CARMEN, CEBU — Irene Erejer Ranes was working as a babysitter in Hong Kong in mid-2017 when she experienced shortness of breath and difficulty in standing up.
A native of barangay Parasan in Leyte, Leyte, Irene was five-feet tall and weighed 70 kilograms (154 pounds). She was considered as obese.
She had high blood pressure and suffered from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition she was diagnosed with in 2015.
After two months of climbing Hong Kong’s peaks — at two to three climbs per week — Irene was able to lose 10 kilos (22.2 pounds).
She felt healthier and gained confidence in facing people.
She has not stop climbing mountains since then and has continued to conquer summits even when she came home to Cebu on May 2018.
Irene was a plain lass from Leyte when she got pregnant at 18 and moved to Cebu in 2008 to live with her boyfriend then.
She gave birth to her first child in 2009 and her second child in 2010.
In 2011, she parted ways with her boyfriend.
In 2012, she went back to school to complete her secondary education and graduated in 2013.
Determined to obtain a diploma, she enrolled at ACLC College Mandaue on the same year for a degree in Business Administration Major in Human Resource Management and Development.
But in 2015, she was diagnosed with PCOS.
“The hormonal imbalance made me gain weight. I was also stress eating,” she says.
Faced with limited financial resources and a health condition that often made her feel down, Irene decided to quit school and apply for a job abroad.
She decided to try her luck as an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) in Hong Kong.
Her job was to take care of a 10-month old baby boy.
As a stay-in babysitter, the parents would leave the child under her care from 5 a.m. to midnight.
While she developed a bond with the baby, she could not help but think about her two children whom she left in the Philippines.
“I was in a foreign country and I was so homesick. My employers were not kind people. They would lock me up in the house when they left for trips,” she recalls.
Her employers criticized her weight because “fat people eat more food,” which meant that they would have to spend money to feed her.
Struggling with her weight issue, Irene pitied herself for being “fat and obese” but the lure of food was too tempting to refuse.
Friends kept telling her about how big she was but her classic reply was “food is life.”
“Then one day, I was inside the house taking care of the baby when I started to feel dizzy. I had heartburn and I had difficulty in breathing,” she says.
It was a harrowing episode that she did not want to experience again so she vowed to herself that she will lose weight in a way that she will enjoy.
Searching on Facebook, she found the “Fearless Hikers,” the group of Liza Avellino, the first domestic helper who conquered Mt. Everest.
“I started to become her (Avelino’s) fan. She became an inspiration,” Irene says.
On her first hike, Irene described herself as “slow and always panting” because her weight was a major deterrent in climbing Hong Kong’s mountains.
She first conquered the peak of Kai Kung Leng, which stands 585 meters above sea level.
“It was very difficult. I was out of breathe in the four hours that I hiked. But it was worth it because I saw the green scenery. I felt that stress left my body,” she shares.
Despite the physical difficulty, Irene persisted and found a support system within the group of hikers.
She got hooked to the different high she felt every time she conquered a peak.
She eventually climbed 16 of Hong Kong’s peaks and learned to climb with a purpose.
“We did charity climbs. When our friend’s family needs money for medicines or when there were disasters such as fire or typhoon that hit the family of our friends, we organized charity climbs, pooled resources from registration fees and send the money home to the Philippines,” she says.
When she came back to Cebu in May 2018, Irene looked for a mountaineering group that she can join so she can continue her lifestyle of chasing summits.
Climbing mountains also made her aware of her body.
Irene practices mindful eating.
She does not follow any fad diet.
But she is careful in her food intake: less consumption on rice and fatty and oily food , no soft drinks and only black coffee as beverage. She also eats on time: 7:30 a.m. for breakfast, 12:30 p.m. for lunch and 6 p.m. for dinner.
If she happens to cheat on her food intake, she makes up by walking. Her regular routine is walking the 11-kilometer stretch from Maguikay, Mandaue City to Ibabao, Cordova town.
Today, Irene weighs 52 kilos (114 pounds). Her blood pressure is now normal. Keeping her weight in check has decreased the effects of PCOS.
This year, she is turning 30 and is currently working on finishing her Management degree so she can finally have her college diploma.
In Cebu, Irene enjoys spending her weekend in joining climbs with her friends and mountaineering groups such as Laktud, which translates to “shortcut.”
Laktud is also an acronym for “Laag, Katkat, Tudlo” or “Roam, Climb, Teach.” The group advocates for outdoor literacy by teaching new climbers to become responsible mountaineers.
In a recent climb to Mount Mago, which covers the towns of Danao and Carmen in northern Cebu, Irene shared to fellow outdoor enthusiasts how mountaineering changed her life.
“When you have problems concerning family, work, love life, health, there are times that you just want to give up. But when you are up there, you see the amazing view and you cannot help but be grateful. There is another side to your problem and you can see it right there in the beautiful view,” she says. /dcb
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