Picking Up Metal: Youth Weightlifting in the Philippines

This is Lovely, an accomplished 13-year old Filipino weightlifter.  She has won numerous championship titles, including the Philippine youth national championship.  Lovely trains with Team Angono six days a week, 2 hours a day.  She is currently on the waiting list for the Philippine national team.

This is Lovely’s home.


I watched out the van window as a toddler played with a broken pink headband and a dirty toy gorilla under the overpass of a crowded Manila highway. A teenage boy, possibly his brother, sat nearby transferring bottles from one plastic bag to another. As we continued our drive, I spotted more and more street children—sleeping on the sidewalk, begging for money between lanes of slow moving traffic, selling handmade flower necklaces. These children—filthy, barefoot and unattended—jolted me out of my self-absorbed reality and sobered my thoughts.

My son, Hutch, and I had traveled to Manila in the Philippines for the Metro Weightlifting Championship held on December 16. Prior to seeing these children, I was thinking about how I was going to lose a kilogram of bodyweight in the next 24 hours. After seeing the children, though, my weight loss concerns were forgotten. Who cares about bodyweight when there are children—children—on the streets barely surviving?

It is not right. It is not okay. Children should be in school. They should be spending their free time playing sports or games. They should not be struggling for survival, without adequate clothing and nutritious food to eat. Someone should do something about this.

This photograph, featured in the U.K.’s Daily Mail, shows a girl scavenging for metal and other recyclable materials in a garbage dumpsite in Manila. Many children in Manila help support their families with this activity.

A few days later, I met Coach Pep . . .

Coach Richard “Pep” Agosto is a former member of the Philippine National Weightlifting Team. Pep was an accomplished weightlifter, medaling in numerous international competitions, including the Southeast Asian Games. While Pep was still on the national team, he witnessed the extreme poverty of children in his neighborhood and started a program to give them a better life through weightlifting.

Pep identified some neighborhood children who were scavenging in the dump and asked if they would like to train with him instead.  Pep offered to pay for the kids’ schooling and feed them if they would train with him each day.  The children’s parents initially refused Pep’s offer because it meant less money for their families.  However, Pep convinced the parents that weightlifting and school were investments in the children’s futures.

While in Manila, I had the privilege of meeting Coach Pep and his weightlifting team.

When we arrived at Pep’s gym, a small, covered outdoor area next to his house, Pep’s weightlifters greeted us with smiles. The weightlifters, ranging in age from 9-18, were eager to show off their skills.

Given the children’s impoverished circumstances, I expected very little from them athletically. I was surprised. Pep’s weightlifters are powerful and technically polished. They rival any youth weightlifters I have seen in the United States or Germany.


Pep’s lifters have won numerous competitions in the Philippines, including the national championship, and have set new national records for their age groups. Two of his lifters are even on the waiting list to join the national team. Membership on the national team will open new doors of privilege, giving the kids better training opportunities and a generous monthly stipend.

More importantly, though, Pep’s training gives the kids a path to escape from their impoverished circumstances. When possible, they travel to competitions and see the world outside of their neighborhood. Pep’s program also gives them the opportunity to go to school, a privilege that is not afforded to all children in the Philippines. It is giving the kids tools to make better lives for themselves.

Training is a luxury most Filipino kids cannot afford. Training means less money for the children’s families since the kids are not spending time earning money for the family. To compensate the families for the loss of money, Pep feeds the children and pays for them to go to school. In return, they train every day with Coach Pep. They are especially motivated to show up to training because it means they get two meals that day, instead of the single meal they would receive at home.

How does Pep do It?

In the United States, a coach like Pep would have social resources to help him with his program. In the Philippines, however, these resources are not available.

Pep funds the entire program with money he personally earns as a member of the Philippine Air Force and with donations from private sponsors. Pep also spends long hours coaching weightlifting at CrossFit gyms to earn money for his kids.

One of Coach Pep’s lifters lives here.
Another of Coach Pep’s lifters lives here.

Talking to Pep, I could feel the strain it puts on him to feed, clothe, and educate twelve children—the nine children on the team, along with his own three children. Pep was proud that he had kept the program open for three whole years, but I could sense his concern with the long-term success of the program.

“I take on as much extra work as I can find to provide for my lifters,” said Coach Pep.  “I coach weightlifting at CrossFit gyms, at seminars and to an adult class on Saturdays.  Everything I earn goes to supporting my lifters.”

It is a daily struggle for Pep to provide for his lifters. Without outside benefactors, Pep’s program cannot survive.

How Much Does It Cost to Sponsor a Lifter?

It costs Coach Pep about $55 per month to send each lifter to school and feed them.

How Can I Donate to Coach Pep’s Project?

If you—or your weightlifting team—would like to make a donation to Coach Pep’s lifters, click below.

Your donation will change the life of a child. It will offer a child who would otherwise be picking through trash in a dump to have the luxury of going to school and training. Your donation will allow a child who would otherwise have one meal a day to have two meals. And your donation will go directly to Coach Pep and his kids—no collection agencies.

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