Felicia Atienza Talks About Fitness Practices And Her Dual Role As Entrepreneur And Homemaker
While Felicia “Feli” Hung Atienza was preparing the responses required of her for this interview, she was also gearing up for the Hoka GTX trail run, which was set to take place the very next day. It was suggested to her by her coach several months back, and she agreed to take on the task—albeit reluctantly. Felicia, who admits to being partial to running indoors on a treadmill, found herself training extra hard to improve her performance and prevent injury during the race; they worked on strengthening her core, calves, hamstrings, glutes, and other body parts for better balance, stability, and coordination. She was also asked to quit champagne and wine to aid her training, which was, perhaps, the biggest challenge. “I’m a major wine aficionado, but I was dry for 30 days—my friends were in disbelief!” Felicia shares. “However, wine o’clock was back in full swing after the race.”
A former stockbroker (finance and multinational management, cum laude, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania), she worked with Jardine Fleming and Merrill Lynch for a good 10 years and later, Merrill Lynch London. Executing a management buyout of Merrill Lynch Philippines in 2001 brought Felicia back to Manila, where she would meet and eventually wed television personality, weather anchor, and fellow fitness enthusiast Kim Atienza. As the tides changed, she found herself taking an extended sabbatical from her finance career to start her own school.
“When Jose, my firstborn son, turned two, I started scouting around for a school to enrol him in,” says Felicia. “I wanted him to go to an international school that would help prepare him to apply to any university—whether it be local or abroad—but also one that would have Mandarin as a foreign language requirement in its curriculum early on. At the time, no such school existed, so I decided to start my own.”
Founded in 2007, the Chinese International School Manila (CISM) offers a dynamic and rigorous K-12 international curriculum that provides its students a unique university preparatory education. CISM, though, is unique in the sense that it offers a mandatory Mandarin language programme that starts at the nursery level. In May 2019, she opened Domuschola International School. Both institutions follow the US Common Core State Standards and are accredited to deliver the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme. Educational models focus on student engagement and collaboration, community outreach, and transdisciplinary learning. Distinct emphasis is placed on nurturing caring, principled, and open-minded thinkers, communicators, and risk-takers.
“Heading these schools has allowed me to embark on an immensely rewarding entrepreneurial journey,” shares Felicia. “While mapping the educational ecosystem for our institutions, I am also able to engage and learn from our stakeholders, educators, and, most especially, our students.”
Felicia is also the president of the Philippine Eagle Foundation, where work is geared towards saving eagles and protecting our forests. Last June, they sent off a pair of Philippine eagles to Jurong Bird Park in Singapore. This milestone event capped the foundation’s endeavours to raise global awareness, enhance conservation efforts, and strengthen biosecurity measures for the bird, which is critically endangered. Her being an animal lover comes in handy, as the family keeps a growing number of pets at home. “I’ve lost count of how many we have,” she says. “At this point, my only gauge would be the vet and animal food bills! It can be complex keeping up with the different needs. On the subject of food alone, there is much to manage.”
Felicia often has much on her plate, but always makes time for family over breakfast or dinner during weekdays. She describes her brood as a chatty one, so there is never a dull moment at the table due to all the discussions and debates that take place during mealtime. As a family, they enjoy going on adventure-centric trips—Machu Picchu, the Amazon, and the North Pole are some favourite destinations—where they can pencil in activities such as skiing during winter or scuba diving in the summer. Felicia and Kim also make it a point to set aside time to go on a weekly date night.
As a mum, she describes herself as “very non-tiger.” Not at all a fan of helicopter parenting, she does not fret too much about how her kids (Jose, Eliana, and Emman) are doing in school and only consults with their teachers during the annual parent-teacher conference. “What I really try my best to zero in on is teaching them to work hard, pursue their passions, and lead meaningful lives,” she adds. “I also emphasise the importance of saying sorry because it doesn’t cost anything.”
At 50 years old, Felicia is as fit as a fiddle. Growing up, she describes herself as a tomboy who swam, ran, and played tennis, badminton, and ping-pong. It was only natural that she joined the volleyball and basketball varsity teams in high school, which allowed her to sustain the all-around active lifestyle she continues to lead today. At present, she dabbles in running, boxing, Ashtanga Yoga, Zumba, and Pilates. “Daily exercise is very much a part of my routine in the same way I have coffee, eat, and brush my teeth,” she shares. “My day begins at 4:30AM, so exercise is typically scheduled in the middle of the day in lieu of traditional lunch.” It’s a good way for her to recharge before heading back to work.
Aside from her other fitness activities, she does strength training and conditioning five to six times a week with her coach, Marlon Herrera, whom she credits as being highly instrumental in refining her physique over the span of 22 months. “To change up the monotony, we set various goals for me to achieve and challenges to overcome, whether it be for improved performance, muscle strength gain, or general health,” Felicia adds. Last year, she was encouraged to join the Polo Club Fitness Challenge, where she snagged the championship for the Open Category and was awarded the Masters 1 Champ. “I was 49. That experience taught me that it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks!”
She does not subscribe to diets or meal plans, but instead encourages a healthy, balanced lifestyle. “Exercise and fitness enhance your goals, and what you eat matters, but I personally feel dieting sets the average person up for failure,” she says. “For one, hormonal, neurological, and metabolic changes take place when we go on weight loss programmes. Also, the mental and psychological challenges become overwhelming. Our mind is also constantly bombarded by ideas of restricting and reducing—imagine the willpower and tenacity it takes to overcome that!
“What has really worked for me was bringing a cooler to work every day for the last 10 years. In this cooler, I pack healthy meals such as steamed chicken breast topped with thyme and garlic, green salad with cherry tomatoes and avocado, steamed salmon with provencal herbs, full-fat Greek and natural yoghurt, and lots of fruits like pomelo, papaya, strawberries, blueberries, oranges, and saba [type of local banana]. I also always have low-fat milk and toasted natural nuts to snack on. I still bring my cooler in the car when I have meetings off-site. This way, I don’t enter a meeting ravenous!” she adds.
Balance is just as integral as staying healthy, and Felicia does not believe in depriving herself. In the event that she is slated to attend a special degustation dinner or has the opportunity to indulge in something she likes, she goes for it, keeping in mind that everything should be taken in moderation. “This has been my ethos for the longest time, and I’ve managed to maintain the same weight as when I graduated from high school—albeit with a lot more lean mass now.”
Despite her skill level, she also knows how to limit herself with regard to exercising. She refrains from explosive moves that might cause debilitating injuries, and has learnt to stop when she feels any kind of pain. Felicia also understands the importance of sleep, which many of us tend to underestimate. For many, many years, she lived the life of a sleep-deprived workaholic, running on only four to five hours. Last year, she made the resolution to target six to seven hours with a minimum of five.
“Being physically fit has benefited me tremendously,” she concludes. “I am 50 years old, my blood work is at normal levels, and, most importantly, I am happy, optimistic, and confident. My ultimate goal is to be able to walk until the day I die—and maybe keep my six-pack, too. That would be nice.”
This article was originally published in the January 2020 issue of Philippine Tatler. Available in all leading bookstores and in digital magazine outlets via Zinio, Magzter, and Pressreader.
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