My Coast Guard
Commentary | June 13, 2022

A petty officer’s journey to being healthier 

By Petty Officer 1st Class Paul Dragin, Coast Guard District 9 

With the stage lights obscuring the raucous crowd, Petty Officer 2nd Class Tommy Aguon, a culinary specialist at Coast Guard Station Cleveland Harbor, tried to locate his biggest fans in attendance that day, his wife Jacqueline and their daughters Audrey and Nalani, ages four and three.

As he waited for the judges to announce the winners, he pictured his former self, the almost 300-pound version that would be unrecognizable compared to the competitive bodybuilder he now was. “The reality of my transformation really sunk in right then and there on that stage,” Aguon said. “I never imagined this would ever be possible for me.” 

Competing in his first-ever bodybuilding competition this in February2022, Aguon finished in 15th place. Regardless of the judges’ score cards that day, Aguon felt victorious and nothing could erase the deep satisfaction of knowing how far he had come in such a short time period. His wife noted the transformation of her husband from within.

“I can see how much happier he is with himself and the boost in confidence he’s gained,” she said. 

Earlier this month, Aguon completed his second competition, the Organization of Competitive Bodies Buckeye Natural (OCB) Buckeye Natural, held in Columbus, Ohio. His stunning third place finish so early in his career has shown Aguon what is possible in the sport. He now has his sights set on an eventual pro card. 

Weight gain and depression

His personal odyssey began in earnest one year ago, shortly after recovering from an achilles tendon injury. At one point, his weight had ballooned to 275 pounds, a full 100 pounds heavier than the 175-pound Aguon competing on stage this spring. At this low point in his life, he realized he was suffering from depression. “I was using food and alcohol as coping mechanisms,” he said. “This was not the husband, father, or shipmate that I wanted to be.”

From an early age, Aguon had always been interested in bodybuilding as a spectator, but he never entertained the idea that he could ever be a competitor himself. “It seemed like such an impossible thing to accomplish when I looked at myself in the mirror,” he said. 

In the spring of 2021, despite his self-doubt, he committed himself fully to the arduous journey of transformation.

He lost almost 90 pounds over the course of a year in preparing for his first contest. Midway through the preparation, Aguon’s father contracted Covid, winding up in intensive care and ultimately a six-month long medically-induced coma. Anguishing over his father’s daily struggle to survive the ravages of Covid, Aguon considered dropping out of the grueling contest preparation, but he knew what his father would tell him to do if he could.

 “As much as I struggled to focus on anything other than my dad, I knew what he would want from me, and giving up is not one of those things,” Aguon said.

Life inside and outside the gym

Aguon’s bodybuilding lifestyle focuses on three key components that remain central to his continued success. He completes strength and cardiovascular training six days a week, with Sundays always set aside for family time. His weight training usually takes about an hour or two each day, with cardiovascular work also included. As his contests approached, he devoted more time and sessions to his aerobic conditioning. 
    
His spartan diet includes plenty of protein from sources such as chicken, beef, and eggs; carbohydrates from rice and potatoes; and plenty of vegetables — and then some more vegetables. His diet is roundedout with water, and, you guessed it, more vegetables. Everything is weighed and prepared almost exactly the same, day after day. He only deviates from his strict diet if his coach allows it, depending on his physical condition at the time. An evening dinner out with the family? That still happens, only now Aguon brings his food along with him. It is the rare occasion where he will deviate from this dietary regimen. 

For many, this routine would strike them as monotonous, if not downright tortuous for those who are easier prey to a succulent slice of pepperoni pizza or a pint of their favorite gourmet ice cream. Aguon, however, relishes the discipline and the rewards that come with it. “I don’t view these restrictions as a punishment. This [diet] has given me the freedom to be a happier, healthier version of myself than ever before,” he said. 

Finally, Aguon makes sure to get adequate rest and recovery from his training. Long gone are the days of staying up until 4 a.m., playing video games and drinking beer. He tries to ensure that he gets at least eight hours of sleep a night and includes self-care rituals like epsom salt baths and chiropractic adjustments.

Moving forward

As a culinary specialist, Aguon works around food all of the time. For some, this environment would prove to be a constant temptation to dip back into old habits, only to see their weight creep upwards again. To the contrary, Aguon views his occupation as a unique opportunity to share healthful diet advice with shipmates who are seeking to make changes to the foods they consume. He’s already written diets and workout plans for service members who struggle to weigh below their maximum allowable weight for the Coast Guard’s semi-annual body composition screening.  

With a potential professional card within reach in the near future, Aguon plans on a long and successful career, both in the Coast Guard and as a competitive bodybuilder. Although his potential for more success on the stage seems inevitable, he’s already accomplished far more than he ever imagined. He enjoys encouraging and even inspiring those around him to make healthier lifestyle choices that ultimately lead to more freedom and fulfillment in other arenas of life. 

His wife Jacqueline summed up what could prove to be Aguon’s most enduring—and probably his most important—legacy: 

“Tommy has become a great role model for our daughters; showing them that they can overcome any obstacle and do anything they set their minds to.”

In the News: 

 Updated instruction: See the new updates to the Body Composition Standards Program