For bodybuilding Fil-Am grandma, age is just a number | Inquirer

For bodybuilding Fil-Am grandma, age is just a number

/ 01:42 AM January 25, 2017


Marinez “Lola Nez” de la Torre Burnett adheres to a grueling daily workout. BOB BURNETT

Whether at a grocery store or in a nearby public park, Marinez de la Torre Burnett blends in with other grandparents taking their young grandkids for an ice cream or a long walk on a sunny weekend.

But at the Four Seasons Gym in Sioux City, Iowa, a 20-minute interstate drive from where she and her family live in Dakota Dunes, South Dakota, the 46-year-old grandmother of two stands out among gym rats and fitness fanatics, grunting and panting as they lift dumbbells that are more than a hundred pounds.

Known among her peers as Lola Nez (Grandma Nez), she lifts more than her weight for six days a week and does an intensive cardio exercise for an hour and a half on a weekend — a rigorous training regimen that she has been strictly following these days.

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Grueling daily training

“I lift 155 pounds every single day — from Monday to Saturday,” said Burnett, who is about 5-feet-3 and weighs 112 pounds. “The cardio that I do on Sunday is already considered a rest for me.”

These grueling daily training sessions, she says, are crucial for her next bodybuilding competition. She will be vying for the top prize in the Bikini Bodybuilding class at the 2017 NPC Natural Eastern USA Championships, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, this April.


Burnett is believed to be among the few (if not the only) middle-aged Filipina American bodybuilders today. While bodybuilding is arguably a rare sport for Filipino women, it is also uncommon for a grandmother like her to compete at the national level.

“As Filipinos, we have this connotation that when you’re a grandmother, you’re really old, and that bodybuilding is not appealing,” she said. “I want to break these stereotypes.”

Major awards


Burnett has just been bodybuilding a little over two years. Yet, she already has several major awards under her belt, including three First Places, two of them NPC Branch Warren Championships and one  NPC (Battle of Champions), a Second Place at NPC Rock Solid Championships, and a Third Place at Mel Chancey Port Charlotte Classic.


Lola Nez having fun with her grandkids. BOB BURNETT

“Age is just a number,” she noted.

She started going to the gym, ironically, after she was diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a digestive disorder that causes heartburn or acid indigestion, in 2014.

“It was not my primary goal to be a bodybuilder,” she said. “I just wanted to get myself a lot healthier.”

Despite her medication, she said she felt sluggish and could hardly sleep at night, as the level of her blood sugar and blood pressure continued to rise.

Out of whack

“Everything was just out of whack,” she recalled. “So, on a cold winter night of December, I remember my husband and I went out to see a professional [gym] trainer, hoping that it would improve my condition.”

Then one day her training at the gym became more serious, and her GERD symptoms had dissipated. Five months later, Burnett said, she had her first bodybuilding competition—and she finished in the Top Five.

“When I saw my transition and the positive effects on my health, I was convinced that it boils down on what we put into our minds and bodies,” she said. “The more you build your muscles, the more your bones become tenacious.”

A native of San Fernando City, La Union, in northern Philippines, Burnett immigrated to the United States in 2010 to be with her husband, Bob Burnett.


Marinez “Lola Nez” de la Torre Burnett posing during a bodybuilding competition.DOUG JANTZ

“I’m a proud Ilocana (a woman from the Ilocos province),” she said. “After coming back and forth to America a number of times, I decided to stay permanently with my two children.”

Business woman

Now when she’s not at the gym, she runs her own medical transcription business. She employs 20 full-time Filipino nurses and has two offices located in Dakota Dunes and in San Fernando City.

In wintertime, when the temperature could drop below zero in South Dakota, she stays in Estero, Florida, and trains at the gym outside Bonita Springs, with her coach and trainer, Dan Eslinger.

“Her outlook, her motivation, and her passion for the sport radiates on stage,” said Eslinger, who has been a bodybuilder himself for most of his adult life. “When she wakes up in the morning, she knows what she wants to do at the gym.”

Eslinger says that he has trained many other bodybuilders for years, but what makes Burnett unique is the way her body sustains the challenges from the daily wear and tear of weightlifting and workout.

He added: “What she’s been doing is not normal for her age. I think that’s excellent. Look, I’m just 36 years old and my body already broke down.”


Although Burnett and her husband try to stay active, she describes herself as a homebody who spends most of the time with her grandchildren, cook or do other household chores.

“In America, as you may know, most Filipino grandparents would babysit their grandkids — especially, in my case, when my daughter goes to work,” she said. “I’m just your typical lola.”


De la Torre Burnett lifts more than her weight six times a week and still runs a business. BOB BURNETT

Still, Burnett hopes to get a “pro card” in bodybuilding. That means that not only must she win in professional competitions, but she must also beat all other winners in the Bikini class.

In bodybuilding, most non-professional competitions only give the winner a trophy, a shirt and a title. But the winner in professional competitions earns cash prizes and an endorsement contract.

One step at a time

“I’d like to take one step at a time,” she said. “But I want to give myself two years to achieve it.”

Burnett is currently serving as the “brand ambassador” for Puro Labs.

Bodybuilding is a sport that requires a lot of investment, according to Burnett. From time and proper diet to intensive training and pose practice — all these things are significant to win a competition and become a professional bodybuilder.

“The bikini itself costs between $500 and $600. Frankly, it is an expensive sport,” she said. “I’d definitely love to have a sponsor.”

With more than 60,000 followers on social media, Burnett has also been encouraged by many to be in a bodybuilding competition in the Philippines or join an international beauty pageant for her age, like Grandma Universe, and represent her native country.

“I’m just humbled and honored by the love and support from many people,” she said. “For now, the most important is to stay healthy and enjoy my time with my family.”

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