RANCIS SEQUEIRA (Part 1 of 2) by Irene L. Hause and Mike Armstrong
Muscle Digest Volume 2, Number 1 February/March 1978
“I was really touched by the crowd. It was fantastic! I got goosebumps and everything standing there. The crowd was so enthusiastic. I was walking up to the platform to pose, and the crowd gave such an ovation. I was so touched . . . Goosebumps. I got red in the face, and I said, ‘Thank you! Thank you!’ and I really didn’t know what to do. So I quickly threw a pose. It was terrific of the crowd to make a person feel so good. Even if I had come in first, I don’t think it would have been so good as the reaction from the crowd. It was a feeling that I really will treasure. It was worth everything!”
A novice bodybuilder describing his first contest? Wrong. Those are the words of Rancis X. Sequeira, the 5’ 3-1/2”, 150 pound, 60-year-old fourth place winner in the Over 40 category describing his experience at the 1977 AAU Mr. Southern California contest. Not many in the audience could have guessed that during World War II Rancis was a hundred pound refugee. In 1942 he, along with his 89 pound bride-to be, fled the 40 miles across the Pearl River Estuary from occupied Hong Kong to the safety and opportunities available in Portuguese Macao. Now, 36 years later, Rancis and Terry Sequeira live in an [immaculate] and comfortable home in Torrance, California. Pictures of their five children and several grandchildren line the shelves and tables in the living room, and a dog named Della sits at the front window and watches the passersby. Both Rancis and Terry commute the 18 miles to downtown Los Angeles where Rancis is an Assistant Vice President with Countrywide Life Insurance, a subsidiary of Transamerica Corporation, and Terry, at 62, is a legal secretary.
What led you into bodybuilding?
It’s a long story, beginning with World War II. My brother and I were in the British army defending Hong Kong. He was killed by the Japanese. I was shell-shocked. After the Japanese took over Hong Kong, Terry, who was then my fiancée, and I managed to make our way to Macao. Terry was down to 89 pounds, and I was about 100 pounds, skin and bones, from eating nothing but vegetables for three months in Hong Kong. I met this man who ran a gym in Macao, and he invited me to his gym. I told him that I was more concerned with eating than with exercising! However, he talked me into going to his gym. Since I was a refugee, he took me in without any charge. Then I got news from my office. I had been an understudy cost accountant with Standard Oil in Hong Kong, so I had contacted their office in Macao. They said they were going to pay me full salary for the duration. So things changed! I ate well and started to pay for my workouts. I recovered from 100 to 125 pounds in about a month. And I was so grateful to him that I was taken by bodybuilding! In six months I was able to compete in a physique contest, and I had never lifted any weights before, although I’d played soccer and things like that.
Did you live in Macao until you came to the United States?
No. Terry and I got married in February of 1942 and returned to Hong Kong in 1945. I went back to my job at Standard Oil. On the side I set up a gym to train the neighborhood kids and also was the weightlifting coach at the Victoria Recreation Club, a very exclusive European club still in existence in Hong Kong. I never got paid for any of these things. I just did them to help others because of the way the man in Macao had helped me regain my health through weight training. In 1952 I was the captain of the weightlifting team that was training for the Olympics, but we didn’t get to go to Helsinki. There wasn’t enough money to send everyone, so they sent the soccer and swimming teams. I was very disappointed.
What brought you to the United States?
We wanted our children to get good educations. At that time in Hong Kong, college educations were for only those children from wealthy families. So in 1956 we came to the United States.
And you continued right on with bodybuilding?
Not right away. The first three years were difficult, trying to make a living for five children in a new country. I worked days, and my wife worked nights. But Terry always wanted me to get back to bodybuilding. She knew how much I loved it. Every time I am away from the gym for a while, she chases me back. It’s very important to have a person like that. She is terrific in that respect. So I joined a bodybuilding club in Santa Monica. I was a little disappointed because people were not too friendly, and I felt that I was a foreigner at that time, you know, really conscious of it. I was a member there, but didn’t go too often because, as I said, the first three years were rough.
I worked for Occidental Life Insurance, which is also a subsidiary of Transamerica Corporation. Back in 1959 some people in the office were interested in bodybuilding, and they asked me to form a gym. We managed to get the office to give us a big, very dark, empty room at the top of the building. I think my gym may have been the first commercial gym, and it was originally made up of just homemade equipment. We met there three times a week. Then one day the president of the company saw me and made a complimentary remark about my muscles, so I told him about our gym. He asked me to show it to him. He asked what we did and I replied that we trained and that I taught corrective exercises, working with the medical department on certain occasions because some of the fellows had to have clearance before they could get started.
What did [the president of the company] think about all this?
He said we’d have a gym when we got our new building down on Hill Street. But he didn’t know that we had already applied to the controller for space in the new building. [The controller] was against it. He wasn’t one of those guys who was sympathetic toward bodybuilders and said it cost too much per square foot. But the president didn’t know about that. After I showed him the gym, he went back to his office, and I went back to mine. An hour later I was called to his office. When I got there, he had the whole executive staff there and asked me to lead them up to the gym and tell them what good I was doing. I was really flabbergasted!
So he was aware of the benefits of your efforts?
Yes, I’d told him about a few of the men I’d been working with. Like the man who’d had a cerebral hemorrhage at one time. It is quite a responsibility to admit such a person to a gym, but I accepted him and consulted with the company doctor immediately. We agreed that it is better to accept a man like that than to refuse him because he will feel that he’s not a human being anymore. He wants to do some work. So the doctor said psychologically it’s a good thing because it works for this person — he thinks he is improving. I just gave him some calisthenics, no weights. And he was so happy that he was admitted to the gym. He felt like he’d passed a test!
How did the plans for the gym in the new building work out?
When the new building was completed, the president told me to go shop for weights. I drew up a plan of all the things I needed, and it came to maybe $5,000. At that time it was a lot of money. He approved everything. We even had mirrors.
Who could use this gym?
It was open to only male employees, after work. Then the ladies found out that we had a gym, and about 80 or 90 ladies signed a petition — they wanted their share! At first we had some resistance from the controller. Finally he gave in. We bought some special equipment for women, and I started the ladies’ section just a few months after the gym opened. After a few years the president suggested that I start it at lunch time because after work some people have car pools, and they can’t stay behind. I thought it was a good idea, and he arranged for my manager to let me off from 11 to 2. Things went beautifully. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for men, Tuesday and Thursday for women. People were so enthusiastic because they felt so good. I, of course, never got paid extra for this. I volunteered to help.
Do you feel that because you know what regular workouts can do for you that you just have to share it with people?
That’s it exactly. When you’re working out, it seems like your mind is clear. You sleep better. Because your circulation is improved, you feel so differently. And it makes me feel good to help others feel good!
How did you keep track of everyone?
I offered personalized service. Everyone had a card, and I watched their development and progress that way. I didn’t expect a person to see visible changes right away, especially the older people and office workers. The immediate change was in how they felt. For example, I had people who were very heavy smokers join the gym. They said, “I smoke. Do I have to give it up?” I didn’t tell them they had to because they wouldn’t be around anymore. I said, “Sure, keep smoking.” You know, after a while they said they didn’t have the urge to smoke that much anymore. They didn’t give it up completely, but they tapered off because they felt they needed more stamina.
Did this change to lunch hours have any effect on you?
Yes, it was really hitting me because of my work. I worked with financial statements. It was getting to be a bit too much. So around 1965 I told the office that I just couldn’t do it anymore. Bob May is running it now.
So you’re saying that something you started as a hobby now requires a full-time professional to run! That must make you feel very proud. Do you still work out down there?
No. I had to divorce myself from the company gym because my presence sometimes interfered with the running of the gym. Although I discouraged them, some people still came to me, even in my department, for consultation.
Where do you work out now?
Disc Health Club, here in Torrance. Steve Rempis owns it.
– End of Part 1 –
In Part 2 Rancis details his training routine and explains why he feels bodybuilding plays such an important role in his present social and professional life.
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