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In her 40s, model, actress, fitness advocate and super mom Tweetie de Leon-Gonzales remains down-to-earth-and a skilled driver
THE OPPORTUNITIES to work with Tweetie de Leon-Gonzales are few and far between, but each time I call her for a shoot, there is the same warm bantering between us.

It has been over two decades since I worked with her last, but it certainly doesn?t feel that way.

This icon just becomes more unbelievably beautiful with time?and with four children! I end my day, inspired, learning a thing or two about life.

Born to Modesto de Leon and Maria Lourdes de las Alas, reed-thin Tweetie was the youngest in a brood of four. The close-knit family believed in tandem watching, and her brother Chuck was assigned as her partner during the formative years. Thus began her rough and tumble days of fearless street games and sports.

Using her long limbs, she?d climb trees and rooftops with surprising agility. Playing patintero was a breeze as she challenged her dominantly male cousins. She was one of the boys, not wont to be in delicate settings. This was the background that prepared her well to be captain of the high school varsity volleyball team.

Unforgiving world

At 12, Tweetie was approached to do VTRs for commercials. Off she went to the interviews?her father or brother driving her, then waiting patiently outside the studio. The rest is history as we know it: From shampoo commercials to soft drinks and sitcoms, Tweetie became a familiar face. Eventually she entered the unforgiving world of fashion. Tweetie became the signature model for Anne Klein.

Her mother was the parent to contend with. She was a serious doctor who specialized in clinical pathology. Her father was an extremely modest, at times painfully shy and humble businessman. They were the foundation around whom Tweetie would build her values.

Neatness, organization, responsibility, commitment and propriety were the traits she brought to work. To this day, she lives by these. It was not about the money or fame. It was about staying grounded and knowing who she was. The lights, the camera, the glitz never went to her head.

Tweetie learned to fend for herself at a very early age, poring over contracts, keeping in mind her parents? words: ?You decide.? If things went well, she reaped the benefits; if things went wrong, she had to sleep in the bed she made. When numerous offers arose, her mother?s voice warned her, ?Can you deliver? Never bite off more than you can chew.?

Through modeling, Tweetie earned her keep the hard way. She studied what lighting she looked best in, and which angles were best for her in front of a camera. She learned to understand the importance that each body part, from her eyes to her fingers, played in photography and on the runway.

Long hours and numerous contracts later, she was able to buy her first car. I had the opportunity to go on a joyride with her. She was a damn good driver, maneuvering fearlessly at every turn. She had earned every penny to buy her car, so she meticulously maintained it. She washed and waxed it herself, and would take it to Banaue, a street famous for car repair and accessories, for alarm and stereo installations as well as spare parts. The girl whose face epitomized the feminine Spanish soap Heno de Pravia was again one of the boys.

To this day, she drives an SUV, which she prefers to a sleek car. She never backs down from any vehicle that may mistakenly cut her path. This one-time Ford Supermodel of the World contestant is queen of the road, as well.

Tireless energy

Whenever Tweetie decides to commit, she works hard at it, with tireless energy. Ultimately, remuneration takes a back seat to what she would like to be remembered for. Her work was not easy. The physical demands of being a model alone were harsh, and had a limited time frame. One could never be too thin or too tall. There were always threats from the new kids on the block.

Television was live, and, therefore, unforgiving. Accepting a character for a movie meant giving her complete trust to the cast. Her goofy sense of humor as a child, as well as her antics as the family prankster, gave her ease in her role in the television sitcom ?Okay Ka, Fairy Ko.? Her animated performances lent the local industry some glamour.

Today, even in her 40s, Tweetie can make a teenager feel insecure about her body. Gaining weight as a teenager was a problem to her. This prompted her to build body mass through weightlifting. Today, through dedication, she has maintained a fit, cut, toned, athletic build. Challenging her body not to plateau, she has moved from mountain biking to scuba diving, to taebo and ashtanga yoga, to core training and squash. She believes taking care of one?s health through sports and fitness is vital. If one should lose weight in the process, it is an added bonus.

Tweetie has a creative side as well. Back then, she would do the makeup of the junior models backstage during their stints abroad. She has also used her writing skills as a beauty and fitness columnist. She has created a jewelry line. Summers are busy as well?she created summer programs for teens, which she herself conducted at Shangri-La Mall.

When Tweetie commits, she does so with devotion, dedication and hard work. She is known for her integrity and untarnished reputation, which, to her, are more important than money and glamour. She has achieved her dreams, and today, her wishes are no longer for herself, but for her children.