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Holmes Finau details how his personal fitness experience helped carry him through college

Holmes Finau holds his country's flag while dressed in traditional clothes.

As a freshman dancer in the villages at the Polynesian Cultural Center who was uncomfortable with his body, Holmes Finau said he decided to change his lifestyle in order to improve his body.

Years later, as a graduate, Finau said he is proud of his crafted body. Finau, who is from Tonga and majored in political science, said his fitness journey helped him in all aspects of life.

“Going to the gym isn’t just about lifting weights. It helps build discipline. It’s especially important because of the stress from school and work,” shared Finau.

Becoming more fit not only helped Finau physically, but also it supported him in his academic life as well. “I started eating healthier and being healthier, and it helped me focus and be better academically. I felt healthy and more focused. It gave me more structure.”

Recalling the start of his journey, Finau said when he arrived as a freshman and worked as a dancer at the PCC, “I had to be shirtless. I was kind of chubby and felt self-conscious about it.”

Since Finau was uncomfortable, he decided to go to the gym and lift weights to feel better about his physique. He said he did not know what to do at the gym the first time, so he decided to buy a pair of dumbbells and work out at home instead.

The initial workout was simple he said: bicep curls, push ups, and sit ups. Wanting to challenge himself, Finau said he decided to start out with the goal of doing 100 bicep curls, 100 push ups, and 100 sit ups each time he worked out.

Finau soon bought a pull up bar to use for his workouts in addition to his weights. “I took my weights everywhere,” he said. Finau said he was known for having weights in his bag and wanting to work out at every opportunity.

After several months of working out in his room, he decided the only way he could progress further was by going to the gym. He looked up different exercises he could do and returned to the campus Fitness Center.

At first, he worked out in the gym for one hour every day. Finau said, “On average, [now] I’m in the gym for three hours every time.”

While on his journey to build a better body for himself, Finau met Ammon Autele, a junior from American Samoa majoring in exercise and sports science. Autele had experience in bodybuilding competitions and told Finau he should enter a bodybuilding competition.

He said Finau’s commitment and dedication make him a great athlete. “It’s hard because you have to make a lot of sacrifices, but he’s willing to make them.”

It’s hard because you have to make a lot of sacrifices, but he’s willing to make them.
Ammon Autele

These sacrifices include time and a normal lifestyle, he explained. The intense training regimen required to compete in bodybuilding competitions causes most people to cut out a lot of their social life, he said.

Autele also said the strict diet also makes it difficult to go out with friends because it limits the foods athletes are allowed to eat while training.

For Autele, he reached a point where those sacrifices were no longer worth it, and he decided to drop out of training for an April competition. However, he decided to help train Finau, so he could compete at a high level in April.

Autele said his family is one of the main reasons he decided to drop out. He said he would rather be there for his wife and baby boy. In addition, he talked about what he called “the dark side of the sport.” He said after his last competition ended, he developed an eating disorder.

“After I finished the competition, I stopped working out as intensely, but I couldn’t stop eating. I didn’t even realize I had a disorder. I just couldn’t stop.” Autele said he gained more than 45 pounds since his last competition.

According to Autele, bodybuilding is pushing your body past its natural limits, and because of this it can lead to adverse consequences, including eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder. He said he believes this is why there is not a lot of longevity in the sport.

Holmes Finau and Ammon Autele flex their muscles while being shirtless.

“Some guys just do one competition and then they’re finished,” he said. This is because they work intensely for months to train for a single competition, he said, which can make the following one daunting and less appealing.

“I would say if you don’t really want to do it, then you shouldn’t do bodybuilding.” He said it takes a lot of work ethic and determination to do well in the sport. Finau said he believes in having a good work ethic in every aspect of his life, including his job as a concession worker at the PCC.

His boss, Tonu Apelu, commented on his work ethic, “He’s a great worker who inspires his co-workers to become better through his work ethic ... [He] has helped our department in the short time he has been with us.”

Finau said he is grateful for all who have helped him along the way of his fitness journey. Without them, Finau said he does not know where he would be. He said the gym has helped him as he navigated relationships and breakups, poor work environments and the stresses of school and schoolwork.

“Sometimes you feel like giving up, [and say], ‘I don’t want to go to school or work anymore.’ When I feel like that, I just go to the gym, and after a good workout, I don’t feel like that,” Finau said.

He explained fitness has made him successful. Finau said he defines success “as achieving your ultimate goal, whatever that goal is.”

Finau was set to compete in the Polynesian Natural Muscle Mayhem bodybuilding competition on April 4. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the competition was canceled. Finau said the cancellation was “rough” and called it “a very sad ending for this semester.”

He said setbacks will not hold him back. Finau said he will attend Utah Valley University's aviation program with the dream of becoming a commercial airline pilot and traveling the world.