certain level of success first, then I'll start investing in the younger generation in terms of sharing knowledge and capital.

Are you satisfied with your body now?

Yes, I'm able to complete work and still work out, though I'm still learning how to improve it in terms of having a better energy level.

Have you ever received any comments about your body? 

My mum calls me "肥仔“ (Chinese for “Fatty”) every day.

If you could change anything about yourself, would you? 

I'm changing myself constantly to become a better human being.

Singapore #Fitspo of the Week: Walter Tay
Singapore #Fitspo of the Week: Walter Tay. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)
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