Filipino-Australian Christopher Remkes stands four-foot, 10-inches tall with a short pair legs and short arms.
When he walked into the Coomera Indoor Sports Centre at the Gold Coast in Queensland in Australia on April 9, those who didn’t know thought he was carrying someone’s paraphernalia to be used in the gymnastics competition that would be held there.
In the grille room, he was, people imagined, carrying somebody else’s coffee. In the bathroom, to fix the shower, not take one.
When the smoke of battle was extinguished, competition officials raised his hands as winner of the men’s vault in the 21st Commonwealth Games, representing Australia.
All throughout the victory ceremony Remkes could have been wearing the smile his city of origin, Bacolod in Negros Occidental, is known for. It was in a hospital in the “City of Smile” where then two-day-old Chris was found in 2000 before he was bought to an orphanage.
It was that magnetic smile, too, that led Adelaide couple Mike and Dora to adopt him and bring him Down Under as their own son. Mike, who was in the audience, told how his son had been left at a hospital as a two day old before being handed to an orphanage.
“When we got notification from the adoption agency, we saw a photo of him and we couldn’t say no,’’ he said.
“We instantly fell in love with him and we wanted a family. We talked to the nuns at the orphanage and they had never seen him smile or happy and as soon as we took him home to Australia and nothing but smiles and bubbly and full of life.
Chris, in an interview with Reece Homfray of adelaidenow said he may go back to the Philippines one day and if he does he wants to take his medal to deliver the most powerful message possible to the kids who are there now—that it doesn’t matter where you come from, anything is possible.
“When I feel like the time is right I’ll go back,” he said.
“I’m not in a rush but when I feel it’s right to go back I will go and I’d like to go back and have a look at the orphanage and have a chat with them.”
Tattooed on Chris’ right rib cage is a quote which, he said, has guided him from a Filipino orphanage to a Commonwealth Games gold medal for Australia: “Family isn’t always blood, it’s the people in your life that want you in theirs.”
His journey also explains the other tattoo behind his left ear which is just two tiny dots but both with a very powerful meaning.
The sky’s the limit for Christopher Remkes after claiming gold. “It represents heaven and earth — heaven is like at the highest point of your life stay humble and at the lowest point of your life on earth stay hopeful,” said Chris, who is proud of his Christian faith.
Chris has always been hopeful and after becoming an overnight sensation at these Games he is also staying humble despite hundreds of people, who are now stopping him on the streets for a photo, to hold his medal or say congratulations.
“It’s been a roller coaster of emotions from standing on the podium until now it’s been crazy, and really good publicity for gymnastics.” I think it helps Gymnastics Australia a lot and hopefully things will keep moving forward from here.”
Chris was raised by his new family in Happy Valley, a southern suburb of Adelaide, and went to primary school at Aberfoyle Park and later Ascot Park, which had a specialist gymnastics program.
His introduction to the sport was similar to most kids his age through kinder gym. Only Remkes realized he not only loved it but he was also very good at it so pursued it seriously.
He went to Hamilton Secondary College before moving to the AIS in Canberra in 2015 where he now trains 30 hours a week in the gym, honing skills and preparing his body.
He describes his childhood as like any other typical Aussie kid.
“There was nothing different, nowhere where I felt out of place or not accepted,” he said. “I tried other sports when I was younger but dad told me to stick to one sport and I kept coming back to gymnastics.”
Chris grew up with a brother, now 16, and sister, 19, who aren’t biologically related to him but were adopted from Manila. “My brother used to do some gymnastics but now he’s into his soccer, and my sister did a little bit of gymnastics but is now working,” Remkes said.
“Having my dad follow me in the gymnastics career, he’s a coach and judge now. When I started getting into it he thought ‘what can I do to help out the club?’ so he started coaching and was my coach too at one point.
“It was so nice to share the gold medal with them (parents). I can’t put it into words. I saw them pretty much straight after I finished and I was speechless.
“During competition I enjoy the moment and try to do my best but at the end of the Games I’ll have a sit down and look back at what’s happened.
“I’ll look back on my journey and think from where I started to where I am now, but it obviously doesn’t stop here because I want to compete at the Olympics and I will definitely aim towards Tokyo.
“Hopefully something can spark from this but it’s a waiting game.”