These past few years, Toni Potenciano has been on fire. Together with her friend Gisella Velasco, she co-founded Fly Art Productions, which is a pop-culture project that mixes hip-hop and classical art. In 2014, the small project became an Internet phenomenon, garnering coverage from BuzzFeed, the Huffington Post, Salon, and Billboard, among many others. Fly Art has also partnered with various fashion brands—both in the Philippines and abroad—to launch widely successful apparel lines.
What hasn’t received enough media mileage, though, is Toni’s budding career as a power lifter. In January of this year, she joined the 5-in-1 Powerlifting Competition and won a gold medal in the novice division and the bronze medal in the open division. Along the way, she set novice records in deadlifts, bench press, and squats.
She did all this while working as a creative for branding and design studio And A Half. As admirers of Toni and her long list of personal achievements E-Sports International spoke to her about how fitness has changed her life, and how she fits an elite exercise routine into her schedule.
E: Congratulations on setting the novice records for deadlifts, squats, and bench presses! Would you consider this the culmination of a “lifetime” or hard work? Have you been lifting for a long time?
T: Oh not at all. I’ve probably only been lifting seriously for about a year, and have been doing so casually for about a year and a half. I’d call it a mix of luck, logistics, and hard work. Luck because there aren’t too many women in my weight class just yet (so the records are easy to beat), logistics because my new job more or less encourages such hobbies, and hard work because you need to train at least 6 times a week.
E: We know you’re really busy with your day job and a number of interesting side projects. How do you make time to train enough to set records?
T: It’s taken a while and I think I can still do a lot better in terms of time management, but, really, it just entails waking up a lot earlier. I’m up by six; I hit the gym hopefully by 6:30-7:00 AM, and try to fit in the required workout set by my coach. Working for a branding and design studio that allows me to come in at 11:00 a.m. really helps a lot. But the trade off has been that I’m super sleepy by 10:00 p.m., which may seem lame, especially to my friends who want to hang out for drinks.
E: Why do you train now? Is the reason any different from why you began training?
T: Oh damn, thank you for this question! Well, I began with squatting and my reasons were selfish: the betterment of my butt. Genetically, I’ve got a pretty flat ass and I thought that, hey, you know what, why not try to do the best I can to puff it up a bit? But then, after a few months I began to add more and more weight to the bar and I wondered how far could I push myself. Eventually, the small plates multiplied and got even bigger. Little feats of wonder I guess, but it’s a great feeling realizing that you can actually do things that some people can’t. Context: I hate sports and most physical activities, so this is all fairly new to me. But I guess life has a way of making you second-guess your inclinations.
E: You work in the creative industry, and you co-founded FlyArt, which has found incredible success. A lot of people find certain forms of exercise boring because they involve routines. As a “creative,” what keeps you going back to the routine?
T: It’s nice to be called a creative, but I guess that’s what I am these days. Besides my boyfriend’s (my co-worker, also a creative) constant encouragement, I keep going back to it because it’s become my new normal, and like most people I do like a sense of routine to define my days. It’s no longer “should I exercise today” but more of “what kind of workout should I do today.” All things considered that’s still pretty lazy behavior since people (like my boyfriend) have their workouts planned weeks in advance. But really, the routine has just become a part of my life, that not exercising is the more conscious decision.
E: Do you think there’s any relationship between what you do creatively and what you do in the gym? Does one counterbalance the other? The routine vs. the creative? Or do they actually complement each other in ways unseen by most people?
T: In a way, I feel that powerlifting has helped me get to know myself better. Knowing one’s physical limits can actually more or less help you know your emotional and mental limits too. I mean with powerlifting, you’re always trying to find your “true max,” which means the heaviest weight you can carry with good form for one repetition. And while that sounds like gym jargon, it’s a great trip because you kind of open yourself up to failure quite often because—more often than not—you’re not strong enough.
I think it takes a lot of humility to pursue a sport that makes you fail again and again. And in creativity, it’s always been like shooting for the stars—you get it or you don’t. I wish that my bravery could transfer from my working out to my creativity, so I could get better at my creative pursuits instead of sitting around and crying over bad work. But there we go. I suppose that they do complement one another in that respect, because you’re forced to go deep into yourself and your limitations for both disciplines.
E: How has working out improved your life?
T: My pants are tighter in the right places (read: my butt), but I finally have a better understanding about how my body works, and about how crash diets are never really going to get me anywhere. The community is really great—everyone’s really nice and they share in your joys and grief. Well, that’s the nice thing about having a team (I’ve never had a team before). I’m also more open to trying activities that require some semblance of physical fitness, so I suppose that gets to open up my world more and more, which is a great thing.