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Filipino nursing dynasty going from strength to strength

A second generation Filipino nurse is literally going from strength to strength in Swansea Bay after breaking a powerlifting record.

James Tumbali, a member of Morriston Hospital’s Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) team, recently set a new Welsh record for bench press in his weight category – lifting over twice his body weight.

The 28-year-old has quite the pedigree when it comes to sport, being a black belt in karate, playing American football and now making a name for himself in the world of powerlifting.

James arrived in Swansea in 2001 when his mother decided to relocate from the Philippines to work as a nurse in Morriston Hospital – a career path he was later to follow.

James (pictured below during a Wales event) began his sporting journey playing rugby in Morriston Comprehensive School – where he lined up alongside Wales star Ross Moriarty – but fell in love with  American football while studying at Cardiff University in 2016. 

He said: “I did karate from the age of eight to 21, and competed in America and won a few state championships, but in university I wanted to try a new sport. I saw they had American football and that’s how it all started.

“I began as a running back but have since changed into a defensive end.

“I stand on the end of the defensive line and try to rush the competition.

“Apparently I’m a good downhill runner, which means I tend to get through the line, break through the blocks. I just run.”

These days James plays American football for South Wales Warriors and it was during the off season that he discovered powerlifting.

He said: “After the season ended last year I decided to try something else. I asked one of my friends to coach me in powerlifting, and he said, ‘why not’.

“I did some intense powerlifting training blocks for four months before entering the Welsh Powerlifting Association last in January.

“I competed in the under 93kg category and was the lightest person in my category at 87.6kg. 

“I won the overall total in the men’s open weight class with 670kg in total – that’s squat, bench press and deadlift. I also set the Welsh record in the open weight bench press with 182.5kg.

“I was then invited to compete for Wales but have put that on hold because I’m playing American football.”

Despite coming from a family of health care professionals – besides his mother Ching his aunty is also a nurse – it was a spell in hospital that really made him want to follow in their footsteps.

He said: “I believe being a family full of health professionals pretty much led me into the idea of working in the health profession.

(Left: James and mum Ching)

“However, I think the trigger that made me want to become a nurse was being an in-patient in Morriston Hospital back in 2012 for ulcerative colitis. 

“I watched nurses look after patients as well as myself. I originally wanted to study medicine but watching nurses changed my decision.

“I personally think my mum was happy and content with my decision.”

His mother, Ching Tumbali, explained how NHS Wales looked to the Philippines in 2001 to address a shortage of nurses.

She said: “I was working in a hospital in the Philippines in 2001, when the NHS came over to recruit nurses for the UK.

“I was 31 by then and had spent some time working in Saudi Arabia and didn’t really want to return home. So when the opportunity arose, I took it.

“My sister also came over and worked as a nurse in Prince Philip Hospital.

“I didn’t have any idea what the UK was like. I just knew that it was a big country. We had lots of questions about the food and the weather – they told us to bring a coat.

“We arrived in Swansea in February on the bus. I remember looking out the window and thinking ‘it’s quiet round here’ – I didn’t realise everyone was inside because of the cold!”

Ching said  that despite the initial cold the nurses had received a warm welcome and she soon realised  she wanted to settle in the country.

She said: “I wanted to make sure that it was the right move for myself and my family, which it was, and my husband and two sons followed nine months later.

“I have no regrets. We have been really happy here.”

And she is more than happy that James has followed in her nursing footsteps.

She said: “I’m super proud of him for finishing his studies despite not being too well because of his stomach. He even had the highest mark in his year for his essay at the end of his nursing studies.”

She added that she was equally proud of James’s sporting prowess saying: “Even as a six-year-old he was a bundle of energy.”

Gareth Howells, Swansea Bay’s Executive Director of Nursing, said: “As a country, we turned to the Philippines in 2001 to address a shortage in nurses and were fortunate to welcome so many excellent and caring health care professionals into our ranks.

“It’s truly gratifying to hear stories such as the Tumbali’s where the family has settled in so well and become part of the wider community with the children following their parents into the NHS family.”

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