Chasing New Summits is a column where athletes share their stories in their own words. Check out our pre-Asian Games features: Kim Kilgroe and John Chicano.
I was a college swimmer. In 2009, I joined a run, just for fun. A coach spotted me and told me I had the talent for more than just swimming. He told me if I do well in aquathlon races, I can be considered for the national triathlon team.
I had dreamt of becoming a national athlete since I was 14. Three years later, I had a chance to fulfil that dream.
I signed up for three aquathlon races. I won all of them.
That June, I bought a bike and joined my first triathlon. I won it.
Every subsequent month, I joined a race. The following year, I was part of the national triathlon team.
That was the year of the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games. I was offered to have a shot at qualifying.
The caveat? I had to stop schooling for two terms to train for it.
I took the risk; went for it.
Those months, it was weird to do nothing much but training.
I was living in an apartment five hours away from Manila, with people I don’t know, some of them I don’t like, from different cultures, different provinces.
When I browsed Facebook, I would see my former classmates talking about school, about issues in college. I thought, “I miss it. I should be experiencing that.”
In the Philippines, people would die to get to college. Me? I gave up college.
It was a bit mind-blowing, mentally draining, and physically as well. That was a lot to take in for a teenage me.
Just a few weeks before the games, I was called up to the Asian Games squad. I had qualified by a tight margin. The risk paid off.
That was my first Asian Games.
I went there as a young blood – the youngest in the field. I didn’t know any of the athletes, their history, their profiles. I didn’t care about opponents. I just wanted to go fast, that’s it. I was already trying to grasp all that I can experience.
After the games, I went back to school. I found it easier than when I was entering the sport in the early days back in 2009 when I was failing my classes.
I’ve learned to embrace challenges. Living with others changed how I should adapt to circumstances I’m bound to be in. It’s like working with people you don’t like. You might like half the people, you might like the job, but you’re not going to be able to appreciate everything in the environment.
But that’s something you should accept. That’s part of life. You won’t get everything you like in life.
Those struggles leading up to the race, they are now more memorable to me than my triumphs.
And the lesson that the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward, I applied it to the years ahead.
I’m the type of athlete who wants to open doors to things that have never been tapped into.
I asked myself, “Why has no Filipino ever went under two hours at a standard distance race?” No one from the Philippines has ever done that.
December 2010, I did that during the Asian Beach Games.
I try to put triathlon on the map for a lot of the next generation because no one has ever done that, no one has ever seen it done, or was taking risks like what I did, with my aggressiveness.
These are things that are doable. But no one was taking the risk. I don’t believe that we don’t have the talent. Everyone has talent. It’s about the will and the risk they take.
In 2012, I became the first Filipino to qualify for the University Triathlon Championships.
In 2015, I won Philippines’s first SEA Games triathlon gold. That was my first SEA Games. Even I was surprised.
In 2017, I won the SEA Games gold again.
For me, it’s a thrill. That’s my sort of accomplishment and legacy because I feel stressed seeing things that could’ve been done but questioning why no one has ever done it.
Now that we have won the gold in 2015 and 2017, it has reached a stage where Philippines triathlon says we should win gold again or else it’s unacceptable. It’s the same thing in the USA if you’re an Olympian. There are a lot of Olympians there, and Olympic gold becomes the new standard.
The bar has been set high, and it makes people wake up in the morning with a goal to do. They want to be just like this. They want to reach this kind of goal, they want to be better than this now.
And that’s a good thing.
It makes athletes serious – they don’t become complacent such that if they qualify for the SEA Games, they are already satisfied.
It’s NO, you’ve got to win the gold. Gold or nothing. That’s the world class mentality that we want to create.
Yes, it can be a life of pressure and a life with little of peace of mind.
After SEA Games, when I was back at work, I still had anxiety. Not because I fear what’s going to happen, but that I may not become the best that I can be.
To me, two SEA Games golds are nice, but it’s done. People will forget about it. It’s what’s comes next and it’s about who I am as an individual.
To cope, I spoke to my mentors, and I prayed.
I found my purpose in life to be a good triathlete. As a national athlete, I’m bound to represent my country, so whatever I do is what we call ‘national interest.’
In the Philippines, if you’re a national athlete or public servant, whatever you do affects every Filipino around you. That’s something purposeful. It creates an obvious motivation that you should do good. Because if you don’t do good, you’re going to be affecting a lot of Filipinos.
When I won the SEA Games in 2015, my face was on the front page of the newspaper. That was a one in a million experience. It changed my life and I also inspired my family to do good.
I influenced two of my siblings to pick up cycling. My big brother stopped drinking and smoking. My other brother is about to finish college when he had previously dropped out, and that’s one of my biggest happiness right there – impacting my family.
Sports does that to you.
It’s now my third Asian Games. A lot of things have changed. The field has changed. The tactics have changed. Even my diet has changed. As I get older, my diet, the way I train, and the way I approach things have changed.
The perspective now is that whatever I’m doing here is not a means to an end. Every major games is a race, but it always applies to the next step along the way. There’s always something else to do after this kind of races.
Looking ahead in every approach – that’s the perspective now.
I’ve already booked my flights and everything for my next race, Ironman 70.3 Shanghai on Oct 21. After the games, I’ve to come back immediately to the programme to make sure I deliver the results because this is the first time I’m racing in the pro category.
After which, I’m waiting for the call back to the air force. I want to enter the Philippines AirForce. I want to get double compensation to be able to survive the sport financially as well as finally having health benefits.
If by next year, I’m part of the military, I’m going to have a different life. I’ll be competing for the country in the world military games, world military triathlon championships, which for 2019 will be in China.
I’m going to open doors for that phase because no one has done that before.
That alone, creates a contribution that I’ve done something for the country, something meaningful.