NOVEMBER 27, 2011, was the day the US team Black Flags, and the Philippine challenger, Mixed Nuts, battled it out for the Manila Spirits International Ultimate Disc Tournament crown. Derek Ramsay was all pumped for the match -- he'd been tweeting about it all morning. On one play, he took a dive-- stretched out gracefullyto catch the flying disc-- and landed on his left arm.
“I broke it in three places. Snapped both bones, my ulna and my radius,” he recalls. Mixed Nuts lost; Ramsay ended up with 15 screws and three titanium plates in his arm, plus strict instructions not to play anymore. Right after the injury, he sorrowfully tweeted: “I think this is a sign for me to say goodbye to the sport I love so much.” After he endured nagging knee problems and consequent surgery in 2010, his broken arm and the three months of rehab required to heal it were the final straw. Ramsay declared he was hanging the hat from ultimate. Six months later, he was in Japan with the national team for the World Ultimate and Guts Championship, the most important league in the sport. Seventy-one teams from 25 countries competed. When the tournament ended, he was the ninth top scorer overall.
STILL IN THE GAME
Ramsay is running late for this shoot, but he steps in with the ease of someone who knows his way around this kind of setting. It’s his fourth cover, and in the three years since his last one, he’s had to deal with network switches, three soap operas, one season of The Amazing Race Philippines, and five feature films. Still, no time seems to have passed between now and the last time he was here. Same buzz cut, same unruffled demeanor. Even his recent roles in the big screen have remained similar: a man caught between the affections of two women. If anything, his slightly leaner physique—he’s currently trying to gain back the 40 pounds he lost for a role— makes him look younger than he really is. “I think the only difference is the length of my facial hair,” he jokes. “And this.” He points at his left arm where the ugly traces of reconstructive surgery are clearly visible— a souvenir of that fateful injury.
“Nothing’s changed,” he repeats, but the scar, a large white thing running along the length of his forearm, says otherwise. It’s his version of a wrinkle, the proof that time, and Derek Ramsay, have both moved on. In a contest, he can outrun, out-jump younger guys. Decades in sports haven’t made him coy about his determination. His face breaks into a little smile, but he hesitates before moving on to the next sentence. “I can’t believe I’m going to admit this,” Ramsay says, chuckling, “but the recovery is not as fast anymore.” He likens himself to a diesel engine: He gets cold. Warming up takes much longer. “Age is there, but I’m still competing.”
The man who has unofficially become the local poster boy for fitness is telling us that he’s burned out. He groans sheepishly as he says it. “It’s hard for me to get out of bed. I tell myself, ‘I can’t do this again.’” Just a few years earlier, he claims, he’d be the first on the field; now he’s dragging his feet.
The way Ramsay tells it, these days are nothing but off days. We kindly beg to differ. During the shoot, he takes off his shirt and shames every guy in the room, while women clerks from a nearby warehouse rush up for a chance to have their photo taken with him. He’s known for the typical stud roles—women fighting over him, and at some point, men, too—but he went for broke when he opted to portray a corrupt cop in The Janitor.
Derek Ramsay integrates fitness even into the simplest tasks. One example? Sitting up straight. “Your stomach is engaged when you have proper posture,” he explains.
Director Michael Tuviera didn’t ask him to do anything but play the bad guy, but Ramsay didn’t hold back. He went all Method to play a policeman with a drug problem: dropping 40 pounds by, yes, starving himself—the one thing he said he would never do. In one scene, he gamely snorted the prop sugar to make himself a more believable drug addict. No matter how messed up he ended up looking, they still asked him to do some scenes topless. “Wow, wala man lang akong movie na I keep my shirt on,” Ramsay relates.
He wasn’t laughing, though, once the toll of being a reel junkie revealed itself. “I was weak. I tried playing Frisbee and I thought I was going to faint,” he remembers. That’s what you get when you attack your showbiz projects like an athlete training for the game of his life. But that’s what Ramsay is trained to do. His inclination for sports came early, football being his first love. As a teenager, he participated in youth-oriented tourneys like the Helsinki and Gothia Cups. Then there was rugby, cricket, swimming, and later, Ultimate and golf.
His lifelong conditioning as an athlete always seems to kick in whenever he needs it, especially in his acting career. “Everything I do now is because of what [I learned] in sports,” he explains. The Janitor won five awards in Cinemalaya X, but Ramsay has no aspirations of turning himself into a local version of Christian Bale. In fact, he has no plans of going through that kind of reckless endangerment again.
For all the so-called sins Ramsay has inflicted on his body, it seems that maturity is making its way to his decisions, and not just professionally. The explosions are over, and the subsequent step, logically, is a calmer one. His latest goal: to be a professional golfer, a shift from physical endurance to pure mental stamina.
“My body’s looking for that next thing to conquer,” he says, and the next challenge is, according to him, the hardest sport to master. The game is long and demanding, and the slightest show of frustration can shift it to an entirely new course. There are external factors, too: wind, rain, sunlight. Unlike in the team-oriented sports that Ramsay is used to, there’s no chance of having an off day and no one to blame for a botched play. When something wrong happens, he can only blame himself.
He’s thrilled with this new kind of pressure, you can tell. He shuffles his feet under the chair and gets this faraway look in his eyes like he’s imagining himself hitting an ace. He can end a workday exhausted, but with renewed energy reserved only for the green.
Gone are the days when golf was a game of middle-aged businessmen trying to close a deal over an afternoon of half-hearted birdies. A more well-rounded physicality is the name of the game (for the science behind this, see “The Golf Course Physique”). “Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy...they’re not the typical fat guys. They’re big and strong, and that’s why they excel,” Ramsay notes. He observes, too, that golfers in the Philippines have the luxury of caddies, which isn’t the case for golfers in the UK, where his father is from. “It’s no joke to walk 18 holes!” he laughs.
Ramsay is ending 2014 with the second season of The Amazing Race Philippines and a movie with Jennylyn Mercado (his first romantic comedy), but next year is his 10th anniversary in show business. He wants to take things easy—practice his backswing and take a well-deserved respite after two and a half years of unending work. He’s delaying the day that he won’t be able to run or jump.
“I’m going to maintain this for as long as I can. The only way I can do that is by taking two steps back,” he acknowledges, running his finger over the scar. “I can’t keep being the guy who goes for everything.” The game has changed, but you can count on Ramsay to keep playing. He’ll give it his 100 percent because that’s the only way he knows to give. “I’m wired that way,” he remarks matter-of-factly.
Competition pumps him up. He admits that the biggest challenge in hosting The Amazing Race Philippines is not being able to compete. “I want to join! That was my dream.” Caution comes with age, but as much as he wants to chill out, Ramsay is one of those people whose need for an adrenaline rush will always get the better of them. “I know I’ve lost a little bit of that first step, but that killer instinct…it’s still there.”