These days, 77-year-old Tan Khoon Beng is called Mr Iron Man, Mr Muscle Man and even Mr Young Man.
The retired lorry driver’s muscular physique draws these monikers from friends and fans who admire how he has trained his body, and how fit he looks at his age.
Sometimes, strangers would ask to take photos with him on the streets.
“There are also those who want to know his secret to youthfulness,” relates Tan’s second daughter Corina with a chuckle.
She is amused at the attention her father draws.
Having a bodybuilder father is kind of new to Corina and her three sisters. When they were growing up in Ipoh, Perak, Tan was fully focused on bringing up his four daughters. It was family first for him.
It was only after he retired at 55 that he revealed to them his secret dream of becoming a bodybuilder.
“When I was younger, I could not take up bodybuilding due to work,” says Tan in Hokkien, in a telephone interview, adding that his priority then was putting food on the table and educating his four daughters.
“As a lorry driver, he would go outstation for a few days at a stretch. It was hard work but he never once complained,” says Corina, 49, who remembers being completely taken aback by her father’s interest in bodybuilding.
“When he told our family and his friends that he wanted to take up bodybuilding, I nearly fainted. I thought it was impossible to take up this sport at such a late age. But we supported his vision and passion. We all supported him, happily forking out funds for his gym fees and health supplements,” she adds.
Besides, he gets special discounts for his gym membership as he is a senior citizen.
Rebuilding his body
It has been over 20 years since Tan started pumping iron and lifting weights.
He does not elaborate on how much load he bears or his training regime. He prefers to focus instead on the rewards of his hard work.
From the age of about 50, people lose between 1 and 2% of their muscle mass every year. With the loss of muscle mass, they lose muscle strength, and muscle power.
But, bodybuilding has kept Tan strong and healthy. He is barrel-chested, his body is shredded and muscles well defined.
Tan enjoys flexing his muscles as “it feels good”.
“I will go to the gym in the morning or evening, depending on whether I have to drive my grandchildren around,” says Tan, who trains about two to three hours, five days a week.
The gym is like Tan’s second home but he also makes sure he spends time with his family.
On weekends, he goes for outings or grocery shopping with them. Sometimes, he meets up with friends over a cup of kopi-O although he admits that he does sometimes go to the gym even on weekends.
“We joke that he can’t live without going to the gym,” says Corina. Sometimes, when she feels like skipping her gym workouts, she will remind herself that if a 77-year-old man could do it, why not her.
Apart from working out, Tan also watches his diet.
“One has to stay fit all the time and control one’s food. I eat moderately and abstain from taking chicken skin or prawns. I also cut down on rice and take more fruits,” says Tan who adds he is most strict with his diet when he is preparing for competitions.
Tan’s biggest fans are undoubtedly his 11 grandchildren, who are so proud of their muscular grandfather.
“I really admire my grandfather for his passion and determination. I have never heard him complaining how hard it is at his age to build his body.
“What I hear is how much fun he is having. He is like a celebrity among all my friends and they love to talk to him. He motivates me a lot to challenge myself to pursue my dreams,” says his 22-year-old grandson Eugene Lee.
Showing off his body
Tan began competing in bodybuilding competitions at 60, and stopped when he was 72.
He participated several times in the Masters category (for people aged 45 years and above).
He would train with a group of younger people and they’d support each other when preparing for a competition.
During intensive training, he puts in three to four hours daily.
Corina says: “It is tough for him to compete with the younger bodybuilders. However, he does get a lot of attention, as he is among the oldest participants.”
Though Tan didn’t become a champion bodybuilder, he is content with his achievements.
He is joyful every time his family, including his grandchildren, turn up in full force to support him in competitions.
“A simple and happy-go-lucky man, my father does not have high expectations of himself,” says Corina.
Some of his achievements include second to fourth placings for Mr Perak, Mr Taiping, Mr Penang and Mr Pesta competitions. Next year, Tan hopes to participate in a bodybuilding competition again.
“It does not matter if I don’t win,” he said. “I just want to show off my body and encourage the younger generation to stay healthy.”