“It’s every child’s dream to be an astronaut,” says 28-year-old Chino Roque, eyes glinting and lips curled in a smile.
But really, that’s how he is. From his very cool and cheerful demeanor, you wouldn’t suspect that you’re talking to a hardcore athlete. And growing up as a member of a football varsity, from grade school to high school, Chino is an athlete and more.
CrosstrainPH sat with him to understand where he gets the energy to do more and be more.
Chino Roque on sports, Crossfit, and training to be an astronaut
CROSSTRAINPH: Tell us about when you started your fitness journey.
CHINO: I started playing football back when I was in Grade 4. I played for Zobel, under the midget’s football varsity team. Well, of course, before that I tried out a lot of other different sports. I joined swimming camps, basketball camps. But I wasn’t very good at basketball. I tried out badminton. I got a blue belt in taekwondo.
My fitness journey started in grade school. From there, I moved on to high school football varsity, aspirants for two years, then with candidates.
I became captain of the high school football team on my fourth year. We managed to get the first UA&P championship for La Salle’s junior’s team, for Zobel. Since then, the championship has been very elusive for La Salle.
I was also a middle distance runner in high school. I did 5-K and 10-K for La Salle’s UA&P team. It was a surprise for me. Our football coach called me up, told me to talk to Coach Hans Smit. He recruited me for the track team. Our trainings were very intense under Coach Hans.
Then I got to college. For all of my four years, I was with the football team at DLSU. I was captain of the team for two years, during my third and fourth years. I did not get to extend to a fifth year because I accidentally ran out of units. I wanted to graduate earlier to start studying to become a pilot.
I also did dragon boat for one whole year during that time.
CROSSTRAINPH: When you start a sport, what goes into your mind? Is it something that you just want to try out or something you probably have been eyeing for a while?
CHINO: I like something challenging. With dragon boating, for example, I think that was at a time when the sport was booming. The team was starting to win international competitions so I wanted to see how I perform with the best of the best.
Height was always going to be an issue, of course, so basketball was out of the question. (laughs)
What really attracts me to a sport is the challenge. When people say that it’s nearly impossible, I try to see if I can do it or at least have a shot at performing well in that sport.
CROSSTRAINPH: Do you get frustrated if you don’t perform well in a sport? How do you handle that?
CHINO: Not making it is never part of my mindset. But if I really don’t make it, there’s always a backup plan. I go back to where I’m good at or I try something new.
Within the process of getting myself into a sport and staying in a sport, there is no sense of doubt. I don’t go 50-50 in my attempts or even in my training—never second-guessing, always pushing forward, trying to see how hard I can push myself or how hard I can encourage the people around me, and how that community will affect me.
CROSSTRAINPH: From football, how did you jump to Crossfit?
CHINO: In my last year in college, I broke my elbow. I was playing at the Coke Cup, a summer league, and on the championship game I injured myself. My elbow cap shattered and the triceps tendon ruptured. I had two operations and my recovery period crossed with the UA&P season.
In the same time, I suffered from a collapsed lung. It was nine days away from UA&P. It left me devastated because my doctor told me to sit it out for three months. I would miss the whole season. But I was hardheaded. Within six weeks, I was back jogging with the team. I would tell people, my parents, that I was cleared to train already even when I wasn’t.
Of course being injured leaves you with a different psychology. There was a lot of negativity. I was sad that on my graduation year, which was my last chance to play with the team, I couldn’t play. I ended up not playing for the whole season, even when I was cleared for the last game between La Salle and Ateneo.
There was a period when I wasn’t doing any sport. But, researching exercises I could do at home, I would see a lot of Crossfit videos on YouTube. I decided to try some of these exercises out, doing the burpees at home or in the school gym.
CROSSTRAINPH: During this time, there wasn’t a lot of material on Crossfit. It was relatively new, no?
CHINO: Yeah. Almost zero materials. There were only, I think, around 40 videos on YouTube about it.
Then I figured it out around August of 2012. But I didn’t know there were some Crossfit gyms here in the country by then. It was that August when I tried it out for the first time in a Crossfit gym. I was with a group of moms, seven of them, and three guys who became my first Crossfit friends.
I totally died during my first Crossfit training. I tried my best but it wasn’t an intro workout. I remember we did sumo deadlift high pulls, box jumps, battle ropes, pull ups. That was my first time in a box, a Crossfit gym.
CROSSTRAINPH: From being a newbie to owning your own Crossfit box, how did that happen?
CHINO: Opening my own box was a long journey. It started with enjoying Crossfit. Then there was a chance to become a coach. I trained with senior coaches, they wanted to see how I move. Then I was asked if was interested in becoming a coach. I said, of course.
Initially, I really wanted to be a football coach. I was training kids, from three to eight, under Football Fanatics for two years. I was teaching kids in Tahanan, Ayala Alabang. From there, I picked up a couple of things about teaching, adapting to different kinds of students.
In 2013, I started coaching Crossfit. What’s nice about being a Crossfit coach was the challenge of learning exercises in advance. I was pressured to learn more and do more, to be an example to my students. It kept me sharp.
It was also in that year when I joined the Axe Apollo Competition. I submitted an online entry.
CROSSTRAINPH: What made you decide to join that?
CHINO: Aside from the fact that becoming an astronaut is every child’s dream, I liked their ad for the Space Camp. It said, “Nothing beats an astronaut.” And like I said, I’ve always wanted to do something challenging, something nearly impossible. The ad had a lifeguard punching a shark, a firefighter rescuing so many people. But they all get creamed by an astronaut. (laughs)
So I said, why not? I should give this a shot.
It was a year-long process. There was an on-line interview, an exam that they sent over email. During that year, I was training hard. I had the competition in mind.
Then they told all of the contestants to join an obstacle course at BGC. From the 24,000 that submitted, they asked the top 400 to go through the 21-obstacle course. Then we were trimmed down to 50. From that, they chose the last three men standing.
CROSSTRAINPH: That included you?
CHINO: Unfortunately, no. The three were Lt. Mario Mendoza, Evan Datuin, and Ramil Santos. But Lt. Mendoza had to pullout. He’s now a captain in the Air Force, flying F50s. I’m very happy for him.
So Axe called in the next five contestants to determine who would replace Capt. Mendoza. Luckily, I topped the exams and the interviews and the challenges.
The three of us went to training. In December 2013, we went to Space Camp at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It was a rigorous training for two weeks. Lots of obstacle courses.
We got to ride the centrifuge. We trained in zero gravity. It was also the first time I got to maneuver a jet. This experience made me want to become a pilot even more.
After the two-week training course, I was chosen to be the first representative from the Philippines or the first Filipino astronaut, together with 23 other winners chosen from the more than 100 participants at the Space Camp.
CROSSTRAINPH: Did you continue training even after Space Camp?
CHINO: That’s what’s nice about Crossfit. When we finished the camp, they sent us workouts to keep us fit while waiting for our day in space. The format was very similar to Crossfit exercises.
It included 5-5-5 deadlifts in certain percentages. There were pushups, swimming, running. All of these movements have been introduced in the Crossfit training regimen. So I was very comfortable to continue my training, for six years now, in preparation for going to space.
It’s still a challenge every time to push myself. But it’s also become second nature, as a Crossfit athlete, to try to give it a 100 percent every time you’re training.
CROSSTRAINPH: When you finally get to space, what’s the first thing you are going to do?
CHINO: Before, it was all about representing the country, saying something meaningful. But now, I realize that when I do get to space, the first thing I am going to do is to just take in the moment.
I’m going to take a deep breath, look at the earth, and marvel at its perfect shape.
When I get back from space, I have to be able to give everybody a sense of what it feels like to be there. To do that, I have to immerse myself in the whole experience.
CROSSTRAINPH: When you find a challenge, what’s your mindset?
CHINO: Before I try any sport, I make calculations. I don’t just go blindly into a sport and give it 100 percent effort automatically. It’s all about the mental preparation that comes before I step into any sport or try out any exercise.
Football, dragon boat, Crossfit—before I tried any of these out, it took at least a day or two of mental preparation, to convince myself and to tune my mind into becoming serious about these sports.
When I get into a sport, it’s not so much as conditioning myself to have a never-give-up attitude, but it’s always either a yes or a no. I’m in it or I’m not.
If I’m in it, I always give it 100 percent. The people around me, my teammates, the people I coach, they know that if I’m in it, I am in it.
May pagka-YOLO. (laughs)
I give 100 percent effort all the time. I give it 100 percent attention.