So, I’ve “known” Erwin for a few years now… as in, he said hi to me when I first joined my gym, introducing himself as a physical therapist. Name and occupation, that’s all I really knew. Over the past few months, I've been following (and so inspired by) Erwin's growth as an entrepreneur and recently, we’ve connected and bonded over our love of growing our businesses. I am OVERJOYED to have him as a part of this project. What I love so much about his story is his relentlessness and constant drive—without further ado, meet Erwin!
I was born in the Bronx, and only have some choice memories from then; namely getting juked in front of my apartment building and falling flat on my face (the scar is still there if you look hard enough), but spent the rest of my formative years in Yorktown Heights, a suburb just north of New York City.
I am the son of two Filipino immigrants that arrived in New York (my mother first, followed by my father 2 years after I was born) in the late 1980’s that brought their hopes and dreams of living the American Dream: coming to a place almost absolutely foreign to them, and sacrificing everything that they had known to chase a new and different life for a higher ceiling. Filipinos are a rare commodity; their familial and cultural structures are bound by multiple cultures which emphasize family overall. That’ll become more relevant shortly.
My father used to tell me stories and I had seen photos of him as an officer on several Merchant Marine ships. Long story short, he gave up his career of becoming a captain for a prominent shipping company in order to come follow my mother to the States - to come and raise me almost exclusively full-time. My mother is a Registered Nurse that came over first and hustled her tail off to make ends meet. Since they had almost no connections in the states, she relied on the growing Filipino community in the Bronx to help support her; and before my dad was admitted into the country on a green card, I was taken care of by my ‘lola’ (grandmother) who wasn’t even my actual grandmother.
I knew from a young age that I wanted to be involved in healthcare. A nerd from the start, I would watch my mother’s nursing continuing education videos and be interested in EKG’s, heart transplants, and watch procedures + protocols.
We moved to Northern Westchester in the mid-late 90’s, just in time for me to start running around the yard and learning how to move + play and make friends. So I spent time playing Power Rangers and running around. I once convinced my parents to buy me a hockey stick a la Mighty Ducks and smashed tennis balls/rubber pucks against the side of the house, but my parents wouldn’t let me sign up for Hockey even though I learned how to skate (but never backwards) because of the risk of injury to me.
“You’re gonna get hurt!” They were typical protective (Filipino) parents.
So I was introduced to a sport called Soccer; one that required running, and whenever you scored a goal, that was enough license for you to run around like a maniac. It suited me. I ended up getting teased by friends + neighbors: “Soccer’s a girl’s sport, why would you play that?” I continued to play anyway. I played in several in-house leagues and wanted to play more, because for me if I wasn’t very good at something, and I wanted to be good at it - but there was a barrier that now has a name: ‘Pay to play.’
In order to play at a higher level in the United States, you need to shell out the money in order to participate; after all, it costs money to pay the coaches, get uniforms, gear, the fields, pay the referees + officials and everyone involved, but there are costs for everything. With that, my higher level club career ended at the age of 10. Once I entered the Middle School, I had learned about the ability to play at a higher level and the prestige that Varsity Sports brought.
I feel like my self-awareness began much earlier than my peers; while I made friends pretty well, I found myself in a group of friends that most would have considered popular. I ended up wondering why a lot of the girls would be interested in my friends and not myself? I found myself wondering why I wasn’t ‘attractive’ or ‘popular’ and because increasingly critical of how I looked. Maybe it was my skin color, maybe it was because I didn’t play football, because I played soccer, but I felt like I wasn’t good enough.
I stopped eating regularly and ended up making myself ‘sick,’ being that I was unable to move my bowels for a month; they were impacted. I missed a month of school because of the pain and because I was embarrassed to tell my friends what happened to me. I may have recovered from the discomfort, but was (and still am) very self-conscious about my body image; how I look, and how I present myself to others. It became and is still a process that I deal with every day.
Soccer became a big part of my life; from being cut from tryouts my Freshman year, making the JV squad Sophomore year, and being cut Junior year. So I ran. I ended up running as much as I could. I would run from my house to the school, from my house around the park, and figure out how to beat my time every time I went for a run. I used the running + conditioning sessions to make up for my lack of skill. My ability to train became my work ethic; if I could focus and put my mind to doing what I needed to do, I would do it. Nothing would be able to stop me. I decided then and there that my ability to be outworked would be second to none - and if I could work as hard as I could, I would do it and make it.
Running became the source of my mental fortitude; I would fight the mental urge to slow + the fatigue and use it as fuel to continue. It was a driving experience - a test of my mettle.
While I honed my brain through running + training with no clear view of my own, I was also preparing to set my sights on Medical School as my ultimate goal. I had asked teachers how to get on the level of my friends in accelerated math and science, and I got an answer: to take two years of math in one, so I could finish my high school career better prepared for college with the goal of going to medical school.
I worked on my sprint speed. I worked hard over a 3-5 mile distance. My speed on a two-mile split was around 12:30, which was fast for me. I got so good at hitting out of bunkers and rough because my game was so bad that my recovery game was on point. I remember keeping pace with one of the fastest guys on the team while running a modified Cooper test (a timed two-mile) trying out my sophomore year. I ran my ass off so hard.
My senior year, with all the hard work and practice (hitting golf balls, playing ball as much as I could, running + pushing my limits) I managed to make the Varsity Soccer team.
I even managed to become involved in dance, which quickly became my second passion; I learned how to dance with a partner and quickly picked up break dancing… and the long-forgotten art of glowsticking.
As I prepared for college, I thought that I had a compelling resume + experience between all of my activities; running between community service, dance, soccer, golf, ultimate frisbee, extremely driven, that I was an ideal candidate for most private schools; after applying to around 15 schools in New York State and 20 schools in total, I ended up being accepted to a handful of schools, of which, I wasn’t really sure I wanted to go to: Penn State University, Stony Brook, Clarkson, and Binghamton University to name a few. The notable rejections: Cornell, NYU, and some other ones that didn’t really matter. I was crushed as I thought I wasn’t good enough for a private institution.
Long story short, I would find that my path would take me to a school in upstate New York that had me assess how hard I could push myself and despite that, still not learning where my body’s boundaries were.
I ended up going to Binghamton University and absolutely hating my first year; traveling back and forth between home most weeks for the first few months, but after diving into the new environment as a chance to make new friends + grow, I joined the club soccer team (which was basically redshirt varsity D1 players), started to break dance again, and tried out for the Ballroom Competition team.
I worked so hard my first year that I gave myself a rash that spanned from my back to my arm. In a panic, I texted my mom and my pediatrician photos of the rash that was extremely itchy. My pediatric doctor was as confused as I was. He suggested that I had shingles, a condition that only appears in older immunocompromised adults and in young children that are exposed to the herpes simplex virus. Why would it happen in an otherwise healthy 18-year-old?
Stress and overwork. I spent days + nights playing soccer, dancing, and then coming home to study + play video games and do it again the next day.
I knew that I would love to stay active and continue to play sports, or even wanted to find a way to help athletes continue to perform; but “how would I do that through medicine?” I asked myself.
I think I knew I wanted what I wanted to do when I watched a player on the Men’s Soccer team land after a tackle on his ankle and end up tearing all of his lateral ligaments. The ankle was the size of a basketball; swollen, bruised, and absolutely painful to move. Liam was heartbroken; his season was over in his first preseason match. I worked with Sean, the trainer at the time, and observed Liam’s recovery. Within 6 months, without surgery, we were able to get him back to playing before the end of the regular season as a substitute.
I was hooked.
While I was growing interest in working directly with athletes, I had a telling experience with an MD that was a Cardiologist that was summed up in one line after observing him perform a cardiac catheterization (ultimately, the clearing out of the arteries that help to supply the heart with blood). He looked at me on my last day of observation, and asked me a question: “I know you’re looking at Medical School,” he paused. “Do you think you really want it?”
We discussed a couple of things - how I was worried about the schooling + financial investment. On a whim, I had asked a question to his question: “If you could do it again, would you?”
“No,” he responded. I had this initial vision of wanting to have a career that didn’t involve 8+ years of school, not including residency + fellowships. I felt I wasn’t smart enough to be a surgeon, so where would I go?
The next few months into the end of my college career were stressful, to say the least. Talking with the athletic trainers led me down a road: Physical Therapy. That was a way I could stay involved with active individuals and build relationships; because I wouldn’t be able to do that as an MD, and that was how most MDs I spoke with felt. My parents were not having it. They were disappointed, and frustrated. I punched a hole in the wall in my frustration but was set on what I wanted to do. My parents could not believe that I didn’t want to be an MD.
I also had a terrible time taking practice MCATs (I hate stressful things) and that it would take time to change my course as I was finishing up as a senior at Binghamton University, even though I was on course to graduate a semester early. I had to do my research; physical therapy schools were competitive to attend; I was missing prerequisites, needed more experience, so my goal was set: attending PT school.
I interviewed at several NYC schools and had weird experiences; but at NYU, I felt strangely like I belonged to it. It was timing that I had scheduled an interview and then was set to fly out to LA to take a vacation to take dance classes at some legendary studios: Millenium, Debbie Reynolds. As luck would have it, I was in the car on the way to to go home from LA and got a call with good news, I would be attending NYU in June.
It was at NYU that I got humbled and grounded quite literally, but knew that I wanted to be there and was willing to work as hard as I could in order to stay. I was able to learn more about fitness and training in specific forms, and continued to play soccer at a pretty high level (always striving!) in addition to dancing at a high level and continuing to teach. I was being drawn to working with high-level athletes and people that wanted to push themselves. I saw myself in those people that were striving for excellence. I learned how to Olympic lift, I learned how to work myself harder and compete with my classmates - most of which were former D1 athletes that were outstanding in every realm of performance.
Before finishing school, I realized that I wanted to either work as an administrator/director of a Physical Therapy practice or have my own business 5 years after graduating.
When my last year approached, I sat down and shared my dreams with my then and current girlfriend, Rena, about what I wanted to do. We got to talking and planning - figuring out how we wanted to start, where we would be, what would be efficient. My interest in Olympic lifting brought us into CrossFit gyms and using our anatomy + biomechanical education in showing people how to warm up efficiently and do things better than they were previously. We used our experience in fitness to start working with other athletes, which was an awesome, eye-opening experience.
At the same time, I started working in a clinic where I used to see 4+ clients per hour over an 8-hour shift. What happened at that clinic was eye-opening in terms of how much work I actually did versus how much I was financially being reimbursed for it; and when I felt like I sank a lot of my effort into developing my relationships with my clients, I wasn’t giving enough time to people.
With the side hustle at the CrossFit gyms, Rena and I were wondering how could we make a viable product that would be able to give quality one-on-one physical therapy?
Starting my practice as a side hustle was a process, and a slow one at that: learning how to sell people on what physical therapy should be versus what they thought it was from prior experiences was an uphill fight; but from everything I had learned in my life - this was a problem to be solved and to be solved intelligently, not brashly. I spent time learning how to pitch, reading books on how to sell, tried to figure out what everyone thought of Physical Therapy (which is not very much, by the way), and how to make myself a better therapist over the course of the past four years.
It was then that my goal was to develop a sustainable practice that could see clients one on one and provide the guided care that they wanted, in order to return to playing their sport or doing their activity of choice. I wanted to be able to hone my ability to focus and dedicate my time to people that want to get back to doing things they love.
Being able to spend time with my clients and watch them progress while seeing them get excited about their progress gets me hyped. When I was able to put the time into working and running and looked back at my progression + metrics to see progress, it is just as exciting as well.
Four years turned into the development of Match Fit Performance; a concierge one-on-one performance practice that focuses on exactly what we love: performance. Injuries, recovery, and getting to the next level all fall under what we focus on, including changing the public view of Physical Therapy.
A lot of these little parts of my life have contributed to my ability to perform athletically but also have helped me sharpen my ax and develop my work ethic; as efficiently being able to perform at a high level has helped me so much. My ability to fight through discomfort and put my head down also ended up teaching me another lesson.
I was recently diagnosed with adrenal fatigue, as I gradually learned that my ability to train was only set to one speed during training and also in life - on and off. I had spent almost 1.5 to 2 years hustling a full time (40 hour) job on top of trying to see clients and working out of CrossFit gyms to build my practice and gain experience, and it caught up with me in December 2017. I give lots of treatments + advice where I focus on my clients’ health - focusing on sleep, meditation, stress management, and I let myself down.
Listening to my body was something I managed to ignore; feeling really tired and beat up every time I woke up, on top of getting injured three times and getting two sinus infections in the span of three months was an eye-opener for me. As of recently, giving time to myself to heal and get quality sleep, has been my major priority.
Learning that life is an extremely complex juggling act has been important in my growth as a current business owner and important in my life as well.
What makes me stand out as a healthcare practitioner is that I understand what injury feels like; I know what it feels like to be run down and limited in my ability to perform, so I can tell people what certain things feel like and have confidence in telling them how to let their body heal.
My ultimate self involves balance, self-care, and the love of testing limits (as much as I am afraid of them). Being able to push but also listen to your body when you’re not feeling 100% is something I apply to all of my athletes + clients; because your body is a complicated + powerful machine.