Fitness first: Dong delivering new perspective on poker

Nelson Dong

Melburnian Nelson Dong is a relative newcomer to the Australian tournament poker scene, with no experience on the circuit until less than two months ago.

He’s here on the Gold Coast at WPT Prime for his third series on Aussie Soil after his debut at APT Adelaide, followed by the recent Australian Poker Open in Sydney.

Dong was generous enough to share his backstory, and the daring mission he’s undertaken that sets him apart from the average grinder, with PokerMedia Australia.

On 3 February this year, Dong set up an Instagram page with the handle @pokermeetsfitness and has posted a vlog on each of the past 76 consecutive days.

Each update details a disciplined routine and concludes with a tally of the hours spent that day on both poker (either playing or studying) and fitness respectively.

“I started playing poker when I was 18, and up until the last six months it was exclusively cash games,” he explained.

“But the cash games in Melbourne sort of dried up a bit, both home games and at Crown.

“I’ve always wanted to dabble in tournaments. I’m graduating from Uni in about two months and I plan to travel to Asia. Right now Asia’s full of really juicy tournaments, so I’m putting in the work now so that when I do go I’m prepared for it.”

On his Instagram page, Dong’s fitness content predominately comprises his exercise regimes at gyms and swimming pools. His dedication stems from a wake-up call as the effects of the pandemic began to subside.

“I was a competitive swimmer until i was 20. I was competing internationally, not at an elite-elite level, but high enough to travel,” he recounted.

“During COVID, I took a back seat from swimming and started coaching a bit more and, like a lot of people, I put on a lot of weight.

“When COVID finished, it was like a turning point for me where I looked in the mirror and said, ‘I used to be an elite swimmer and now I’m overweight. Something needs to change’.

“From then I decided I was going to spend a lot of time on getting myself fit. Ever since it’s been one of my highest priorities. I’m really enjoying fitness and trying to keep a healthy lifestyle.”

In terms of what inspired him to combine the two focal points of his life, it was an easy decision based on trying to solve a conundrum that many poker players face.

“When it comes to poker and fitness, it’s really hard to juggle those things and I think a lot of people struggle,” Dong said. “It’s really hard to maintain a healthy lifestyle when you’re sitting on a chair for 12 hours a day, late nights. If you’re a cash game player, you’re often eating junk food at home games and the next day you don’t want to go to the gym.”

Despite maintaining an incredibly disciplined streak, Dong isn’t getting ahead of himself.

“I’m not saying I’m successful with it, but I’m trying to do my best with balancing both poker and fitness,” he said.

“That’s why 76 days ago I started a poker Instagram page. For me it was about keeping myself accountable, posting every day about what I do in terms of poker and fitness. And if along the way people like what I do, and it inspires them, that’s all power to them.”

The Law and Commerce student plans to finish his degree and take a gap year, declaring, “If things go well with poker, then I won’t need my degree!”

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