Galing ng Pinoy: From ‘Batang Sementeryo’ to Mr. Universe

by Cynthia De Castro/

TWO hundred fifty participants from 39 countries posed in front of the judges at the finals of the 2006 Mr. and Ms Universe Body Building Competition in Cuxhnvun, Germany. All the contestants excitedly held their breaths. They knew the winner would join the ranks of famous past winners like Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Terminator) and Lou Ferigno (Incredible Hulk).

When the winners were announced, perfect scores, each one, the contest honored the first Asians to win the Mr. and Ms. Universe. Both they were Pinoys – Francisco “Ringo” Borlain and Dwan Adantao.

Building body

Ringo Borlain was near tears as he recalled all the obstacles he faced that led to that moment. One of four children of Amelia and Diego Borlain, Ringo grew up in South Cemetery in Makati City, where his father worked as a grave digger. They lived inside the cemetery until his high school days.

His memories of growing up are poignant with heart-rending episodes of hardship and distress. “Namulat ako sa tatay na laging lasing (I always wake up with a drunken father),” he said.

After high school, Ringo worked in a canteen in Makati. He worked hard and saved money. When he was able to raise P500, Ringo enrolled at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP). He then joined the varsity basketball team where he got an allowance. Through hard work, discipline, diligence and determination, Ringo graduated from college with a degree in Physical Education.

“Almost everything I have now started at the PUP, the humility, discipline, courage, diligence and my being a sports-minded person all came from my school,” said Borlain. “At PUP, I learned to compete in sports and take it seriously with total commitment.”

Borlain revealed to the Asian Journal that since college, he had taken up many sports like marathon and other endurance sports. Then, he got a job as an OFW, working as a recreation supervisor at the United States Military Training Mission in Saudi. He came back after two years and became a fitness instructor at Excel Fitness Center and Slimmers World International.

While working in gyms, he decided to concentrate in body building and fitness.

“Kailangan lang determined ka basta may goal ka na. I kept to my strict diet of fruits and high protein. I was in the gym everyday — 1 ½ hours in the morning and another 1 ½ hours in the evening. You will always find a reason or an excuse in the morning when you wake up before going to your physical training, why you can’t run or swim or bike that particular day. But never allow that to stop you from going anyway,” Borlain said.

All his hard work and discipline paid off when he joined body building and fitness competitions and emerged champion. Some of his awards are Mr. Ironman, Slimmer’s Great Body Champion, and 1st runner-up in Mr. Philippines contest in 2006. Then, he joined the selection for who will represent the country in the event in Germany and was able to make it.

A born-again Christian, Borlain said it is all by faith in God that he was able to overcome the obstacles. He said it is miraculous how God provided for all his needs to join the competition.

“ I didn’t have money to buy my plane ticket pero naniniwala ako na bibigyan ako nuon ni Lord kung will Niya talaga na mapunta ako sa Germany. Then, a friend unexpectedly gave me a plane ticket, with some pocket money pa. Tapos, malapit na akong umalis wala pa akong titirhan sa Germany. Siyempre wala naman akong pera para mag-hotel duon. Nag-pray ako sa Lord to help me. Then, a friend I met in the gym learned about my trip and said may kakilala siya na nakatira duon mismo sa lugar sa Germany na pupuntahan ko. Tinawagan niya kaibigan niya at pumayag yun na duon ako sa kanila tumira – kahit hindi naman niya ako kilala. And a few days before I left, unti-unting may mga nagbigay ng pera na pambaon ko,” Borlain added.

From center stage to the wings and back

Upon arriving in Germany, Borlain and Adantao were discriminated upon. The other participants from Europe and Western countries were given interviews with the press but they were not.

“Hindi kami sinali sa mga pictorials at sa interviews (We were not included in the pictorials and interviews), “ revealed Borlain. “At saka, may mga number na nakukuha ng participants para malaman mo kung saan ka tatayo sa stage. Yung numbers na nakuha namin duon sa gitna ng stage. Pero, pinaalis kami dun sa gitna at nilagay yung mga Russians instead. Pinapunta na lang kami sa gilid ng stage,” he said.

A man with lesser faith would have been discouraged by all the obstacles he faced but Borlain just kept believing. “Alam ko, ( I know) my God is more powerful than any obstacle, more powerful than all the negative treatment and circumstances that came our way,” he said.

Borlain’s faith brought him the gold and the title of Mr. Universe.

“There was no cash prize, just a trophy,” he revealed. “But, the honor of being the first Asian and the first Pinoy to become Mr. Universe and the privilege of bringing honor to the Philippines –that is priceless,” he said.

No ticker tape parade

Borlain and Adantao’s victory was not given any attention by the media and the government.

“Hindi kasi popular yung sport na body building kaya siguro walang atensyon at support from the government. Pero kung gusto kang i-angat ng Lord, Siya ang gagawa ng paraan. May nakilala ako na nagulat na wala kaming nakuhang reward or recognition from the government. May kaibigan pala siya sa Malacanang at sinabihan niya yun about us. So, while we won the championship in December 3, 2006, we were only recognized by the government in February 2007. Nuon kami pinapunta sa Malacanang at nabigyan ni President Arroyo ng Medal of Merit at pa-premyo na P100,000. At nuon din lang kami na-feature sa press,” Borlain told the Asian Journal.

Borlain’s colorful past and victory was featured in the media. One memorable interview he had was with popular celebrity Donita Rose Villarama, who featured Ringo in her weekly TV show that delves into true-to-life stories of individuals who overcome extraordinary obstacles and tragedies.

The reigning Mr. Universe (the 2007 championship will be in December) said that God has been opening doors of opportunity for him to speak before people. He makes the most of these opportunities to inspire people to overcome the odds. He admits that he is so passionate for God because of what the Lord has done for him- taking him out of his “ghetto life” and transforming him from a “batang sementeryo” to Mr. Universe.

“God has radically changed my life and He can do the same for anyone who comes to Him,” Borlain testified. “I want to be an example for the youth and encourage them to stay away from drugs. Instead, they should engage in sports and must make sports a part of their daily lives.”

“ Talagang gifted ang mga Pinoys at talented. We just have to have a positive attitude and not forget to give the glory, not to man, but to God who makes all things possible.” (



Filed under FilAm News, Galing Pinoy

8 responses to “Galing ng Pinoy: From ‘Batang Sementeryo’ to Mr. Universe

  1. cyndel

    OMG..i’m soo proud =] he’s our pe professor here in de la salle – college of saint benilde =]

  2. i’m proud to be a new friend of ringo. when willl our kids swim together again?

  3. imee tejano

    I’m so happy for you! You made me cry.

  4. Lif

    wow..very inspiring..hehe sir so proud of you hahaha…i didn’t know dat we were connected pla somehow..hahaha nice talking a while ago haha…see you in lasalle..:)

  5. coffee

    sir ringo! 😀 see you at DLS-CSB!! 😀

  6. Raze

    dats our prof! :)) nice!..

  7. oneng pili

    hello tito kmusta na galing galing nman mr universe kna pla saan ba kita mahahanap? tinatanong ka nla tito nunoy,tito kano, nany ko napanood ka daw nla sa tv. email mo nlang ako ingat lagi

  8. Mark Dizon

    haha… am so proud of you sir RINGO!
    GOD BLESS… you’re an inspiration…
    Thanks a lot!

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