Community, Fitness, Health, Lifestyle
comments 12

Keeping Fit, Lao Style: An Interview with Pon Thamthavong

What does it mean to keep in great shape in the Lao community? Little Laos on the Prairie has run into Lao across the country who are part of a growing movement to keep fit and healthy, combining traditional Lao approaches with newer routines.

One Lao American we recently met is Pon Thamthavong, who has been demonstrating healthy fitness to the community through NPC Bodybuilding in the Bikini Fitness category. NPC Bodybuilding is connected to the National Physique Committee. Since 1982, the top athletes in bodybuilding, fitness, figure, bikini and physique have started their careers in the National Physique Committee. Many of those athletes graduated to successful careers in the IFBB Professional League, a list that includes 24 Olympia and 38 Arnold Classic winners. NPC athletes are regularly featured in and on the covers of international publications such as FLEX, Muscular Development, Muscle & Fitness and Muscle & Fitness Hers, Fitness Rx for Women and Ironman.

Can you tell us a little about yourself, and how did you develop an interest in health and fitness?

My name is Somphorn (Pon) Thamthavong. I’ve been living in Tennessee since I was 3 to 4 years old. All my immediate family live here. I have  four older sisters and one younger brother. I’m the youngest girl.

As long as I know I’ve always been an active person. I like to be outside playing sports, hiking, and walking at the park. I eat semi-healthy. About 4-5 years ago I decided to join the gym, and since then I never stopped going. It became part of my lifestyle. And I started surrounding myself with people that do the same thing, working out and eating healthy. I treat myself to a good meal once in a while. You just have to know how to balance it out.

What’s a part of your family’s story in coming to America that stays with you the most?

One funny thing that my dad loves to tell me is when we were leaving Thailand, I was crying nonstop until this one white person came and pick me up and I stopped crying. Besides that, I remember when we first moved here. We lived in a two-bedroom duplex with not much money. We had a total of nine people leaving in the duplex. It was just our family: Me, my parents, grandmom, and my siblings. My parents worked hard to support all of us. We made the best of what we have. I enjoyed my childhood. I remembered most that my parents were working hard to support us to make us happy. They are my heroes. We had nothing when we got to America and look at where we are now. We have more than enough food to eat, a house, and a good job. My parents retired a long time ago. I am proud of all Lao parents that work hard and are able to support us in this country, even though they couldn’t speak much English when they moved here. I look up to all of them.

What’s your favorite Lao food?

I love all kind of noodles soup; chicken noodle soup, pho, kow poun (curry soup). I love papaya salad, chicken wing, and sticky rice. Since I started working out and being health conscious,  I don’t eat much of the same food anymore.

What’s your favorite part of getting in shape? What’s your biggest challenge?

Staying healthy and meeting people new people that help and keep me motivated is my favorite part of my fitness journey. The biggest challenge is not seeing progress fast enough and when I’m injured. But you have to keep going, you have to struggle to be stronger.

What’s a skill you picked up which was unexpectedly useful in your pursuit of fitness?

Before, I wasn’t that health conscious. Now I will buy more organic and gluten-free groceries. I noticed that every time I buy anything I will look at their nutrients. As for fitness, you have to know the right form when training so you don’t injure yourself and to properly work the body parts that you are trying to work.

What keeps you motivated?

Looking good and being healthy. Since I started my fitness journey, I have not gotten sick. Maybe a minor cold, but that would go away within couple days. You are your own motivator. Working out became part of my life.  I love and enjoy working out. If I don’t work out, I feel like something is missing. Sometimes I will take a week break because I need it.

Will you be competing in any events in this upcoming year?

I will be competing in my 2nd show this summer, the Flex Lewis Classic show. I went to see my coach/trainer this past weekend and received my meal plan. I just started my meal prepping for the competition this week. I’m excited to see my progress!

What’s something you might change about our understanding of our culture? What’s a value you’d preserve?

Every culture is unique. I don’t think we need to change anything.  For example; taking your shoes off when entering into someone house. It’s a respectful thing to do. You don’t want any germs entering someone’s house. Also, we should take care of parents when they are old. Do our best to provide for them just like they did for us.

What are some of the ways we might improve healthy habits in the Lao community?

I believe Lao people need to get an annual check-up and not wait till they get real sick to go see the doctor. I know Asian-Americans are doing better with getting annual check-ups. We should all influence our parents and kids to do so.  The majority of Asian and Lao people in general, have high blood pressure. We need to watch what we eat and work out regularly.


If you could workout anywhere in the world, where would you that be?

I always wanted to go workout in Hawaii. Hike up one of the mountains,  do a yoga pose. I’m excited thinking about it.

What’s your starting advice for anyone thinking of getting into shape seriously?

Take it slow, don’t just jump into it. I mean don’t start with heavy lifting or strenuous work out. Be patient because results doesn’t come over night. Be persistent and you will see results. Most of all, just have fun and enjoy your work out.

What’s next for you?

I will continue working out and eating healthy. The older we get, we have to take care of ourselves. Hopefully, I can share my fitness journey with my kids. In America, child obesity is high. As adults, we need to educate our kids about health early. When they are aware, they will be more cautious of the food they eat. Since I got into fitness, I wanted to be a health coach. Maybe one day I will go back to school for it.

-Bryan Thao Worra,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *