Amale Mendezona Jopson: Ready for the Boston Marathon

A year ago this week, the world was shocked when terrorists detonated twin blasts near the finish line of the most prestigious road-running race on this planet.

“This year’s Boston Marathon is very special as it is the 1st year anniversary of the bombings,” said Amale Mendezona Jopson, who will be among the 36,000 marathoners when the race begins this Monday, April 21.

Amale is a super-achiever. In high school, she was the valedictorian at STC and the classmate of my wife Jasmin, who said, “In everything she does, Amale excels.” In college at the Ateneo, she met Noy Jopson, the super-triathlete. Today, this husband-and-wife duo is possibly the country’s most athletic couple.

The Boston Marathon is the race for super-fast runners. “It is the end all and be all of marathons, for both elites and age-groupers,” Amale explains. “For one, it is the oldest running annual marathon in the world (since 1897). It brings with it many firsts like the wheelchair division, and the first marathon outside of the Olympics with a woman participant- Roberta Gibb, 1966.”

The qualifying times of the race are the benchmark for runners. “The Boston Athletic Association has had to make the qualifying times more stringent, with more runners qualifying but not able to register because of the demand (the standards were made 5 minutes more stringent in 2012),” Amale said. “The brutal rolling course also makes it thrilling for runners with ‘heartbreak hill’ towards the end of the run. Aside from this, Boston practically shuts down for the event on Patriot’s Day, drawing an estimated 500,000 spectators, with only the Superbowl getting more attention.”

For Amale, who turned 40 last December, her qualifying time was three hours, 45 minutes. She joined the Dong-A Seoul Intl. Marathon last year and narrated: “With one final push as I entered the stadium, I felt like an Olympic athlete finishing the race in 3:42:35 – a good 2 minutes clear of the Boston qualifying time! Crossing the finish line, I was overwhelmed by a rush of emotions and gushing tears. I had reached my goal and I was going to Boston!”

Today, she leaves Cebu with her family for New York, arriving in Boston, the city that houses the Celtics and Red Sox, by Friday.

On her preparation, Amale — the Director of Human Resources at Chong Hua Hospital — cannot be happier. She did a PR in the 21K of the SM2SM race and, she added, had “personal bests across all distances from the mile, speed sessions, tempos (5k, 8k, and 10k) and even strong tempo paced efforts in difficult marathon conditions (Philippine PR of 3:50 at Kawasan, 2nd place and strong finish of 3:56 at SRP midnight marathon, 3rd place).” She’s had no injuries, crediting her weekly strength sessions at Epic Performance.

“All predictors point to a personal best at Boston,” Amale said, “I’m aiming precisely just for that – anything below 3:40 will be make me very happy.”

The Boston Marathon will welcome 36,000 runners. It’s a 33 percent increase from the 27,000 limit — and the figure includes 4,500 of the 5,624 runners who were still on the road last year when the bombs exploded.

Among the Pinoys, Amale will be joined by US-based Arland Macasieb, brothers Arnie and Anton Aguila, Dino Pison (from Silay), Martin Ledesma (Makati), Geoffrey Perez (Baguio), and Noel Dimabuyo (Quezon City).

This is Amale’s seventh 42K race. She did the 2011 and 2012 California Intl. Marathons; last year, the Cebu and Seoul marathons; this year, the SRP Midnight and Kawasan Falls races.

On Monday, it’s the 118th edition.     “Boston stands for strength and unity in the running community,” she said. “For me, it is symbolic of the triumph of the human spirit, not only for the Boston Strong cause, but personally, I am running this for the Philippines after Yolanda. I am also dedicating this to my maternal grandfather – my Abu, as this is his 2nd birthday anniversary since passing away. My Abu was also an athlete, and he was always encouraging me through my athletic pursuits. I know he will be watching.”

Manny Pacquiao beats Timothy badly

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Hambog. If there’s one thing Timothy Bradley displayed two days ago, it’s this: he’s a showman who loves to taunt, mock, jeer. He’s a boast, not a beast. He was more bravado than brave. He made fun of our congressman. Good thing he didn’t get knocked-out like Anderson Silva. Remember UFC’s greatest fighter, who bragged and gloated on the octagon — only to be promptly KO’d by Chris Weidman?

I was hoping Pacquiao would do the same to the grandstanding and show-off Bradley. (Speaking of UFC, last Sunday I mistakenly wrote “Bruce” Buffer instead of Michael Buffer; it just shows the popularity of UFC, pointed out Nick Torres.)

With Pacman, he has redeemed himself. He lives to fight another fight. “This win was important,” Pacquiao said. “I proved that my boxing journey will continue.” He was Manny The Great; though not the spectacular, unrelenting and pitiless Supermanny of five years ago.

Age matters. When you’re 35 and have logged tens of thousands of hours on the gym, punching and being punched, jabbing and receiving those uppercuts, the body, like any organism and machine, wears out.

Manny was fantastic. He wasn’t outstanding. “He was a little bit slower than I’ve seen in the past,” Freddie Roach said.

Part of it is confidence. In that 15-fight winning streak from 2005 to 2011 when he annihilated Oscar and Ricky and Miguel, his belief and sureness were indisputable. His poise, nerve, resoluteness — beyond assurance. I’m unbeatable, Manny declared then.

Prior to two days ago, he had lost two of three. Understandably, his faith and belief weren’t as strong. But now, after this victory, when he claimed vindication for that burglary in Part I when he was robbed by the judges — his morale has risen.

NO KNOCKOUT. We all wanted to see Bradley lying on the floor. It didn’t happen. Manny hasn’t scored a KO win in 4.5 years. The best explanation? From David Kassel of FightHype.com, who wrote yesterday: “Manny is fighting about 4 weight classes above his most dominant weight. Manny Pacquiao has grown into a welterweight, but he could probably still make weight at 130-135 lbs. He is almost always the smaller guy coming into the ring… Pacquiao, unlike Floyd Mayweather, is offensive-minded, which means he is going to take more punishment to make sure he gets his licks in… his body is worn from taking so many punches from guys who come into fights weighing over 160lbs. Pacquiao’s days of spectacular, one-punch knockouts may be over, and we have to be willing to accept that.”

WHO’S NEXT? Obviously, it’s Part V. Like a Rocky Balboa series which extended all the way to Rocky V (with one more added 16 years later), this one, too, will reach Round 5.

MP & JMM. Mexicutioner vs. Dinamita. There’s unsettled business here. You think, after all those sleepless nights he endured reliving the nightmare, that Manny’s not aching to seek revenge?

Interestingly, I dug-up his full name and it’s Juan Manuel Marquez Mendez. Yes, Mendez! That’s my wife’s maiden name. My father-in-law Atty. Jack Mendez, whose mestizo looks might originate from Mexico, probably won’t deny their affinity. But I’m also sure he won’t mind this Mendez being knocked-out!

Why is Part V a certainty (unless Marquez gets shocked by Mike Alvarado)? There’s even a proposed name: Pacquiao-Marquez V: Once and Five All. Because both are Bob Arum’s players. Speaking of Arum, I had the chance in Macau to speak to him and my dad Bunny has a nice photo with him. This guy is indefatigable. Like Jack Mendez, he’s 82 years old! But his rosy cheeks and always-smiling face would tell you he’s much younger. His favorite pair of shoes, as I witnessed in Macau, were New Balance running shoes.

MOMMY D. Everybody’s raving about Mommy Dionisia. It’s obvious where Manny got his spunk and moxie from. Footages of Mommy D. flashing those fingers while holding a prayer pamphlet elicited lots of comments. On stage, when she not only hugged her son but also embraced Bradley — that was unexpected and wonderful. This mom is groovy. Naay karakter.

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Manny’s victory: Not if, but how

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Like you, I believe that Emmanuel Dapidran Pacquiao will right the wrong that was inflicted in Part I of the Pacquiao-Bradley encounter. In that June 9, 2012 bout, Manny won almost every one of the 12 rounds contested; but he lost with the six eyeballs that mattered most — the judges.

Not today. Not when Manny knows that a loss will send his Hall of Fame career to The End. Not when Freddie Roach himself declared, “This is a must-win situation.”

He’s fought for 21 years. He’s knocked-out 38 opponents including Erik Morales and Jorge Solis and Ricky Hatton. He’s a multi-billionaire who owns mansions from Forbes Park to Los Angeles. He stands only 5 ft. 6 1/2 in. short but his boxing credentials are the tallest in history: the first and only eight-division world champion.

All these don’t matter today. What matters is this: MP needs a victory. A knockout. Why leave the decision to three subjective human beings?

Here’s what I guarantee: We’ll see a more aggressive, attacking, Mike Tyson-like beast inside MGM today — like he was when he won 15 straight from 2005 to 2011. Manny’s reputation is being questioned. “He’s lost his killer instinct.” “Sobra siya ka buotan karon.” “He’s 35 years very, very old.”

I saw this with my bare eyes last November. Just 11 rows away from the ring, my seat-mates Bunny (my dad) and Jingo (my SunStar neighbor) couldn’t believe how reluctant Manny was to “go for the kill.” Surely, the nightmare of Juan Manuel Marquez’s punch lingered in his mind. Manny was cautious. He wanted a win — by points. Manny has transformed into a good Christian in the wrong sport of boxing.

Not today. At the MGM Grand Garden Arena tonight, Manny will attempt to dispel this notion. He’ll charge. He’ll weave left and right. He’ll pummel that left hook. He’ll poke the boastful Bradley. He’ll jab throwing that right punch. In the end, Pac-Man will weather the Desert Storm.

Boxing is all about Proving. Proving who’s best. Proving whose egotistic words become true. Today, it’s Pacquiao who has more to prove. To us. To Bradley. To himself. To Freddie, who said, “Some people think we are all done and we have to prove that we are not.” To Mommy Dionisia and wife Jinkee, both of whom want him to retire.

WEIGH-IN. Yesterday, I watched footages of the weigh-in. Everybody in the house except for Bradley’s entourage was cheering for Pacquiao. To think that our man is Pinoy fighting an American in the U.S.

I recall the weigh-in of the Pacquiao-Rios fight last November. These weigh-ins start early, at 8 a.m. And it’s rapid-fire fast. The whole event is done in half an hour. One by one in quick succession, the boxers enter the stage, undress, step on that scale and leave. Fast.

Even the main event protagonists don’t linger for long. At yesterday’s weigh-in, when both Manny and Timothy stood side-by-side to flex and reveal their muscles, wow, it was like watching a body-building event. These guys are absolutely ripped! Manny was lean and brawny; Tim’s muscles were sculptured and very defined.

Manny Pacquiao, Timothy Bradley

The excitement of being there at the Weigh-In is indescribable. You’re amongst thousands of screaming Pinoys. Music reverberates. Lights flash and circle the stage. Bruce Buffer’s deep voice echoes. Bob Arum smiles. Then, the Gladiators come face to face, just inches apart, locking eyeball-to-eyeball, playing “psycho” (mental) games.

KNOCKOUT? Today’s fight has the potential to be one of Manny’s greatest ever. If he wins by a spectacular knockout — against an American sporting a 32-0 record — this can rank as not only a “great comeback” but also a vindication. An I-told-you-so and never-count-me-out moment for the humble, Bible-reading Filipino. Bradley has never slept for more than 10 seconds on the Las Vegas canvas. There’s always a first time. Today.

Tips for Tiger

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Two days from now, the world’s top golfers will converge in Augusta, Georgia for the “Super Bowl and Wimbledon of Golf.” It’s The Masters. But “The Master” himself, Tiger Woods, won’t be joining. The 14-major winner and current world number one is injured. Last Sunday, I chronicled a litany of injuries that have befallen the sporting world’s first billionaire. Yes, Tiger is that rich. He’s universally acclaimed as the wealthiest among athletes.

Plus, among golfers, he’s the fittest. Standing 6-foot-1 and weighing 185 lbs., his height and weight are like Rafael Nadal’s. Comparing bicep to bicep, Phil Mickelson will cry with envy.

But sporting an eight-pack abdomen and standing tall and robust like Tiger doesn’t make one injury-free. In fact, it appears that Tiger has spent too much time on the gym.

“He will have to slow down on bulking up and lifting heavy weights off the floor or with his back unsupported by a bench and concentrate instead on conditioning of golf swing specific muscle groups.” Dr. Tony San Juan said those words.

Hank Haney, the former coach of Woods, concurs: “He does a lot of the gym stuff. I know you need to do some for golf, no doubt about it. You need to be in shape, you need to avoid injury, but my opinion is he really overdoes that … He looks like he’s gained more muscle mass. When he was thinner and younger he was actually faster then. The strength maybe helps you get out of the rough but I’d agree that he’s overdone it. But he loves to work out.”

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Last Sunday, top sports and orthopaedic physician Dr. San Juan outlined the reasons why Tiger repeatedly got injured. (Doc Tony is a Class A golfer who started the sport at the age of 8 and whose best handicap is 7; he’s preparing to do multiple triathlon events soon, including the Ironman 70.3 this August.)

I asked Tony if Tiger, after his latest surgery, will be able to play competitive golf in the PGA Tour. His reply? A resounding… “Definitely!” But, for Tiger to compete longer, these are words TW has to heed… Here are Tony’s Tips For Tiger:

1) Less time in the gym (mentioned earlier).

2) “Make a few adjustments to his swing if he were to consider staying in the Tour for several more years.”

3) “Work on precision and course management more than outdriving the opposition and making them eat his dust off the tee. We do know, however, he is one of the best already in the former from years back.”

4) “Execute a shorter swing with less twisting (but potentially more torque as not to compromise distance and power) that comes with a lower risk for more injuries and accelerated wear on his back.”

5) “Go for quality practice rather than quantity practice in the practice tee or range.”

I’m sure Tiger is as frustrated as his fans about his ailments. The reason why Doc Tony is confident Tiger can hurdle all of his afflictions?

Because of his support group. “Tiger has the best possible top-tier team surrounding him, the best that the best golfer can afford — from his caddie to his therapist to his conditioning coach to his swing coach to his sports docs,” he said. “They all have the same aspiration as he does. And like every other Tiger fan, like myself – we’d like to see more of the Sunday Red shirt on the last flight on as many more tournaments and majors in the coming years.”

There’s no doubt that Tiger will be back. The question is: For how long? He’s one of humankind’s greatest competitors. But what use is a strong heart if the body parts are weak?

Interestingly, Dr. Tony mentioned that not all of Tiger’s woes are golf-swing related. “He didn’t tear his ACL on his left knee playing golf,” he said. “While he had the tear, however, Tiger and his golf swing really suffered.”

How did he get injured? He had a misstep and twisted his knee and ankle. While running!

My common sense advice for Tiger? Stick to golf. Quit running, weight-lifting and skirt-chasing.

Tiger Woods, diagnosed by Dr. Tony San Juan

When The Masters begins this Thursday, one name will be missing: the world No. 1.

Golf isn’t like MMA. It’s not like football or basketball where injuries abound. It’s not Pacquiao punching Bradley. Golf is a gentleman’s game. It’s a sport of leisurely walks, effortless 9-iron swings, soft putts, gingerly handshakes. Golf is not a sport of injuries. That’s what I thought.

But Tiger Woods has suffered repeated injuries. Consider these afflictions: Surgery on left knee to remove fluid inside and outside the ACL. Arthroscopic surgery on his left knee to repair cartilage damage. Two stress fractures of the left tibia. Surgery to repair the ACL in his left knee by using a tendon from his right thigh. MCL sprain. Lower back spasms. And, just last March 31, surgery for a pinched nerve. (Not to mention his head nearly getting chopped off by that golf club swing of his ex-wife Elin!)

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Perplexed at Tiger’s injuries, I sought the advice of the country’s top sports and orthopaedic doctor.

Dr. Jose Antonio San Juan is one of the most in-demand physicians in town. Call his clinic (Cebu Orthopaedic Institute) and you’ll be lucky to get an appointment this week or the next. I queried Doc Tony about Tiger. I asked him not only because of his medical authority but also because he’s a Class A (9-handicap) golfer of the Cebu Country Club.

“First, we weren’t born as immortals or with nine lives,” said Dr. San Juan. “Over time, the use and abuse we have put on our bodies will slowly show its true colors. We can’t deny the fact that there are limits to what our bodies can take from the physical standpoint and such is the point Tiger Woods is in right now.”

Jim Litke (of the AP) explained: “He (Tiger) broke into big-time golf at 20, thin as a 2-iron and swinging with all the abandon of a kid. He putted without nerves, hit the ball farther and passed so many career signposts so breathtakingly fast, and with such ease, that his future seemed to be on cruise-control already. But Woods is 38 now, and despite sparking the fitness craze that revolutionized professional golf, he’s falling apart like a used car.”

Dr. San Juan continues: “Whatever beating and moving parts God has given us only come as one unique part that is irreplaceable even by the most advanced of medical or surgical techniques. Once any of these parts start to malfunction or fall apart whether by injury, wear and tear (degeneration in medical terms), when one overcomes such conditions be it by medication, physical therapy and conditioning or by surgery, they never return to normal despite the fact they may seem or may be used like normal.”

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“Second, while the physicality in golf is not like other contact sports (basketball, MMA – except of course when you get hit by a ball or a wayward club which, by the way, has happened to me), the golf swing is so dynamic and involves practically your whole body from the head down to the toes that repeated swings will definitely lead to injuries or body aches and pains from wear when the basic principles of a good golf swing and conditioning are not followed.”

When a child learns the game of golf at a young age, added Doc Tony, the body adapts to the kind of swing. “Tiger’s swing was very athletic from the start but as he started to get into his late twenties, he realized that the kind of swing he had that was making him bomb 300-yard drives wasn’t going to give him longevity in the PGA Tour.”

Tiger adjusted. He went through several changes. “As Tiger changed swing coaches from Butch Harmon to Hank Haney to Sean Foley,” he said, “his body that had gotten used to certain repeated movements was now adjusting to new dynamics and now causing more wear on body parts that weren’t used to that amount of stress as he was growing up. Unfortunately, it involved body parts that don’t grow back – cartilage in his knees and the cartilage equivalent in his back (intervertebral disc that was pinching his nerve).”

Can Tiger fully recover? Find out the prognosis of Dr. San Juan this Tuesday.

Wakee Salud: ‘Bradley has improved a lot’

pac.penalosa.salud.091024.300wGerry, Manny and Wakee (Photo by Dong Secuya)

I tried calling Gerry Peñalosa yesterday. The ringing tone sounded different, like the call was international. Hours later, I found out why.

“Hi John. Sorry msd ur call. How are you? im here in LA now.”

I wanted to unlock the thoughts of one of Pinoy boxing’s greatest fighters, the man termed by Freddie Roach as “the country’s best ever technical boxer.”

We didn’t talk. Maybe for another column.

I next tried Rex Salud. You know Wakee. He’s Manny Pacquiao’s best friend. They’ve been together since 2005 when, after Manny’s loss to Erik Morales, the Cebuano invited the boxer to Lapu-Lapu City for wild nights of cock-fighting, Casino gambling, drinking, and a myriad of other extra-curriculars.

Like Gerry, the ringback tone sounded international. No response. Minutes later, a message popped, “nasa us na.”

I called. “I’ve been here since March 19,” said Wakee. “I’m now in Los Angeles.”

Each day, he gets to see Manny. “When I arrived, Manny had bouts of colds, coughing and he had a slight fever,” Wakee said. “This week, good that he’s able to recover.”

He explained the brutal practice sessions of Manny, each one lasting up to four hours. “Maayo (Good),” Wakee said, describing the training sessions. “Doble ang (Double the) power compared to the Rios fight.”

Wakee has not missed a live Pacman fight since 2005. That’s nine years ago. Since then, Manny won 15 straight bouts up until June 2012 when he lost to Timothy Bradley. Manny lost again to Juan Manuel Marquez.

15 consecutive wins. Two subsequent losses. A win last November. Every one of those 18 bouts, Wakee Salud was present at Manny’s corner. Including the one to come next Sunday.

Of that Rios fight four months ago in Macau, I spotted Wakee on multiple occasions accompanying Manny and his entourage. An hour before Manny stepped inside the ring, Wakee passed our seating area. We chatted. Forever the optimist, he was confident of MP. Next weekend is no different.

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Doble gyud ang preparation ni Manny,” he said. “All-out siya karon.”

By “all-out,” Wakee means that the Sarangani Congressman is taking zero chances against an opponent who defeated him the last time. “Timothy Bradley has improved a lot,” said Wakee. “He defeated Ruslan Provodnikov and Juan Manuel Marquez. He’s even better now.”

Bradley sports a spotless record. If he wins next week, that’s 32 straight W’s. “Manny cannot underestimate Bradley,” added Wakee. These are humbling words from the operator of the RWS (Rex Wakee Salud) gym in Labangon — the spot where Manny trained in 2007 for his bout against Marco Antonio Barrera.

I say “humbling” because when I first asked Wakee the same question two years ago prior to Pacquiao-Bradley Part I, he told me: “No chance for Bradley. Easy fight for Manny.”

That was in 2012. Now, it’s different. It’s all-serious. All out. The aim, obviously, is to put to sleep Bradley. “For sure, Manny will go for the knockout,” he said. “That’s the goal. But even if he doesn’t, he will win by decision.”

The question I failed to ask Mr. Salud is this: Granted that Manny wins, that’s well and good. Smiles will be plastered on the faces of the 100 million Filipinos worldwide. A victory parade beside Erap will encircle the streets of Manila.

But, the big, WHAT IF? What if he gets robbed a second time? By the judges? Or simply by a better — and, at the age of 30, a younger — fighter?

What if ang atong manok ma-pildi? Manny’s on a decline, no doubt. He’s lost two of his last three with the lone win coming against a weak Rios.

Let’s see. Let’s not jump to negative possibilities. I guess the answer would be: It depends on how he loses, if ever. If it’s via knockout — which is so unlikely, given Bradley’s record of only 12 KOs in 31 fights — then it’s surely game over for MP.

But we expect a win. We hope for it. We pray to God that His renewed son will be triumphant. For now, it’s just counting down the days. Day 10, 9, 8…

Leona’s Iron Chef is an Ironman

Jane-Jane Ong, the entrepreneur behind Leona Cakes and Pastries, finished the Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship in Melbourne, Australia seven days ago. She was the lone female in the Cebu group of five that included her brother Andrew, Dr. Albert Solis, Gianluca Guidicelli and Jacs Jacalan.

By definition, the “Ironman” refers to a triathlon race with a 3.8K swim, a 180K bike and a full 42K marathon. (The Ironman 70.3 in Cebu every August is the “half-Ironman;” meaning it’s only half the Ironman distance.)

With Jane-Jane’s achievement (finishing the 226-km. race in 15 hours and 22 minutes), it appears that she becomes the first female Cebuana to complete the full IM. Here’s our Q & A:

1891751_10200629484738399_1793578638_oJane-Jane with the boys (from left) Jomer Lim, Dr. Albert Solis, Meyrick Jacalan, Gianluca Guidicelli and Andrew Ong

What events have you done prior to Melbourne? “So far I’ve done 3 Ironman 70.3, I joined Tabuelan 111 twice and Challenge Philippines last Feb., which is also a 70.3 distance. As for marathons, I finished 14 pa lang and one Ultramarathon in Cebu (Sept 2011). The 14 marathons are: Singapore (Dec 2008), Amsterdam (Oct 2009), Big Sur (April 2010), New York (Nov 2010), Paris (April 2011), Camsur (Sept 2011), California Int’l (Dec 2011), Rome (March 2012), Stockholm (June 2012), Berlin (Sept 2012), Napa Valley (Mar 2013), LA (March 2013), Chicago (Oct 2013) and Disneyworld (Jan 2014).”

How did you prepare? “Training for a full Ironman is much more grueling and time consuming especially with the long rides. There are days we are out the whole day riding. We leave the house by car 5 a.m., start riding in Carcar round south, end in Barili and ride the car home from there. We would reach home by 5 p.m. More sacrifices have to made. We have to be disciplined not only with our training but also with our diet and rest. On top of our specific training for swim, bike & run, I do a lot of strength training to prevent injuries. With a full training sched, it leaves me with lesser time to work and almost no free time.”

How mental is the IM? “For the full Ironman, one has to be prepared mentally. It is as much a mental and spiritual journey as it is physical. I prayed constantly from the start till the end. During the swim leg, there was a part on the last 1K that I panicked. I got quite disoriented not knowing which direction I was heading since I couldn’t see the buoys and the current of the water was strong. I really prayed that I wouldn’t get cut-off, haha! For the bike leg, I was praying for our safety and that I wouldn’t get any flat tire.”

Your 42K? “Since I’m first and foremost a runner, I was looking forward to the run part. My plan was just to cruise and enjoy it. But running a marathon after a 3.8 km swim and 180 km bike ride is totally different from running a marathon on fresh legs. The first half was still ok and I felt good. But halfway, my runners knee pain (which started during the bike leg) got worse and I could feel my ITB tightening up. My prayers then was that the Lord give me the strength to finish the race strong and that I wouldn’t have to suffer much pain. Praise God the pain was manageable. I was able to run the last 1K faster and crossed the finish line strong!”

What’s next? “I guess IM Melbourne is my biggest ‘goal’ for the year, haha! :-) After doing this, a marathon last Jan. and a 70.3 distance last Feb. at Challenge Phil, I’ll take a few months off to rest and recover and then join IM 70.3 in Cebu again and then two more marathons year end (Sta Barbara in Nov and the California Int’l in Dec.).

“I promised myself that I will do the full IM only once and this is it… But after doing IM Melbourne, I am tempted to join an IM race in the US or do Challenge Roth (in Germany) someday which is very popular and according to Chrissy Wellington, ‘The best full distance race in the world!’

“Last Sat, I met a lady who’s into her late 50s and guess what she told me? IM Melbourne last Sun was her 20th! Also met another lady who turned 65 this year who made it to the podium in her age group and this is her 20+ IM too! These women are amazing and so inspiring! :-)

Learn tennis with Coach Tommy Frederiksen

I’m often asked, “Who’s a really good tennis coach for my child?”

My answer: Tommy Frederiksen.

For the past 15 months, he’s been the coach of my daughter Jana. He, too, coaches Anday Alferez and Shyne Villareal. Between the three of them (all Bright Academy varsity scholars), they’ve won the Milo National Little Olympics, Batang Pinoy and more than 15 singles and 10 doubles titles.

He’s good. He’s in Cebu. And, best of all, he’s available to teach your child tennis.

Tommy hails from Sweden. On Bjorn Borg, the greatest ever Swedish athlete, Tommy says, “We were born the same year, even in the same hospital, Sodersjukhuset, in 1956 and we lived in Stocholm, the capital city of Sweden.”

Bjorn Borg and Tommy Frederiksen, as 10 year olds, even tried out in the same Stockholm tennis school. And while Borg went on to win five Wimbledon and six French Open crowns, Tommy pursued other sports such as ice hockey and soccer and went on to work in the corporate field (Human Resources).

Now, he’s full time into tennis. He’s the head coach at Bright Academy and he teaches tennis P.E. to those from Grades 2 to 6.

This summer, Coach Tommy will be conducting a few tennis clinics. The first, at Casino Español de Cebu, will run from April 7 to May 5. This program is open to the public with a very reasonable fee of P2,000.

The next Summer Clinic of Coach Tommy is at the indoor tennis court of Bright Academy. This will be for the month of May.

WHY TENNIS? I asked Coach Tommy what makes his sport different. “You can play tennis in any part of the world,” he said. “Singles or doubles. For fun and also for competing and playing tournaments. All ages, from 5 to 75, actually there is ITF world championship tournaments for age groups up to 80 +.

“Tennis is an ‘open sport’… not like running or swimming where it is you and the competitors against the clock or by the measurement tape. Tennis, apart from technique and movement, is about anticipation, reading the play, decision-making, understanding tactics and strategy, concentration, mental skills… and it is also a sport that has style and sportsmanship as part of its history and culture. It is the most demanding sport, and the most beautiful sport. And it’s a kind of art also. Andre Agassi said ‘Hit the ball dead perfect – the only peace.’”

SWEDEN. His country has produced the likes of Borg, Stefan Edberg (who now coaches Roger Federer), Mats Wilander and Robin Soderling. Why are the Swedes so good at tennis? Sweden’s population of 9.5 million is just 10 percent of the Philippines. Why are you guys so good in tennis? I asked.

“One reason for the Swedes total domination during the 80s and 90s, including seven consecutive Davis Cup finals, was their physical strength and fitness built from early junior period,” Tommy said. “Most of the Swedish players as young cross-trained in other sports, such as football (soccer) or ice-hockey; they were conditioning is a natural part in every practice. But today tennis players from all over the world are doing physical training all the time so that is not a competitive advantage anymore.

“Another reason was the big number of Swedish players at that time, our Grand slam champions were just the tip of the iceberg. We had so many good players as we had so many kids playing the sport and guided by well educated and engaged tennis coaches.

“So abundance of tennis courts, many kids playing and having world class idols as role models, and good training by good coaches, and well organised tennis tournaments, especially the Nationals for 12U and 14U.

“One more thing: parental support is a huge factor in sport, especially tennis, and all our top players can attest to that.”

Coach Tommy Frederiksen will hold a summer tennis program at Casino Espanol from April 7 to May 5, Mon-Wed-Fri 8-9:30. For more info, contact Casino Espanol at 254-2648 or Coach Tommy Frederiksen, 0917-3010338.

Honoring the best

It’s called “The Oscars” of Cebu sports. It’s that one afternoon when all the star athletes from Badminton to Golf to MMA to Rugby to Volleyball to Wrestling get-together and get recognized.

It’s tomorrow from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Activity Center of Ayala Center Cebu. It’s for free. It’s also the 32nd year that this event has been produced. Venues have changed. From the 1521 lounge at the San Miguel Beer headquarters to Grand Convention Center to Casino Español and, tomorrow, at Ayala Center.

What doesn’t change is this: Each year, with no miss, the sportswriters of Cebu celebrate by honoring the year’s best performers. Tomorrow’s awardees are being applauded for their accomplishments in 2013.

The Cebu Sports Awards is important because of many reasons. It happens only once a year. It’s organized by an independent group, the Sportswriters Association of Cebu. It’s long-standing (32 years). It’s held in partnership with one of Asia’s top conglomerates, San Miguel Corporation (special thanks to SMB’s Girlie Garces).

Rico Navarro is our SAC president. Joaquin “Quinito” Henson, the preeminent sports columnist and TV personality, will join us tomorrow. He’ll give the Keynote Address. Quinito is that rare individual who is at the top of his field but one who’s remained humble and approachable. We were together in Macau for Manny Pacquiao’s last fight and, during breakfast just hours before MP’s battle, it was admirable to chat with such a respectful and enthusiastic person. Quinito is flying in and out of Cebu solely for the awards.

Sportsman of the Year? My good friend Tony del Prado, the man who’s helped steer the artistry of taekwondo, is the deserving executive.

Athlete of the Year? Ha-ha. I know the name but I won’t divulge it. That’s reserved for those who’ll attend.     See you tomorrow!

MAJOR AWARDEES: Rubilen Amit, Johnny Arcilla, Wilbert Aunzo, Rinna Babanto, Mikaela Calamba, Pearl Caneda, CCC men’s golf team, Justin Chiongbian, Johnreil Casimero, Mary Grace de los Santos, Andres Paul Desiderio, Don Bosco Technology Center, June Mar Fajardo, Kim Lao, Glenn Lava, Joseph Miller, Julius Nierras, Donnie Nietes, Rhey Jay Ortouste, Arnie Christian Padilla, Arthur Craig Pantino, Paref Springdale football, Elwin Retanal, Merlito Sabillo, Jan Godfrey Seno, Mary Joy Tabal, and Kiyomi Sarausad Watanabe.

CITATION AWARDEES: Pearl Angeline Abellar, Mike Abria, Jonjon Adlawan, Zethley Mae Alferez, Moiselle Alforque, Macavynger Alob, Luis Ansag, Banilad Elem. School badminton team, Felix Shaun Balbona, Hipolito Banal, Jade Becaldo, Jusabelle Brillo, Maegan Bugarin, Moises Bullecer, Cary Bullos, Miguel Calamba, Jette Calderon, Val Calvo, Yuan Chiongbian, Val Andre Chiu, Diego Abraham Claro, Team Cebu City table tennis, Club Filipino de Cebu, Clark Cuico, CEPCA, CFA, Cebu Lady Dragons, Elson Dorimon, and Team Cebu City Dancesport.

Philip Duenas, Majordean Ebarle, Bruno Escalante, Jeffrey Estella, Joseph Falcone, Joaquin Nicolo Fernandez, Junia Gabasa, Tonette Gambito, Veronica Garces, Danika Gendrauli, Jimrex Jaca, Eloisa Jordan, Michael Ichiro Kong, Ericka Lim, Ulyross Lopez, Erik Ngitz Lovitos, Aaliyah Ricci Mataragnon, John Mier, Daniel Miranda, Nichole Maurin, Ana Patricia Maximo, Milan Melindo, Neil Minoza, Kintaro Miyagi, Gen Nagai, Anthony Lynn Navarro, and Daniel Noval.

Jason Pagara, Jana Marie Pages, Ivan Palmero, Paolo Pascual, Bj Pepito, Mark Kevin Petancio, Neil Perino, Daniela dela Pisa, Kimberly Gabrielle Paler, Kelle Kay Rojas, Madil Salinas, Apple Saraum, Genesis Servania, Rhenzi Kyle Sevillano, Vergilio Silvano, Greg Slaughter, Ralph Eduard So, SHS-ADC, SWU, Nino Surban, Marlon Tapales, Mark Javen Tallo, John Rey Tongco, Arantxa Trebol, UV, Shaia Uy, Jerish John Velarde, Arthur Villanueva, Yaw-Yan Ardigma Cebu, and Edward Ybanez.

Let’s be better, not bitter

Graeme Mackinnon, the Cebu Hall of Fame football coach who’s now back in Australia, sent me this email yesterday: “I am confident that the Cebu Football Association (CFA) will handle it as it should be. There is no doubt it is not the publicity football in Cebu or anywhere for that matter wants. But it’s happened and lessons HAVE to be learned so that this problem is minimized in the future.

“I read about the call for police to be at every game. OMG, what a knee-jerk reaction. How many times has this happened in the last ten years? People in the football club or school have to be responsible for their own actions and accept the consequences of those actions.

“Here (Australia) in junior football, each club or school must provide some in-house security. I don’t mean guns. etc. but appointed club officials (usually some parents from the team that is playing) wear hi-vis vests with Security on it and they are the first line of subduing any CROWD problem. The referee looks after the players. The vest means they are appointed by the club/school to represent the CFA at games and ensure the PLAY FAIR edict just as we expect the players to. Every game from the very small to the seniors there has to be a visible calming influence. The CFA would hold an induction for clubs/schools so that they would understand their responsibilities to ensure that THEIR parents and friends of the players don’t cross the line.

“Even though it is a black eye at the moment if handled correctly CFA and Cebu football will move forward stronger from the experience.”

I agree. Let’s transform the negative into positive. The shocking incident seven days ago is the “talk of the town,” even by non-soccer followers. At Casino Español last Thursday night, I sat in between Spanish Consul Anton Perdices and Andre Borromeo and our discussion centered on the controversy.

The incident has happened. That, we can’t reverse. What’s most important today is tomorrow. Graeme’s suggestions are excellent. I’m sure Pres. Ricky Dakay and the CFA Board have plenty of additional inputs.

Football is a rough game. It’s the closest thing to “allowable” physical contact. There’s a lot of shoulder-pushing. Kicks are fired, intentionally or unintentionally. Bodies slam. A goalie dives and gets smothered with a rushing knee. Arms lock. There’s bumping. Players sprint and collide.

My brother Charlie, who has organized the Thirsty Football Cup for the past 11 years, has a poster of our event which reads: “If you can’t stand football, play tennis.”

Ouch. But it’s true: Football screams “ouch!” It’s physical. More than basketball. Surely more than volleyball or swimming or running. I can think of only a few more games that involve more contact than soccer. Boxing and mixed-martial arts top the list; ice-hockey is another slam-bang game; American football and rugby are very rough.

(As a side note, on that “Photo of the Year” by Allan Cuizon, my friend Fred Quilala made a good comment. Said Fred: “The subjects have been identified except for the good samaritan in black sleeveless who separated the protagonists at the risk of getting injured. Hope he gets recognized for his unselfish efforts.”)

In the aftermath of the melee, I hope that the afflicted and aggrieved parties, facilitated by the CFA and other highly-respected and neutral personalities, can get together. To talk. To air out grievances. To apologize. To show remorse. To seek forgiveness. To give forgiveness. As the great basketball coach John Wooden once said, “Sports do not build character. They reveal it.”

Footbrawl! When the beautiful game turns ugly

Soccer is named “the beautiful game.” It’s the world’s most followed sport, with billions from Barcelona to Bacolod to Bangkok playing and watching the sport. But what happened last Sunday between A & A was despicable. It was disgraceful.

Ateneo is to blame because some of their players and companions were involved in the melee — including that adult whose caught-in-the-act stabbing was captured perfectly by the camera lens of ace photographer Allan Cuizon. Alcoy FC is to blame because they, too, engaged in the same acts of punching and physical aggression. The coaches have a duty to control their players. They also have the responsibility to calm the parents and team followers.

King Miyagi was one of those badly hurt in the scuffle. An extremely kind and respectful person (who was my daughter Jana’s former classmate and who’s now a national team member), King was attacked out of nowhere. I saw his photo yesterday and sadly, he has a huge black-eye.

The Cebu Football Association (CFA) will learn a lot from this. New rules will be enacted. Stricter enforcement — especially by the referees, whose main job is to control the proceedings — will be implemented.

But the biggest embarrassment were those parents and adults who engaged in the aggressive and brutal acts.

In his latest Full Point article, my mentor Nimrod Quiñones (a CFA board member) wrote an enlightening piece in www.fullpointcebu.com called “Sports Parenting 101.”

Here are Nimrod’s 10 Commandments for Sports Parents…

1.    You are a parent and not the coach.
2.    You should stay away from the children while they are practicing so as not to make them lose focus.
3.    Yes, you love your child so much and want him or her well-hydrated, but running into the field to wipe their back and giving them water even if they have not been given a break is a breach of discipline.
4.    Cheer for your child, their teammates, and even their opponents. Acknowledge the good performance of the players no matter which side they play for.
5.    Winning is not everything, so don’t get angry when your child or his or her team loses.
6.    Don’t embarrass your children by fighting with other parents or worse, fighting with their opponents, who are also kids.
7.    If your child is engaged in a contact sport, expect some contact, but the good coaches and trainers can help your children minimize or avoid injuries.
8.    Do not impose yourself upon the coaches, school, or team officials even if you contribute an amount of money on a regular basis to help pay for your child’s coach or trainer.
9.    Be supportive by providing what you can in terms of equipment, refreshments, and moral support.
10.    Be a good example to your children.
Well-said, Nim. I also liked what Jack Biantan, who’s now in London, wrote the other day. He said that, sadly, this event has happened — but we have to move on. Let’s all solve this quickly, led by the CFA president Ricky Dakay. He also suggested for the teams to make amends and to apologize. Let’s not put to waste this shocking incident. Let’s all learn from it so that, looking ahead, in the heat of another sporting moment, the same won’t happen again.

‘If you believe, you can do it’

One of the most powerful words in the universe — words that you and I and anybody else wants to succeed in anything, sports or otherwise, ought to memorize — were said by a wise man: “I say if you believe, you can do it. You play happy, you can do it. You believe to win, you can win. I talk to players everyday to believe they can win.”

Those words came from the Ateneo volleyball coach Anusorn Bundit. He’s from Thailand. But he’s now here in Manila and has turned the Ateneo Lady Eagles into the toast of Philippine sports.

We were at the SM Mall of Asia last Saturday night. Just hours after Ateneo defeated La Salle in the UAAP Women’s Volleyball championships, the blue eagles soared while the green archers missed the target. You could see it from the faces of the hundreds that swarmed MOA: those wearing blue sported smiles from ear to ear; those in green endured frowns of shock.

The La Salle girls carried a 30-game winning streak when they met Ateneo in the finals.

They lost the first game. Shocker!     In Game 2, they recovered to force the duel. Sadly, La Salle lost the last two games, including the winner-take-all last Saturday. After 30 games of being undefeated, they lost three of the last four.

Alyssa Valdez of Ateneo stood not only as the MVP of the season and the finals but also as hero. We spotted a few in SM MOA who wore, like we would NBA stars like LeBron, jerseys with ‘VALDEZ’ printed at the back. In the front pages of the newspapers here in Manila, her charismatic smile adorned the newstands.

‘Heart Strong’ and ‘Play Happy’ were the by-words that carried this Ateneo to clinch their first-ever volleyball women’s title. These are words we should forever remember: Be strong. Believe. Be happy. Smile.

I watched the previous games of these two squads on Balls HD channel and the nice thing is, the girls are always smiling. After a spike and a point, they group together, slap high-fives, commend each other. They’re a team of closely-knit players whose mantra says… we’re-in-this-together.

The major reason for Ateneo’s win: their mentor. “Coach Tai’s arrival was a big factor for us,” Valdez was quoted as saying. “If we’re gonna rate it with 100 percent as the highest, I’d say he’s at 110 percent.”

The funny thing is, if you watched the TV games, Coach Tai was difficult to comprehend while he huddled his players. His English is not as good as ours, and so you’d think, “How can they understand their coach?”

They did. And more than that, the coach’s belief rubbed off on the girls. “He never stops pushing us, giving us confidence. So on our part, with coach’s vote of confidence, there’s no reason for us to doubt ourselves,” said Valdez in the Phil. Star  article, “To Lady Eagles, heart-strong means ‘if you believe, you win’.”

Someone once said: “It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.”

Who said that quote that fits the Ateneo story? Muhammad Ali.

Day one of Formula One

Gentlemen, start your engines! It’s Melbourne, Australia for the first of 19 Grand Prix races this 2014. F1 racing isn’t young. It’s 64 years old. But, beginning today, the organizers will enforce new rules that are some of the most revolutionary in decades.

Among the changes, they’ll a) reduce the noise, b)  transform the engine into a smaller 6-cylinder version (for the first time in a quarter century, turbocharged 1.6-liter V6 engines will replace the V8s and V10s.), and c) lessen the fuel storage to 100 kilograms. All these start today for the 22 cars that will rev their engines on the 5.3-km. Albert Park street circuit.

I’m no technical car expert. But, from my readings on the rules modifications, they’re massive. It includes giving the last race of the 2014 season, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November, double the points. While a race win is worth 25 points, it will be 50 in Abu Dhabi. The reason: to transform that final race into a nail-biting finale.

The past four years, two names — Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull — have dominated F1 racing, winning from 2010 to 2013. This year is uncertain. And this appears to be the most exciting question: Can Vettel do it again? He’s often relied on his Renault-powered car and his team, led by Christian Horner. Not now.

Why all these substantial changes? Jean Todt, the president of the International Automobile Federation, the sport’s governing body, said, “We have to consider the environment, even if it’s clear that these 22 Formula One cars alone are not going to increase the pollution in the world or in a city on a circuit. But auto racing is a show window of technology, economics and industry.”

What he means is this: F1 is hugely popular, it attracts a TV audience of over half a billion people annually worldwide. And if F1 does good — by tweaking the engines to emit less noise and pollution — then the audience, too, will take notice and do the same with their own cars. People will care more for the environment.

Consider their “Formula E” concept which begins this September. Only electric racing cars (all looking like F1 supercars) are allowed to compete in 10 cities including London, L.A., Beijing and Putrajaya in Malaysia. They might as well call that…  E1!

I got hold of a copy of the Intl. New York Times “Formula One Preview” Special Report — all of four full pages — and the new rules are plenty. “The new engines are smaller, less powerful, less noisy and more environmentally friendly than any the series has ever produced,” wrote Brad Spurgeon for the Intl. New York Times. “It is with these innovations that Formula One is hoping to maintain its cachet as the producer of the world’s most advanced racing car.”

I recall my brother Charlie, who’s been to the Singapore Grand Prix, explaining to me the deafening roar of these engines. Sure, they’ll still make noise — but no longer screaming loud.

The other changes are immense. They include a “Pole Position trophy” at year’s-end for the driver with, obviously, the most pole positions. Another rule: if a driver goes outside the track limits and overtakes another driver (previously, a five-second penalty was meted) they’ll ask the driver to slow down and let the overtaken driver zoom ahead.

The biggest worry of the racing world? The uncertainty. Many have predicted that worst-case scenarios of slow cars (maybe 10 seconds slower?) or races where over half of the cars breakdown and don’t make it to the finish because of technical trouble.

I’m sure Jenson Button, whom we met here in Cebu two years ago, is one who’s concerned. But this is good. It’s good for Mother Earth. It’s good for the eardrums of the spectators.

“They (new engines) will achieve fuel consumption and performance levels that are much, much better than anything that exists anywhere in the motor sport and probably better than anything that exists on the road,” said Rob White of Renault.

I agree. And I can’t wait for the engines to roar… Today at 2 p.m.

For MVP, can Durant dethrone King James?

lebron-james-explains-why-he-is-jealous-of-kevin-durant(Getty Images)

Basketball is not boxing. It’s not one-on-one. It’s five on five. But, for the race for the Most Valuable Player honors in the NBA, there’s a slugfest, mano-a-mano style, going on this 2014. It features two Nike endorsers. One stands 6-foot-9. The other is an inch shorter. One is lean, long-legged and loves shooting three-pointers; the other is Superman-like muscular, solid as a Veco post, and loves dunks that rock Miami.

It’s Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James. Who’ll win the MVP plum? A total of 121 votes will determine the MVP winner. This is decided by a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters who will cast votes when the NBA Regular Season ends mid-April. So there’s still one month to go… But there’s no doubt that the pick will carry either of two initials: KD or LBJ.

“I think Durant will be MVP this year,” said Greg Slaughter, in our exchange of text messages yesterday. “He has been playing better than he ever has in his career and had time to shine when Westbrook was out. Also, LeBron’s in the same situation when Steve Nash won MVPs and I think they want a new one.” Good points from the PBA’s No.1 vote getter. Added Greg on Cebu… “Can’t wait to go back!”

I also asked Harry Radaza, the basketball-playing councilor of Lapu-Lapu City, and he, too, picks the Oklahoma City forward, saying, “Tough choice. I would go for KD. More consistent and efficient.”

My pick? KD. Nobody this season has played better. Durant scored 42 points yesterday in OKC’s 106-98 victory over the hot Houston Rockets. If my computations are correct, he’s averaging a whopping 31.9 points per game. Add to that 7.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists per outing. His field goal percentage is 50.9 percent and he makes 86.9 percent of his free throws. Those are astronomical, MVP-like numbers. Plus, his Oklahoma squad is the No. 2 ranked team in the league today, sporting a 47-17 win-loss record (compared to 44-17 for Miami).

It’s a done deal, right? We might as well award the Maurice Podoloff Trophy, named after the NBA’s first commissioner/president, to Durant The MVP, right? Almost. He’s close. But, like I said, there’s still one month to go before voting and there happens to be a 250-lb. giant, a four-time MVP recipient, who won’t back down and easily hand over the title like an easy assist. LeBron is LeBron is I-Won’t-Give-Up.

Last week, in leading Miami over Charlotte, LeBron scored a personal best 61 points behind these outlandish numbers: he made his first eight 3-point attempts; he scored 25 points in the third quarter; he shot 22-of-33 from the field. This fight isn’t over yet.

Sports Illustrated’s Rob Mahoney said it perfectly: “Every passing week seems to bring new heat to the MVP race, which is shaping up to be a too-close-to-call verdict between LeBron James and Kevin Durant. The two are spiraling around and toward one another in a riveting display of one-upmanship, with a great performance from one motivating the other to similar heights.

“As a result, the balance of the award seems to shift on a weekly basis. If that waffling persists, James and Durant could be closing in on one of the tightest MVP races in recent memory, if not in NBA history.”

For now, though, the stats favor Durant. His 31.9 PPG average compared to James’ 27.0 is a huge gap – that’s almost five points more per game. And – and this is important – the public often wants to celebrate a new face. If KD wins, it will be his first taste of basketball’s highest accolade.

If, however, for some miraculous March and April, the Miami Heat No. 6 pulls off the award, it will be his 5th MVP, with only three others who’ve done the same or better: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (the leader with six MVPs) and Bill Russell and Michael Jordan, with five apiece. (Interestingly, Kobe Bryant only has one MVP.)

Goodbye, marathon man

Screen Shot 2014-03-11 at 11.08.47 AM

I feel sad. One of my closest friends has passed away. Our ages are so far apart. He’s nearly twice my age. But, whenever we speak and exchange stories, he treats me both as a friend and like a son.

Raul Cepeda left us last Saturday. It was a shock. Two weeks ago, I spoke to him on the phone and we agreed on a date. We often meet for dinner or over coffee.

“Raul,” I excitedly said when he answered. “Are you free for lunch? Let’s meet with Jesse Taborada.”

He wanted to. But couldn’t. “My back is aching now,” he replied. “Why don’t I call you next week when I’m okay and let’s meet?”

That “next week” was last week when, last Wednesday, I got a shocking text message from Raul’s son Sandy that his dad suffered a stroke that was caused by bleeding in his cerebellum. At 1 a.m., he had to be rushed to the Community Hospital where, upon arrival, he was in a coma and survived on life support.

Raul wasn’t young. He was 81. But, by heart and by the strength of his heart, by his running and the strength of his running legs, he was young.

At the 2011 Cebu Marathon, he didn’t join the 5K or 21K. That’s for the young ones! He joined the farthest distance, completing the 42K – at the “once young” age of 78 – with a speedy time of 5 hours and 30 minutes.

He did it again. The following year, with a slim frame of 132 lbs. and a white crop of hair that shone bright while he jogged before dawn, he ran. He completed back-to-back marathons at the age of 78 and 79. Just as amazing, Raul took up running at the age of 74!

Yes. While most men that age graduate from running to walking or to the cane or wheel chair, that’s the age when his craze for long-distance runs started.

Raul was always an athlete. His family, too, with his father a national champion in boxing, baseball and track and field. His brother, Dominador, helped found the Philippine Sports Commission. Sport swam in his veins – and he did run at an earlier age but he stopped for 15 years before resuming at that ripe age of 74.

I’ll never forget one dinner date that we had. It was a week after the 2011 Cebu Marathon and we ate at Mooon Café I.T. Park. Overlooking the start/finish line where Raul just triumphed a few days earlier, we drank beer and ate steak to celebrate. It was a double celebration because, the day before, it was his 78th birthday.

Then, as always, Raul was groovy. Wearing his trademark jeans and shiny buckle, he’d tuck-in to reveal his super-slim fit. Over a black shirt, he wore a maong jacket with the label “4 corners.” I think it had a Harley-Davidson seal. Once, many years back, he told me, he rode a big bike and toured by two wheels the four corners of the United States. I bet only a handful of Filipinos – if any – have ever done that.

Same with marathon-running. On the road, we see a handful of senior citizens running for hours – but how many were Raul’s age?

He was special. Passionate. Talkative. Most of all, he was an inspiration. At last year’s Cebu Marathon, we asked him to face a crowd of a few hundred runners to motivate the audience. He did. Anyone who says that they’re too busy or too old or too tired to engage in exercise and sports, after meeting and knowing Raul’s story, will have a different outlook.

“Some call me ‘lolo,’” he once told me, laughing. “But I don’t want to be called ‘lolo,’” he said. Instead, he wanted to be remembered as someone who inspired others.

He wanted people on the road to see this old man running and to say… “If he can do it, why can’t I?” Those were his exact words. He wanted the multitude of us to look at him and be amazed; he wanted to serve as inspiration.

He was. To me. To Leia, Sandy and the rest of his children. To our Cebu Executive Running Club members. To hundreds of others who knew him.

Last Thursday, I said goodbye to Raul at the hospital. His eyes were shut. His body, a runner’s body that was lean, had slimmed even thinner. His heart, though, pumped strong. Like it always did when he ran. We will miss you, my friend.

We, men, salute these women

Screen Shot 2014-03-11 at 11.15.14 AM(Photo by Allan Defensor/Sun.Star Cebu)

“Once made equal to man, woman becomes superior.” Socrates, the Greek philosopher, said those words. True? Ha-ha. We, men, lest we be smothered with a gunfire of words, will say… yes, nalang.

Who’s superior? This is a debate that’s not worth discussing. For as someone once said, “Women get the last word in every argument. Anything a man says after that is the beginning of a new argument.”

Tinuod, no? Here’s another truth: This month is Women’s Month. Yesterday – and it’s held every March 8 – was International Women’s Day. It’s that moment when we celebrate the importance of our mom, our wife, our sisters, our daughters, our female colleagues in the office, our Sisters (nuns), our aunties – every single lady whom we greet and meet each day.

In the realm of sports, there’s no better way to commemorate March 8 than by holding a marathon. And to show the boys that the girls can run farther, a unique event was organized in Cebu…

AWUM. It stands for the All Women Ultra Marathon. You and I are not invited. And while you and I, dear fellow man, may have finished a 42.195-km. marathon before, the women are staking their claim that they’re better.

It started last night at 10. If you happened to drive along the streets of Cebu City, starting at the Provincial Capitol where the km. marker reads “0,” that’s where 250 ladies embarked on their first steps.

AWUM, now on it’s 3rd year, offers a distance of 50 kms. (If you’ve ran a 5K and felt tired after, imagine multiplying that 10 times!) Organized by Think Tank and led by Dr. Wilfredo Estepa, this event is, quite possibly, “the world’s first all-ladies 50K race.”

These girls are strong. They’re tenacious. They’ve banded together. They’ve trained for several Saturday nights.

“This is about women’s empowerment. And it takes courage to run 50 kms.,” said Sun.Star Superbalita’s editor-in-chief Michelle So, an AWUM co-founder and race participant. “More so running at night. It’s showing the world the resilience of women, mentally and physically.”

The all-ladies ultra-race last night took them from the Capitol to JY Square to Marco Polo Hotel down to the Pacific Mall in Mandaue to Cansaga Bridge to the Mactan Shrine – passing through 23 hydration stations – all the way to the finish at the Alta Cebu Village Resort in Cordova.

Which means that while you’re reading Sun.Star this morning, all-night-long a few hours ago, these women from all over the nation (half of whom are first-time AWUM participants representing 27 running clubs, including Sen. Pia Cayetano and several from Tacloban) were running.

Three friends of mine who joined are doctors: Loy Tan, Mai Ugalino and Roselyn Yu. They’re barkada. They’ve completed the 42K run before. And, the past weeks, they’ve been training together, arising at 4 a.m. on Sundays to run. They practiced the 3-1 run-walk strategy. Run for three minutes, walk for a minute.

Their cheerers? Their loyal husbands – also marathoners and physicians – Charles Tan, Sander Ugalino, Andrei Yu.

“Pacers are not allowed in AWUM,” said Michelle. “Husbands cannot run alongside their wives. But we appreciate the help and support of family members. Also, the men who’ll man the hydration stations and who’ll treat the women runners like princesses.”

This race achieves many things. It’s bonding time for the girls. It’s bonding time for the “support squad” of husbands. It’s an event to achieve supreme fitness. It’s a whole night of sweating to show the boys that, hey, we’re not scared of the night, and, hey, like we do when we give birth while you boys can’t, we can endure more physical pain.

To these brave ladies, we applaud you. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” Or let her run a 50 km. race.

Richard Gomez and Volleyball

Screen Shot 2014-03-11 at 11.12.55 AM(From spin.ph)

Can you believe it? Richard Gomez, one of our most famous of actors, is trying to achieve a feat that’s never been done before. Not by Pacman. Or Paeng. Or Bata Reyes. Or Jaworski.

He’s vying for a spot in the men’s national volleyball squad. The players will compete in the 18-nation tournament called the PLDT Home Fibr Asian Men’s Volleyball Club Championship (AMVCC) that runs from April 8 to 16.

How old is the actor-athlete? Goma turns 48 on April 7. He hasn’t made the team. Not yet. And, I presume, just because he’s handsome and prominent and is married to Leyte congresswoman Lucy Torres, that he won’t be given automatic entry.

An actor joining the Philippine team in a physical sport like volleyball is fascinating. “I am determined to join the men’s volleyball team,” Gomez said. “I’ve been joining the tryouts since coach Francis (Vicente) issued the call and I’m not going to miss this chance at serving the flag once more.”

If he makes the cut, it will be phenomenal – and not just because he’s 48. It’s because of this fact: This will be the fourth sport that Richard Gomez will join representing Team Philippines. Yes, four national squads – in rowing, fencing, shooting…. Volleyball?

“Gomez first joined the national team for rowing in the early 1990s,” said the article, “Juico believes Richard Gomez will be an asset to national volleyball team,” from the popular sports website Spin.ph.

“He spent several years with the national fencing team for which he contributed a Southeast Asian Games bronze medal in 1995 in Brunei, two silver medals in 1997 in Jakarta, another silver in 2001 in Malaysia, a gold medal in 2003 in Vietnam and another gold medal in 2005 in Manila. Gomez also doubled as an entry in the shotgun event in the sport of shooting in the 2005 SEA Games in Manila, where he placed fourth.”

To be a national squad member is, by itself, difficult. To be a member of two events is herculean. The one other prominent athlete that I can think of is Bea Lucero, now married to Jean Henri Lhuillier. She won a bronze medal in 1992 when taekwondo was a demonstration sport in the Barcelona Olympics. Prior to that, she won gold at the 1987 SEA Games in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Goma is attempting to join his fourth sport at the elite, national level.

“Gomez would be a welcome addition to the new national team,” said Philip Juico, the AMVCC organizing committee chairman who was formerly the head of the Philippine Sports Commission. Aside from his leadership, his experience playing for the three national teams will be a big factor for the team.”

The Philippine Volleyball Federation (PVF) is conducting the tryouts at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum. Gomez is among the 30 players vying for a spot. The final composition will be announced this Sunday.

Volleyball isn’t new to Gomez. He first played the game in grade school and joined competition in high school at the Arellano University. “Every since I was young, I really enjoyed playing volleyball. It was really part of my daily routine,” said Gomez in Spin.ph.

The sport appears to be his “first love,” playing it even before he got into his multitude of activities, which include golf and basketball. In college, he competed at the Polytechnic University. When asked when he last competed, he replied in the Spin.ph article, “Matagal, more than a decade na wala akong volleyball. So when I came back, I began playing for small clubs muna and then major club competitions hanggang umabot dito (sa PSL).”

Wrote Mei-Lin Lozada for Spin.ph, “Ever competitive, Gomez said he won’t allow himself to be just an ornament in the tournament, much less be a liability to his team when he’s on the court. He is out to win.

“I train with them (PLDT) everyday,” Gomez said. “Ako naman personally, I don’t want to enter the tournament na hindi rin ako prepared, I will not allow myself to be a mediocre player. I will train hard and play my best and hopefully we will get the championship.”

I hope Goma makes it.

Thirsty Cup: Quenching your football thirst

It started 11 years ago; a simple idea to gather footballers of all ages and sizes to one venue, one weekend, one sport. It’s the Thirsty Football Cup and, each February, the numbers have grown and ballooned. Last year, a record 340 teams joined. Multiplying that by a conservative 10 players per squad, that’s well over 3,000 players. It’s humongous.

Starting tomorrow, the 11th Thirsty Cup will kick off once again at the Cebu City Sports Center. Instead of last year’s three venues, the organizers decided on just one location for all 249 teams. This way, parents and coaches won’t have to hop, like a Sunsport football, from one spot to another.

It’s festival-type. The matches are shortened. The pitches, smaller. The players, fewer. The goal is to score goals and goals. The aim is to crowd multiple games in a brief span of time. Loud music will echo from CCSC’s speakers. Free wi-fi will allow spectators to post Instagram photos. Visitors are arriving and they’ll flood the fields. One notable visitor is “imported.” Yes. While Koreans are seen everywhere in our island, there’s one team that’s flying directly from Korea (South K. not North Korea, as we joked in the press-con). This squad is expected to land in Mactan today.

The 11th Thirsty Cup begins at 5 p.m. tomorrow and will be played throughout Friday night. By “throughout,” I mean all the way until midnight. Then, the next day, the games resume. That will last until late Saturday night. Finally, on Sunday, it’s the same day-and-night competition until the Men’s Open final game is contested late, late this weekend. (Good thing it’s a holiday on Monday!)

The Don Bosco Football Alumni group, led by Chad Songalia and Neil Montesclaros, are, as they’ve been the past decade, the lead organizers. My brother Charlie, who helped conceptualize this fast-paced event, is to be thanked for organizing the Thirsty Cup. This event is sanctioned by the Cebu Football Association, led by Engr. Ricky Dakay, Rico Navarro and the CFA board. Visit the Abellana grounds this weekend. Your thirst for this sport of Lionel Messi will surely be satisfied.

It’s about time! Cebu City hosts the CVIRAA

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The most powerful man in Cebu City did the most unexpected of acts last Sunday. He shared his cellphone number. Not to one or five or nine guests – but to over 6,000 people!

Mayor Michael Lopez Rama, while delivering his Inspirational Message to the thousands from all over Central Visayas who had gathered for the Opening Ceremony of the CVIRAA, wanted to ensure that every athlete and official was taken-cared of. That, in the event of an emergency, they could call on one person. Himself. As host. No less than the mayor. And so, with a booming voice that reverberated throughout the Cebu City Sports Center, he rattled off his mobile number to a shocked audience…

That wasn’t the only surprise of the night. For our Region 7 neighbors, they were treated to a spectacular welcome that only Ricky Ballesteros can concoct.

Five of the top winners of the recent Sinulog competition performed. To us seated at the VIP Section, it was a spectacle watching four schools (Banilad Elem., Apas, Don Sergio Osmeña Sr. and Abellana) and the grand champion, Lumad Basakanon. With perfect weather and a slightly cool breeze that danced inside the complex, everybody was in awe.

It started with a parade at 3 p.m. Just like the Olympics, the various contingents walked from Fuente Osmeña towards the CCSC. The students – elementary and high school athletes – circled the oval.

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Each delegation wore their unique colors. As they stood on the giant stage, they faced the audience then performed a short chant. Take Carcar City. Theirs was “Pao… pao.. pao!” It was a shortcut for “ampao,” the famous rice cake of Carcar.

Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo walked with his delegation. He was there with DepEd chief Dr. Sal Jimenez. As hosts last year (including hosting the 2013 Palarong Pambansa), it was their duty to formally turn-over the event to Cebu City.

Mayor Rama walked with his athletes. Dressed in the full gear of the CEBU CITY NINOS – yellow and green shirt, jogging pants and cap – he also wore a bright neon orange hi-cut Nike basketball shoes. With a whistle hanging on his neck, he often pulled it upfront and whistled the Sinulog beat.

Vice Mayor Edgar Labella also wore the full attire. CCSC Chairman Edward Hayco led Team Cebu City.

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The CVIRAA is one of the biggest grassroots sporting events of our region. It encompasses every major sport. All municipalities and cities are represented. Led by the Dept. of Education (DepEd), all 19 divisions are represented. More than 10,000 athletes are in Cebu City this whole week to compete.

DepEd Cebu City Division Schools Division Superintendent Dr. Rhea Mar Angtud gave a beautiful speech saying that, despite the twin destructions of the typhoon and the earthquake, these won’t stop us from gathering and competing. Physical Education and School Sports (PESS)-7 chief Vivian Ginete had an important role: she introduced every delegation, including their heads and top officials. Finally, top DepEd official (Director III) Dr. Carmelita Dulangon rendered a message without any notes. She was very inspiring, speaking from the heart. Among the athletes, our home’s 15-year-old tennis champ, Jana Pages, was chosen to lead the Oath of Sportsmanship.

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Then, another spectacle – the lighting of the torch, led by volleyball star Ulyross Lopez. Patterned after the Barcelona Olympics, two lighted sticks zoomed from the front to light the cauldron.

Moments later, during the finale and while watching Lumad Basakanon perform, I whispered to my seatmate: “Mayor Mike, it’s been 14 years since we last hosted the CVIRAA.”

It’s about time! he replied. The Palaro, next? I asked. Visayas is hosting in 2016… and the last time we hosted was in 1994 – or 20 years ago. He answered, like he often does, with a smile. I’d take that as a Yes.

 

From Russia, with Putin’s love

Let the Games begin! Past 12 midnight (Phil. time) yesterday, the Sochi Olympics started. I tried to stay awake late the other night but couldn’t find the TV5 coverage. CNN showed snippets leading to the Opening but no HD channel was made available by SkyCable.

Based on what I read, it was spectacular. Armed with over $50 billion worth of expenses, it better be a grand spectacle. Some notes that I picked up from the Opening…

Maria Sharapova, who grew up in Sochi, was one of the top athletes (she’s an Olympic silver medalist) who carried the torch before the cauldron was lighted.

Another top Russian athlete who also carried the torch in the final moments was Alina Kabayeva. She may not be that familiar but she’s a top gymnast – though that’s not the “tsismis” story. This one is: she’s the girlfriend of Vladimir Putin. Only 30, she’s pretty and bright and is a Russian politician. Although Kremlin denies it, almost everyone in Russia knows that the now-divorced Putin and her are a couple. Did she get the torch bearer part because of her “insider” relationship with the Russian president? Ha-ha. That’s the tabloid story. But she is, in fact, an Olympic gold medalist in rhythmic gymnastics.

d77eee72750c2767_fpi_largePutin with Alina Kabaeva

What went wrong in the Opening? It appears that only one moment wasn’t right. It was the unveiling of the five Olympic rings; they started as snowflakes and emerged to become rings… the problem was: only four of the five rings opened! The nearly 40,000 in attendance inside Sochi stadium witnessed it.

But, not to worry, the Russians came prepared. For the TV viewers, they quickly deleted that malfunction portion, inserted the “correct” recording where all five Olympic rings were shown (taken from the rehearsal), so that TV viewers saw the “perfect” version. It’s somewhat similar to the Beijing Olympics when they included pre-recorded footages in the supposed “live” version. But the Russian manipulation is worse. Still, many call it a necessary act. They say: For the billion-people worldwide TV audience, you can’t show the Olympics with four rings.