Salute to The Centurion

It was 50 golden years ago today, on March 5, 1965, when one man, who started with the humblest of beginnings as a security guard, founded what would become one of the country’s most outstanding security providers.

That man was Jacinto Mariano Natividad Villarosa Mendez and that company is Centurion Security Agency, Inc.

Few companies reach 50 years. Few men were like Jack. He worked as a kargador. He’d ride a rickety boat with his father from Bohol to Cebu to transport wood. While in law school at USC, he borrowed books to study. After passing the bar, he survived the hardships of little money by wearing a blue uniform with a gun tucked in his side pocket.

He started as a guard. Then, years later and armed with that first-hand experience, he founded Centurion Security Agency, Inc. with a vow to transform the then-rugged and scary image of a “sikyo” into that of a true “security professional.”

He succeeded. From one guard, Centurion reached a peak of 1,500 security professionals. Today, it has a thousand. On numerous times, CSAI was awarded by the police as one of the nation’s top agencies.

Speaking of longevity, the company has established long relations not only with clients and companies but also with their dutiful and devoted employees. One guard has been with Centurion for over 34 years. There are several fathers-and-sons working for Centurion; a father would start as a guard in his early twenties, he’d got married, raise children — and one or two of those boys would go on to follow their dad, saluting customers and ensuring an establishment’s safety.

Today, fifty years since Centurion’s founding, is both a happy and sad day for the family I’ve come to call my own: the Mendez family — which includes my wife Jasmin, the second of four children.

Happy because fifty years, as explained by ace business writer Mia Aznar in her piece yesterday, is “half-century” old.

Fifty years is fifty years. That’s a long time ago. We weren’t even born that year when movies Dr. Zhivago and The Sound of Music were shown. Happy because when you look back at how the company has helped tens of thousands of people through the years, through employment or because establishments have become safer due to Centurion’s front-line security, you smile and feel fulfilled.

Today is also a somber day. It’s bittersweet for the Mendez family — which include my mother-in-law Malu and Jasmin’s siblings, Michelle, Jake and Monette — because the founder and CEO himself, the funnyman Jack Mendez whom everybody loved, passed away just eight months ago.

For years, he longed to see his baby turn 50. He had grand plans with Centurion joining a hundred-force squadron of Centurions, marching and saluting the crowd during the Sinulog. If only he’d be with us today… His sudden passing last July 15, on a beautiful morning that transformed into the darkest of evenings for the family that night, was painful.

Though he was already 82 and had lived the fullest of lives — from being Rotary president to being Ubay, Bohol’s benefactor to being a devout Catholic and a generous and caring dad to his four children — his passing stunned the family.

But today we celebrate as he wants us to celebrate. For Jack was a man who laughed. He laughed a lot. He made people laugh. And his legacy lives on with the company he founded whose motto reads, “The best of pay to the best of companies offering the best service — The best service wins!”

Dad, The Centurion, happy golden anniversary.

Balamban and Naga

I met Mayor Val Chiong last Wednesday in Naga City. Wearing shorts and wielding a tennis racket, he played doubles. A Class-A tennister who often represented Cebu in the PAL Interclub, Mayor Val plays nightly on the clay courts that he built. When I watched, he and his partner led 7-5 before the opponents won the next game to inch closer to a tiebreak. That’s when Val, armed with a topspin forehand, steady volleys and a forceful smash, attacked the next relentlessly to win the final point. Game, set, match, 8-6.

Naga City is active. In tennis, they’ve produced two national-caliber junior stars in Anday Alferez and Shyne Villareal. Of their two public courts, one was occupied by the adults while the other was reserved for young girls and boys.

Volleyball? A rectangle court sits across. Dozens of spikers and setters volleyed the ball back and forth. Badminton was played nearby, inside four indoor courts. Our most popular game, basketball, stood meters away. An oval, previously a cemented road that was closed to vehicular traffic so joggers can use it, circled this complex beside the boulevard. If I heard it right from the parents of Anday Alferez (Andoy and Nova), a swimming pool might be constructed in the newly-reclaimed land near the boulevard.

Here’s more: lights are for free until 10 p.m. Play all you want, dribble all that you can bounce, lob that shuttlecock, slice that backhand — you pay zero to exercise in Naga City.

“We’ll build a roof to cover the tennis courts,” said Mayor Val when we spoke, him all-sweating and all-smiling after his win. “It will not be as enclosed as Alta Vista but will be open so wind and air will come in.”

A lifelong tennis player, never mind if he had surgery a couple of years back and if his knees are wrapped with injury-preventive bands, Val has brought the game of “commercial” tennis to his city. Since Baseline has closed, the hordes of players there have traveled south to play in Naga. I saw several who came from Mandaue.

If the city is led by an active sportsman, the citizenry will follow the leader.

BALAMBAN. My daughter Jana and I traversed the Transcentral Highway to cross to the Western side of Cebu to watch the CVIRAA.

The “CV” stands for Central Visayas and an estimated 9,000 athletes and coaches from all over Region 7 were in the municipality that’s nicknamed “The Shipbuilding Capital of the Phils.” The regional meet is the final qualifying tournament where the winners will go on to the national event called the Palarong Pambansa (slated this May in Tagum City).

Last Saturday, Jana and I first visited the tennis venue, housed within the property of the Provincial Hospital, to watch the high school girls and boys. (Anday, whom I mentioned above, went on to win the gold in doubles with Beverly Enriquez.)

In the afternoon, we parked inside the church and visited numerous sites. First, we witnessed gymnastics. A line of judges sat on stage to score the girls who, one by one, would perform with a rubberized ball. Daniela de la Pisa, the Palaro’s multi-gold medalist, was there. As expected, she won gold. We also got to meet her mom and coach, Darlene.

Next, we walked towards the Experanza S. Binghay Memorial Sports Complex where the football games were played. A track oval encircled the complex. Though not rubberized in surface (it was anapog), the measurements were standard-size. When we watched, the 4 x 100 meter relay squads were getting ready.

Behind the grandstand was a covered court that housed the Futsal games. Futsal is indoor football played on a basketball court. The shoes don’t have spike soles. We watched the semifinal game between the Cebu City Ninos (represented mostly by players from STC) against Negros Oriental. Futsal is often more exciting than the 11-aside regular game on grass. Coached by my UP Cebu classmate Tirso Rio, himself a football star during our college days, the Cebu City girls would go on to win the gold.

For hosting the CVIRAA, kudos to Mayor Ace Binghay.

Good to go

Seven days ago, I narrated how my dad Bunny wanted to fly to Nevada to watch Manny vs. Money. As he inquired about the ticket prices, he was shocked: one cushioned seat inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena would cost him P230,000. In dollars, that’s 5K.

No way, my dad said. A boxing fan for life who adored Sugar Ray Leonard’s speed and who’d troop inside the Waterfront Hotel ballroom for most ALA Promotions encounters, my dad wanted to be a witness to the modern-day version of “Thrilla in Manila.” Then, Muhammad Ali defeated Joe Frazier in what was billed as one of the greatest clashes of all time.

Thrilla in Manila was contested in 1975. Forty years later, it’s another thriller in Vegas. (A bit of side trivia: The country’s first major commercial mall was named after the bout’s winner; that’s the “Ali Mall” beside the Araneta Coliseum, where the event was fought.)

Back to my dad, here’s some reminiscing: We traveled together to watch Pacquiao vs. Brandon Rios last Nov. 2013. Prior to that fight, Pacquiao lost to Juan Manuel Marquez in a sleep-inducing knockout that floored the 100 million Filipinos watching on TV.

In Macau two years ago, my dad and I watched the bout 11 rows away. We stayed at The Venetian Macao and it was his first time to watch our Pambansang Kamao. The trip was memorable not only because of the Unanimous Decision victory by MP, him clobbering an overmatched (and soon we’d find out, drug-induced) Rios, it was meaningful because of the myriad of people that my dad met. He chatted with Genaro Rodriguez, the fight’s referee; he spent two hours seated beside commentator “Colonel” (Bob Sheridan), listening to his tales of announcing over 10,000 fights, from Mike Tyson to George Foreman to Roberto Duran.

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That was 2013. How about May 2, 2015? Would you believe, my dad’s going to the fight for free!

Here’s the story: One of his closest friends, Augustus “Gus” Ouano, bought two tickets immediately after the fight was announced last week. Ticket prices: $5,000 apiece.

Dr. Ouano, who owns a PhD in polymer science and who worked in IBM for four decades in an illustrious career as scientist and inventor (plus author of the book, “Motivation and Opportunity: An Immigrant’s Quest for Knowledge from Mindanao to the Leading Edge of Science and Technology”), is not a boxing fan. He did not purchase the tickets for himself. He bought one ticket for his nephew, Engr. Fortunato “Jun” Sanchez, Jr., one of the top officials of the Metro Cebu Development Coordinating Board (MCDCB), and allocated the other ticket to Jun’s brother, Jay.

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Jun and Jay Sanchez were ready to pay for the tickets. But, because of some matters that would not allow him to travel during that time, Jay opted not to make the trip.

Back in Las Vegas where he resides, Dr. Gus Ouano reflected on the two ticket purchases that he made.

He made a decision and said: I’ll give — not sell — these tickets to two of my closest friends, Jun and Bunny. It would also be an opportunity for them to discuss Cebu-related matters (water supply and infrastructure) in Las Vegas.

When my dad received the message from Gus informing him of the astonishing gift, my dad said no. He couldn’t possibly accept the expensive offering.

But Gus reminded my dad of an act that he did a long time ago, back in 2008. Then, my dad received a business class ticket to the U.S. from PAL. He doesn’t remember the details (it may have been a prize he won) but he decided not to use the ticket. He decided to give — not sell — it to Dr. Ouano. Plus, Gus reminded him, it was years ago when my dad brought along his good friend to watch a Pacquiao fight at the Casino Español. Not a boxing aficionado, Gus was thrilled to see Manny win from the ballroom’s large screen.

And so now, this. The Gift. The Blessing. Manuel (my dad’s first name) watching Emmanuel in May against Mayweather. I can’t be more excited for a good man: my dad.

As the saying goes: The good that you do will always come back to you.

12th Thirsty Cup

It started last Friday at 5:30 p.m. It ran that whole night. The next day, from morning until midnight, the games ensued. Same with last Sunday. For 16 hours that day, there was nonstop kicking, heading, passing and diving.

One dozen “Thirsty Cups” have concluded and three men have remained constant since the event started in 2004. My brother Charlie, who conceptualized this tournament, and his good friends, Chad Songalia and Neil Montesclaros.

The Thirsty Cup has dribbled from venue to venue — the Ayala (Cebu Business Park) grounds to San Roque to USC Talamban and now, the Cebu City Sports Center — but these three have been the same triumvirate behind the event.

This tournament is unique for many reasons. It brings over 200 teams nationwide in one site. Multiplied by 10 players per squad, that’s over 2,000 participants. A record 30+ teams traveled from outside Cebu to join.

Girls play in one pitch while boys play in the other. A 7-year-old boy kicks his first kick while a 50-something fires a winning goal. Father and son join. The music, expertly played by “DJ Chad,” rocks the stadium. (Aina Lacson loved the 80s hits.) It’s football and beach football rolled in one. It’s a format that allows you to lose once but still have a chance to win the trophy. It’s plenty of 0-0 scores and scary penalty shootouts to decide either heartbreak or ecstasy.

Running from SM to SM

Both are giant-sized malls. One is humongous while the other, slated to open by year’s-end, is extraordinarily humongous. I’m referring to the SM City Cebu and that spaceship of a building with a levitating cube and artistic wave-like walls that’s called the SM Seaside City.

Two mornings ago at 5 a.m., the starting gun was fired at the reclamation area fronting the Bayfront Hotel of Chester Cokaliong. Fireworks brightened the black sky. It was the fifth edition of the SM2SM Run and I ran the 21K.

What’s my objective review? VG: Very good.

Hydration stations were littered every kilometer — a total of 10 stops loaded with unlimited water; one or two stations with Gatorade and a few with dark chocolates and bananas. We pressed sponges to cool our heating bodies.

Music stations blasted their melodic noise to soothe our ears during the usually quiet Sunday morning. I especially liked the group, dressed in white, who stood at the SM Seaside City corner to pound the drums.

The road was fully closed to traffic. For two hours and seven minutes, Dr. Tony San Juan and I — plus thousands of others — enjoyed the wide expanse of the route and the SRP. The “S” in the “SM” stood for “safety” as it was a completely car-free race.

After the run, the loot bags distributed were loaded: Jollibee breakfast, Yakult drink plus other goodies. The good-looking medal made by Suarez & Sons showed three Olympic-like rings. The awarding, held inside the mall’s North Wing, was filled as hundreds awaited the raffle prizes (motorcycle, TVs, laptops).

With the prize money, it stood as the biggest not only in Cebu but, I’m guessing, of any race outside Manila. Kenyans and elite runners (including Eduardo Buenavista) joined with the P60,000 first prize as goal.

PAL Interclub

Atty. Jovi Neri sent me this report on Cebu Country Club’s title quest: “Since Dec., the team has been playing together and more often, which means sacrificing time away from family, friends, and work.. We are better prepared than last year when we had so many distractions and uncertainties… Course familiarity is always an advantage in golf, but we only have it in CCC. Club Filipino in Danao is not our home course… On pressure: Nine of our ten players will have at least four appearances so we are all experienced. Our reigning club champion Harvey Sytiongsa is playing only his second Interclub so that still makes him a veteran, plus he beat all of us so that counts, too. It is natural for everyone to feel pressured in competition. Hopefully, experience and preparation will help us deal with it in a favorable way.”

Finally

My dad Bunny, considering the possibility of flying to Los Angeles and driving four hours to Las Vegas to watch Money vs. Manny, was in constant touch with a few friends residing in Las Vegas yesterday. The ticket prices? You won’t believe it. Not 1K or 3K but $5,000 for the second-cheapest seats. That’s P230,000 for a single chair on a scuffle that will last a maximum of 36 minutes. My dad said No. He’d rather occupy his usual front row “good luck” chair inside Casino Español come the morning of May 3.

SALVEN LAGUMBAY. I interviewed one of the country’s foremost experts on boxing. He’s a best friend from UP Cebu College, a fellow writer, and now one of Asia’s top boxing judges. Here was Salven’s email to me a few nights ago:

“Bai, honestly, in the very long time that I’ve been following boxing, this is the first time for me to experience a fight announcement that is taking extremely long to make, with almost everybody around the world waiting for it with bated breath.

“Welcome to the Floyd Mayweather School of Business. First of all, in the history of contemporary boxing, or all of boxing for that matter, I would rate Mayweather as arguably the most astute, business-savvy boxer of all times. If he wasn’t boxing, he would have been the Dean of the Harvard Business School or a member of Barack Obama’s Economic Team.

“I have personally met him at his Mayweather Boxing Club gym in Las Vegas last October, and true enough, Mayweather is an entirely different athlete. You would think it would be easy for an Asian like me who travelled more than 7,000 miles to get a photo session with him? Think again. I got mine, but not after coursing my request thru the right channel.

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“This announcement has been super-delayed because of Floyd Mayweather. It’s the Art of the Deal working its magic. And no, it’s not because Mayweather doesn’t want to fight. Nor is he afraid of a Pacquiao. Let’s put it simply this way: Mayweather wants to be the one to steer the negotiation wherever he wants it to go. And so far he has been successful. Mayweather wins the first round even before the fight gets made.

“Also, a fight of this magnitude, with egos of those involved rivaling its size, this fight would not have been easy to make in the very first place. There’s the issue of who gets what (resolved, 60-40), the contract weight (147 lbs. or catchweight at 150), what gloves to use (Reyes or Grant), which outfit gets telecast right (HBO or Showtime), who gets to air the replay, who will make up the broadcast panel, who will announce (Michael Buffer or Jimmy Lennon), who goes up the ring first, who will be introduced first, how is the PPV sales going to be divided, who gets what corner color (red or blue), who will be the referee, who will be the judges, who will be the lead promoter, who will do the infomercials, which outfit gets right for all accreditations. For all we know, both camps are even at loggerheads as to whose name gets mentioned first in fight posters and advertising billboards.

“As for the promotion of the bout itself, yes, there is still time for that. Usually in major fights, they would allow a window of 4 to 5 months from fight announcement to fight date to allow ample time to promote the show. In this case, they don’t have that opportunity because of negotiation delay, but then again, this fight is so popular there is not much promoting needed to sell it. Lol, they can fight tomorrow and still pack the entire MGM and do more than a million PPV buys!

“As for fight preparations, both Mayweather and Pacquiao would need only 8 weeks or less to be in top condition. Both guys are professionals. They are in shape even with no fight schedule, and would need only a few weeks for the so-called sparring sessions and other ‘body alignments’ and tactical planning needed for the big show.”

Floyd’s marketing ploy

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Only 10 weeks remain. Why the delay? If he’s going to announce it anyway, why prolong the wait? Dozens upon dozens of articles in Philboxing.com all point to the same direction: May 2, 2015 will happen.

Cut the crap, Floyd. Sign the document that Manny Pacquiao has signed and announce the bout. Mayweather is taking us for a joyride aboard his Gulfstream III jet. He’s smiling that handsome and charismatic smile; he’s counting his estimated $280,000,000 net worth; he’s driving his Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorarno or Lamborghini Aventador LP 700-4 or Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport.

Sport is entertainment. We watch it to feel high or low; we applaud the first to cross the finish and we deride the beaten body lying on the canvas. But underneath our thrill and excitement — the root of all this entertainment — is one word: Money. And isn’t this guy’s nickname the same? This is all about money. Money the person. Money the denomination.

How to explain the delay? It’s called the “Apple strategy.” This was started by the late Steve Jobs and perfected by Tim Cook and the machination called Apple Inc. You know how the world’s biggest company (market capitalization: $740 billion) delays and keeps secret its latest iPad or iPhone to maximize the gossiping and to keep the millions of fanatics swimming in a news frenzy?

The iPhone-using Floyd is employing the same tactic used by the iPhone makers. The man from Las Vegas has learned a trick from the men from Cupertino.

It’s called suspense. Delay, delay, delay. Wait. Pause. Spread a tiny rumor here. Shake hands in Miami. Keep everyone guessing. Watch the NBA All-Star weekend beside Rihanna. Wait. Pause. Delay. Keep everyone salivating….. And when all throats are dry and all tongues are wagging, thirsty and hungry to receive the news… Boom! Like a left hook, you unveil the artwork.

The end result? When it’s finally announced, like when Apple revealed the months-long-rumored iPhone 6+ on the giant screen in California, everybody drools and all eyes are enlarged and mesmerized.

How do you explain this? Big fights usually get announced six or more months in advance. This one only has a lead time of two months? Crazy. If this were a small-time basketball or volleyball tournament, fine. But not the undisputed “Biggest Boxing Fight in History.”

Matthew Fellows, a columnist for Guardian Liberty Voice, wrote an interesting piece, “Mayweather-Pacquiao: Feeding Frenzy Calculated by Money Team,” last Feb. 16.

“Mayweather is extending this drama in order to get maximum exposure for Shots, the social media app he threw down one million dollars for where he plans on announcing the fight,” said Fellows. “He is all about maximizing his earnings even in announcing the fight and has been willing to drag fans along in torturous manner in order to fill his bank account.”

Nobody in sports is better in business than Mr. Mayweather, who tops the list of highest paid athletes in Forbes and Sports Illustrated. Hate him and despise him, but he’s amassed a mountain full of dollars — $105 million, to be exact, in 2014 alone.

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Sport is business. I don’t know how they arrived at the computations but the May 2 clash is supposed to generate a total revenue of $250 million (in pesos, that’s nearly P10 billion).

“Despite what people who clearly know little about the greed of boxing people and their ability to drive up numbers, the fight is in the pipeline and will be announced soon enough,” added Fellows. “The more the media and fans alike obsess, the broader the smile on not only Mayweather’s face but on the big wigs who stand to make tens of millions on a fight that should have happened five years ago.”

Marketing. That’s what this is all about. It’s a business strategy. And it works. It’s word of mouth multiplied by millions of mouths and it’s for free. Except that, on fight night, we pay while Money makes all the money.

Stephen Curry and Zack LaVine

I missed yesterday’s NBA All-Star Game but I did get to see two of the most exciting moments of last weekend: The Three-Point Shootout and the Slam Dunk Contest. Both were shown last Sunday morning.

Prior to the twin thrills, the Shooting Stars Competition started the night at the Brooklyn Nets’ stadium (Barclays Center). A trio composed of a WNBA player, a veteran, and an active player completed the tandem. Chris Bosh joined Dominique Wilkins and Swin Cash (nice name) to cash-in on their third year-in-a-row victory.

The Taco Bell Skills Challenge was up next. Sprinting, passing, flicking a lay-up and scoring a three-pointer were the skills needed. Patrick Beverley won. These were the warm-up events.

With an equally star-studded audience that included John McEnroe (who sat beside Spike Lee) and Rihanna (two seats from Floyd Mayweather, Jr.), the Saturday edition of the All-Star Weekend was starting to get very exciting.

I watched at home. Charlie, my brother whom I played basketball with in all our elementary and high school days, arrived just in time to watch the next two episodes.

We witnessed what was termed by the host as “possibly the best field of three-pointers” in the history of the 3-point contest. I won’t delve into the shot by shot account of what transpired but the scores posted in the elimination round were sky-high: Klay Thompson scored 24 with Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving posting identical 23s.

In the Final Round, “Spicy Curry” was too hot, scoring 27 points, the highest ever recorded in the Three-Point Contest. (The previous record of 25 belonged to Jason Kapono. Although it was only last year that a new rule was introduced — increasing the perfect score from 30 to 34 — where one rack was filled with all ‘money balls.’)

Curry’s amazing long-range bombs included shooting 13 straight shots (too bad he missed that very last one). Imagine making 13 in a row (out of 25). That record beat Larry Bird’s 11 (done in 1986) and was bested only by Craig Hodges, who made an improbable 19 consecutive shots in 1991.

The leading vote-getter in the NBA All-Star Game, beating LeBron James, it’s obvious that Stephen Curry is a global superstar athlete. Standing only 6-foot-3, he’s not only a sharp-shooter possessing that charismatic smile, he’s also universally well-liked, having won the 2011 NBA Sportsmanship Award.

MVP? If the Warriors continue to shine like the Golden State Bridge, he’s going to be locked-in for a close fight with LeBron. (The two share one more thing in common: they’re born in Akron, Ohio.)

Did you see the photo of Stephen as a little kid seated beside his father, Dell (the former NBA player), smiling and giving his dad a high-five? That’s an iconic picture.

Next attraction was the Slam Dunk Contest. While the previous years did not provide much fireworks, this year was different: Zack LaVine was the anointed one. Still a teenager who won’t turn 20 until March 10, the 6-foot-5 son of a professional football player (dad) and softball player (his mom), he was destined to dunk. At the age of five, he watched Space Jam and dreamt of himself flying like Michael Jordan.

Three nights ago, the reel story became real. Stepping out of the lighted dungeon as he was introduced, you won’t believe the shirt he unveiled to perform his first dunk: a “23” jersey with the name “Jordan.” Talk about guts and confidence! When you wear such an attire, either you’ll be derided as an embarrassing teenager or celebrated as a high-flying modern-day MJ.

Slam! His first dunk was incredible. He throws the ball up on air, picks it up with his left hand, inserts it between his legs, and slams it down. 50! He scored all 10s with the five judges. In dunk number two, he throws another lob then flies to twirl the ball behind his back before jamming that ball on his way down to earth. Another 50!

Zack’s idol is Kobe Bryant. That’s fitting because he’s the second-youngest slam dunk champion (after KB).

NBA All-Star: Play and Display

urlWith an average of 14 players per squad multiplied by 30 teams, that’s roughly 420 total players today. Out of that number, a select few — the ‘Navy Seals of the NBA’ — make it to the All-Star game. Only 24 players, or six percent of 420, play in either the West or the East All-Stars teams. This Sunday, the day after Valentine’s, is the 64th edition of the NBA All-Star Game.

The East, who won last year 163-155, will be led this weekend by Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Pau Gasol, John Wall, Kyle Lowry, Chris Bosh, Jimmy Butler, Al Horford, Kyrie Irving, Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver (who replaces the injured Dwayne Wade). Their head coach is from the Atlanta Hawks, Mike Budenholzer.

The West, who trail the all-time win-loss record with 26 wins versus 37 losses, are manned by Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol, Stephen Curry, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Chris Paul, Klay Thompson, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard (who replaces Blake Griffin), and DeMarcus Cousins (who replaced Kobe Bryant). The Warriors’ Steve Kerr will be head coach.

The All-Star game is not the only attraction this weekend. It’s the culminating activity but there are plenty of festivities.

New York City is hosting the Feb. 13 to 15 spectacle. The two NBA teams — New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets — will be spitting the venues.

Last Dec. 16, I had the chance to be inside the Madison Square Garden, the venue of the All-Star Game this Sunday. MSG is one of the world’s most iconic of coliseums, hosting concerts (John Lennon’s final appearance was there) and the hockey team, the New York Rangers. It also hosts, sad to say, the NBA’s worst-performing team: the Knicks, who carry a 10-42 win-loss record.

Tomorrow (Friday), the weekend kicks off at the MSG with the Celebrity Game, featuring movie stars and celebrities. Over at the Barclays Center (home of the Nets), it’s the Rising Stars Challenge. According to NBA.com, “The league’s annual showcase of premier young talent will debut a format that pits 10 first- and second-year NBA players from the United States against 10 first- and second-year NBA players from around the world.”

On Saturday, all in Barclays Center, there’s plenty. The Shooting Stars. The Skills Challenge. The Three-Point Contest with Curry, Thompson, Harden, Irving, Korver, Marco Belinelli, Wesley Matthews and J.J. Redick competing. Finally, the Slam Dunk contest featuring Giannis Antetokounmpo, Victor Oladipo, Mason Plumlee and Zach LaVine.

On Sunday, there’s the D-League All Star Game at the Barclays Center and, to cap the action, MSG’s hosting of the All-Star Game (for us, it’s scheduled at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 16).

Plus, there’s something new: the first-ever All-Star Fashion Show. No kidding. Just because we see these men all-sweaty and wearing knee-high socks, baggy shorts and high-cut Nikes, it doesn’t mean to say they don’t dress well off-court.

Produced by LeBron James himself (under his Springhill Production Co.), the “NBA All-Star All-Style” will not be purely a simple “paso-paso” (walk) like those leggy models. True to their competitive spirit, it will be a fashion competition.

Klay Thompson, James Harden and DeMarcus Cousins are expected to join others in this contest that will have an actual winner. Said the AP report: “It will have three rounds: dressing for the boardroom, a night out and attire worn to the game. The competition will start with eight players, with four advancing to the second round and the top two competing in the finals.”

Why this new concept? “NBA athletes are legitimate fashion icons, with various stars (e.g. Russell Westbrook) and notable players (e.g. Nick Young) becoming notable not just for their play on the court but their sartorial impact,” wrote Eric Freeman for Yahoo! Sports. “Some players will show up on basketball blogs just as often as they appear in the pages of GQ. Personal style is part of their public image and brand.”

On-court and on the ramp, it will be fun watching the stars.

Will Tiger ever be Tiger again? Bayani responds

The two-letter answer is NO. At his peak, TW soared with invincibility like Michael Jordan, was as dogged relentless as Rafael Nadal, and as famous as Manny Pacquiao is in GenSan.

Consider this: From 1997 to 2008, he won 14 major trophies and achieved a career Grand Slam three times. His 79 PGA Tour wins is second only to Sam Snead’s 82. Tiger is acknowledged as the sporting world’s first billionaire, a feat he pocketed at the age of 33. He was en route to besting the likes of Ali, Pele, MJ, Lance (pre-doping revelation) and Phelps as the greatest human being who ever played sports.

This was then; pre-Elin Nordegren. Now, he can barely walk. At the Farmers Insurance Classic last week, he limped and quit after 11 holes. The week before, he shot a horrendous 82 — the worst number he’s recorded as a professional.

“His golf game is in shambles,” said former pro Paul Azinger. “It’s sad to see that. But what we get to see is the most confident golfer of all-time try to claw his way back.”

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Mentally, during his peak, we know that he was unbreakable. It was Tiger who uttered these words: “My mind is my biggest asset. I expect to win every tournament I play.” Sure, up until today, he can summon his brain to conjure up images of success. That’s in the mind.

But the bigger problem is everywhere else in his body; his physical maladies. Tiger is Nadal: he’s the most injured man among men. A quick listing of his ailments will give you a headache. He’s had afflictions related to the ACL, MCL, pinched nerve, tibia, cartilage damage, back spasms.

BAYANI GARCIA. I sought comments from Cebu Country Club’s 2010 and 2013 club champion.

Here’s Bayani Garcia: “Tiger’s number one priority is to get healthy. For a person to undergo as many injuries and surgeries as he has, recovery takes longer and not to mention he isn’t as young he thinks he is. Once you get older, recovery takes longer. Also, I really feel like he needs to submit to the fact that there are certain swing thoughts and movements that he used to do 10-15 years ago that he cannot do anymore because of his age and injury. He is always talking about speed and explosiveness in his drives and getting it back to where it used to be where in reality, its not. He has to humble down and admit that he won’t be hitting it as long as he used to and these younger players will, and are hitting it past him on a regular basis.

“The only statistic that matters in golf is scoring and Tiger is arguably the best in this category in the history of the game. He is probably the most mentally tough golfer to ever play the sport and he will always find a way to score. His performances over the last 3 tournaments was rust in his game plus trying to revisit a new swing theory with his new swing coach. As golfers, we know that with any major change we introduce or re-introduce in our technique, the results take a long time to bear fruit.

“I have no doubt that he will be back. He will be back to winning golf tournaments and even snagging a few majors along the way. I still believe that he has a good chance at beating Jack Nicklaus’ record. He has the drive, the mental toughness and most importantly his experience in winning. The only way he can achieve his goals is if he remains healthy throughout the duration of his career.”

When I reminded Bayani that Tiger is getting old — he’ll turn 40 this December — he added: “There have been some 40 year olds who have won and won majors. Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, Angel Cabrera (twice), and Phil Mickelson (who won 2 of his majors when he was 40).”

True. Jack Nicklaus won his 18th and final major (Masters 1986) at the age of 46.

“These guys haven’t got an ounce of the mental toughness that Tiger has,” said Bayani. “Golf is a relatively forgiving game where you can play at a high level even to your 50s. Tiger just needs to get healthy and remain healthy. That is top priority right now. Once he does, he will find a way to score and win. Not dominate perhaps but still win.”

GIO GANDIONCO. Gio Gandionco, another top golfer from CCC who’s now in the U.S. with a golf scholarship, had this to say: “I think Tiger right now is facing a slump and if he doesn’t stay healthy, his game will continue deteriorate. He’s had many injuries and back issues and I think that’s really affecting him. His swing mechanics are coming into place, he’s recently been working with his new coach Chris Como to  get his swing back to what it was like at his prime. I think at this point, it’s also a mental issue that Tiger needs to overcome. He has never played this bad consecutively before and he needs to find a way to bounce back and gain his confidence. No doubt he has the capabilities to win again, if he stays healthy and continues to work hard, I’m sure he can win more majors.”

Tennis-playing priests: ‘It’s good to serve’

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Awards Night at the Padgett Place

Archbishop Jose Serofia Palma, the eloquent and always smiling leader of the Cebu archdiocese, stood before the assembled priests last Thursday night and declared these nuggets of sports wisdom: “Tennis brings us together. It keeps us united. The Pope himself exhorted us to go out of our churches and take a break. Let’s be active.”

Bishop Ricardo Baccay of Tuguegarao echoed those words by adding: “Let us be passionate in our service… both in serving in tennis and in serving our parishes. The more active we are physically, the better we’re able to serve.”

One hundred thirty priests representing 19 provinces and 16 dioceses (including five religious congregations and three bishops: Baccay, Precioso Cantillas of Maasin, Leyte, and Antonio Palang of Mindoro) gathered in Cebu City earlier this week to serve.

By “serve,” I mean the movement where you toss a yellow ball, swing your arm backwards to scratch your back, then you slap forward to pounce a shot.

Fr. Fernando Suarez, who celebrated his birthday yesterday, conceptualized this tournament for priests back in the year 2010. After five years in Manila, he decided to change venues and try our city.

Msgr. Ruben Labajo, himself a tennis player, led the 31-priest Cebu contingent in helping organize the tournament. He was assisted by dozens, including Frederick Yap, Wilson Ong, Michael Sy, Zsazsa Sierra, the Tabura family (Fritz, Jun and Freza) and the Siso siblings, Niño and Em-Em. Lito and Fe Barino of Duros Land sponsored the Awards Night at their beautiful skyscraper, The Padgett Place.

During the awarding, Archbishop Palma was gifted with two Technifibre tennis rackets by Fr. Suarez. A former netter who stopped because of his busy schedule, Archbishop Palma told Msgr. Ruben, “Let’s play tennis again.”

That evening when I had the chance to sit beside him, I said: “Archbishop Palma, I only have one child and she’s become a national junior tennis champion. It was you who baptized her (Jana).”

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The 6th Fr. Suarez Cup, which ran from Feb. 3 to 5, saw the priests wearing shorts and not vestments, lifting rackets instead of holding rosary beads. The priests were engaged in all-out battle. Yes, believe me, having watched several intense matches this week, the priests are competitive. (Consider that the first prize includes both a Norkis motorcycle and a trip to Poland to represent the nation in the all-priests international tournament.)

Fr. Jose Dosado, a good friend from the former Sancase Tennis Club, won the 56-and-above singles category. In doubles, Fr. Arnel Haber teamed up with Fr. Jerry Pascual to win the doubles crown; they come from Tagum.

The indefatigable Fr. Suarez, whose stamina has amazed his tennis friends (once, he played 12 consecutive sets of tennis), won the 46-55 singles category.

Why, I asked Fr. ‘Do Suarez, do you like the game of tennis?

Ever the inspiration (and healer) to so many, he recited the ABCs.

“A” stands for “Ace.” In tennis, like in life, you serve and “don’t expect anything in return.”

“B” stands for “Be Grounded.”

“C” is “Consistency.” I’ve been privileged to recently play four sets of tennis with Fr. Fernando (we partnered in one and played against each other in three — him winning all four doubles sets) and he’s like a wall; returning shot after shot with his two-handed forehands and backhands. Same with life, it’s essential for us to be steady.

“D” is “Do Not Underestimate Your Opponent” (for tennis) and “Do Not Judge Others” (in life).

With “E,” it’s simply to “Enjoy.”

Fr. Suarez imparted one final message to us three nights ago: He once had a problem with his tennis serve and so he asked his good friend Roland So, a former Davis Cup star, for a tip. Roland’s answer was perfect: ‘Bend your knees.’

In tennis, the more we bend our knees, the better our service; in life, we ought to do the same: bend our knees to be humble and bend our knees in prayer to God.

6th Fr. Fernando Suarez Tennis Cup

It’s a first. For the first five years, it was held in Manila. Now, it’s here in Cebu. I’m talking of the national tennis tournament for priests that’s called the Fr. Suarez Cup.

Over 100 priests from all over the nation are here in our shores to swat forehands, to exchange volleys, to serve. Yes, these clergymen not only serve their parishes but also serve the tennis ball.

Fr. Fernando Suarez, known all over the world as a healing priest who has healed hundreds, if not thousands, founded this event in 2010. From an initial 50+ participants, it has grown three-fold.

The three-day tournament started last Tuesday with a mass at 11 a.m. officiated by Bishop Ricardo Baccay of Tuguegarao. In his inspiring homily — the first time I’ve heard mass where majority of the attendees were priests — he exhorted all “to be active.” Bishop Baccay said that for the priests to be energized and ready to serve, they have to be physically active. Tennis, the sport involving service, is an ideal sport for real-life service.

The event is divided into singles and doubles categories. For the singles play, there are three groups: 45 years old and under, 46 to 55, and 56 and older. Doubles is open to all age brackets.

Together with several from Cebu (Mike Sy, Wilson Ong, Fritz Tabura, Nino Siso and more), we’ve helped organize the event. The challenge is how to accommodate over 100 players in all categories in three short days. We had to pick five venues: Alta Vista, Citigreen, Talisay Tennis Club, La Paloma and Pardo Tennis Club.

The Fr. Suarez Cup is exciting not only because the priests are able to enjoy the sport they love; they’re also able to mingle with fellow netters who come from Mindoro, Bicol, Manila, Bacolod, Maasin, Cagayan de Oro and several more cities. Plus, the prizes are good: a trip to Rome and a brand-new motorcycle for the winners. And, the chance to represent the country in the international for-priests-only tournament in Poland later this year.

I got the chance to play with Fr. Suarez himself the past week and he’s a Class A player who’ll be tough to beat, especially in singles. The event finishes today with the final matches in Alta Vista and Citigreen; it culminates with mass and dinner tonight at The
Padgett Place.

The Cebu City Triathlon (CCT) experience

cebu-city-triathlon-2015Every time you coin the words “first” and “inaugural” in an event, there will always be hiccups. Not this time. That’s because the women and men behind the 1st Cebu City Triathlon are, themselves, runners, cyclists and swimmers.

That’s why, when you scan the reviews and browse through the Facebook photos after last Sunday, you’ll read nothing but praises for the organizers. I’ll say the same thing I said two months ago after San Remigio 8080: Kudos to Steve and Maricel Maniquis, Quinito Moras, Joel Juarez, Niño Abarquez and the rest of what is rapidly evolving as the top triathlon organizers in our island. CCT: Congratulations, Cornerstone Team.

What was different about the Cebu City Triathlon? First, it’s located, from start to finish, within the boundaries of the oldest city in the country. How often can a triathlon event boast that claim? I think none before. I believe this is a first with Cebu City.

How possible? Two words: swimming pool. While all other triathlon events involve the open waters of Bogo or Dalaguete or Tabuelan, this one is chlorine-vaccinated. It’s pool water. (Amale Jopson tells me that this is quite common and popular in Manila — but a new concept for our city.)

The swim was conducted in the 50-meter swimming pool of the Cebu City Sports Center — a first, I believe, at the CCSC. The next question: How do you fit 250 athletes in one rectangular body of water? The answer: You group them according to “waves.” The elite men and women (Noy Jopson, Joseph Miller) start first at 6 a.m. Next, ten minutes later, the women (Nia Aldeguer, Rhoanne Salimbangon) follow. Ten minutes after the girls, the 15 to 19 age bracket kicks off. And so forth until all the groups are swimming, free-styling, breast-stroking. It’s a fun (and somewhat chaotic) sight.

In CCT, the swim is only 750 meters long. I say “only” because, in comparison, the Ironman 70.3 race involves 1,900 meters of Shangri-La-waters swimming.

To complete 750 meters on the pool, you make five laps at 50 meters per lap for a total of 250. After one loop, you get off the pool, run around the pool then start again. You do three loops to complete 750 meters. This makes for a swim-run, swim-run, swim CCT start.

I joined last Sunday’s race and, I must admit, I had a lot of difficulty with the swim. You’re less buoyant compared to the salt water/open sea. There are 70 or more of you swimmers in the same pool, all scrambling and kicking and scooping water. I’m a non-swimmer and it’s a completely different “washing machine-like” atmosphere compared to when you’re practicing laps by your lone self. Lesson for me: more practice!

But to majority of participants, I think they enjoyed the swim. It’s less intimidating than the choppy waves and strong current of, say, Mactan; it’s a good first Tri’ to try.

After the 750-meter swim, it’s off to the bike. Positioned under the grandstand area of the CCSC, the bikes are formed in a long row. You clip-on your helmet, wear your shoes, then you’re off to the exit..

Biking along Osmeña Boulevard down to Colon St. and passing Sto. Niño Church all the way to Plaza Independencia was a terrific experience. No other time are the streets free of vehicles for you to travel 30 kph on two leg-powered wheels.

The bike leg was 20 kms. — mostly at the South Road Properties. What a fantastic moment to pedal without traffic at the SRP.  The only challenge: it rained hard that 5 a.m. and it was still raining when many biked. The route was expertly managed with an “M” loop, similar to the one for IM70.3.

After the 20K on wheels, it’s back to CCSC to deposit the bikes and the last leg was for the legs. It’s a short 5-km. run from the rubberized oval in Abellana towards the Provincial Capitol and back… with a nice downhill boost on the return before circling the oval until you cross the finish arc.

The fastest? CCT: Chiongbian & Chiongbian Tandem… brothers Justin and Yuan.

Edwin Salazar in the Australian Open

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Tennis was introduced to him by his dad Doroteo Salazar and mom Zenaida. “I was 13 then,” recalls Edwin, whose first backhands were hit at the court “in the Reclamation Area near the old White Gold.” But it was at the Casino Español where, almost nightly, he would smother those Rafael Nadal-like topspin forehands.

Edwin Salazar is now Australian. A top engineer whose family owns the Salazar Colleges of Science And Institute of Technology (SCSIT) here in Cebu, Edwin has relocated to Australia since 2007.

He and his family reside in the City of Gold Coast, Queensland. “This is the equivalent of Boracay – a tourist destination,” said Edwin, who works as Senior Drainage Asset Engineer for the city, leading a team of engineers managing the city’s $4 billion flood mitigation and drainage assets. “All flooding concerns from residents, businesses, councilors & even the mayor come to my section,” he said. “When not at my normal job, I assist (wife) Pipin run The Filipino Shop — a specialty shop that does international money remittance, sea and air cargo, beauty products and Filipino groceries.” Edwin says that his three kids (Paolo, Urick & Wren) now call Australia as home while he, a Cebuano by heart, still considers Cebu City as “my home.”

While Edwin has been in and out of Australia since 1991 (he studied his MBA in Bond Univ.), he has never watched the Australian Open, opting for the nearby Brisbane Open the past four years. A tennis fanatic who owns a wicked topspin forehand, Edwin finally made the trip to Melbourne this week.

“I was watching the Brisbane Open the other week so the expectation was building up,” he said. “The things that you see, hear and experience builds up the atmosphere. As I was heading to the hotel from the airport, you see banners about the Aus Open along the streets. As you head to the venue, the City of Melbourne offers free tram, train and bus rides to the venue. You see posters and banners of products/services endorsed by Federer, Novak, Nadal and the fastest server in the world, who is Australian. The atmosphere is like the days leading to a Palarong Pambansa.”

Engr. Salazar watched two days. “I wanted to experience the day the gates are opened. So at 9am on Opening Day, I was there with about 50 people. By 10am, the crowd at the gates swelled to 5 thousand. There was a record attendance of over 71,000 just on the first day. I watched for 14 hours — the longest I did in my life; from 10am to 12am.” The next day, he did another marathon tennis sitting, watching from 12 noon until 10 p.m.

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“I got overwhelmed seeing Federer, Nadal, Novak, Serena Williams, Kournikova, Sharapova, Wawrinka and many more,” said Edwin. “In the outside show courts, I was seated beside the coaching team of Richard Gasquet while watching him play.”

Rod Laver Arena is the tournament’s center court. Inside, said Edwin, “the atmosphere is nice to experience especially if an Australian is playing. Lahi gyud ug local boy ang nag duwa. The fanatics, a group of 20-25, have a repertoire of cheers that can pump up the player and the crowd. This group creates the atmosphere. They cheer, dance, wear nationalistic costumes. See my selfie with them. This was experienced during Hewitt vs. Zhang. Also, the human wave. But have you seen the slow motion human wave? I experienced that in the Hewitt game.”

Edwin longed to take an autograph with a top player. “While having my burger for lunch Tuesday noon, Yvonne Golangong, one of Australia’s greats, was having a meeting in the next table. Yvonne was the only legend I could get close to.”

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Forever a Bisaya, Edwin talked about food. “There were stalls all over serving pizza, burgers, fish and chips, and ice cream,” he said. “Problem is I have a Filipino tongue. So I did not enjoy the food much. I would rather go for barbeque, tinola or sinugba.”

Next month when his school, SCSIT, celebrates its Founders Day (57th, if I’m not mistaken), Edwin will come home to play tennis and to savor the food that not even Melbourne can offer.

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Pope Francis: Be ‘athletes of Christ’

Vatican-Pope-Messi_phil_AP-676x450(AP photo)

In July of 2013, Pope Francis stood before hundreds of thousands of young people on Copacabana Beach. Here’s what he said during the 14th World Youth Day: “A field is a training ground. Jesus asks us to follow him for life, he asks us to be his disciples, to ‘play on his team.’ I think that most of you love sports! Here in Brazil, as in other countries, football is a national passion. Now, what do players do when they are asked to join a team? They have to train, and to train a lot! The same is true of our lives as the Lord’s disciples. Saint Paul tells us: ‘Athletes deny themselves all sorts of things; they do this to win a crown of leaves that withers, but we a crown that is imperishable’ (1 Cor 9:25).

“Jesus offers us something bigger than the World Cup! He offers us the possibility of a fulfilled and fruitful life; he also offers us a future with him, an endless future, eternal life. But he asks us to train, ‘to get in shape,’ so that we can face every situation in life undaunted, bearing witness to our faith. How do we get in shape? By talking with him: by prayer, which is our daily conversation with God, who always listens to us. By the sacraments, which make his life grow within us and conform us to Christ. By loving one another, learning to listen, to understand, to forgive, to be accepting and to help others, everybody, with no one excluded or ostracized. Dear young people, be true “athletes of Christ!”

Beautiful! Just like all the messages that we’ve heard from the Holy Father these past few days.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio was born 78 years ago in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In a nation that has produced Diego Maradona, the pope grew up following the local Club Atletico San Lorenzo squad. Lionel Messi, his countryman, upon meeting the pope last year, said these words: “Without doubt, one of the most special days of my life.”

In May of last year at the Vatican, the pope tackled the game of football. He spoke to the Italian and Argentinian teams.

“He reminded the players that they are role models for many football fans and encouraged them to take that responsibility seriously. He then asked them to foster the ‘beauty, generosity, and camaraderie’ that sport can produce,” said the story in the Catholic Herald website.

“Pope Francis… called on players to ‘live your sport as a gift from God, an opportunity not only to improve your talents, but also a responsibility.’ And he returned to the idea that athletes should act as role models, encouraging them to set an example of loyalty, respect, and selflessness. ‘I have confidence,’ he said, ‘in all the good you can do, especially among young people.’

“Pope Francis concluded by praying that the athletes will continue to be able to pursue the “noble vocation” of sport – and he asked them to pray for him, too, ‘that in the playing field that the Lord has placed me, I can play the game honestly and courageously, for the good of all.’”

Manny – Money

I recently met a top official who, after speaking to Manny Pacquiao earlier this week, confided to me the following: “Madayon ang fight!” Manny told him. Both camps have ironed out the details and are just awaiting for the Super Bowl to announce the bout. Two stumbling blocks previously stood in the way. First, the prize money. Manny agreed to a 60-40 split, in favor of Floyd, for the first $100 million; but he wanted a 75-25 split that would go to the winner (after $100 million). Floyd said no; Manny gave in. So it’s a 60-40 split all the way. Another challenge: the rematch clause. Manny wanted a one-fight contract (this way, if he wins, he’ll demand the terms of the rematch). But Floyd said no; Manny, again, relented. An interesting footnote, said my source: When asked how confident he was, Manny exuded his usual smiling bravado. Kaya ra na, said Manny. The reason why everyone has difficulty against Floyd is because they’re right-handers, said MP. When Floyd raises his shoulder as shield, guess what’s awaiting him? Manny’s left-handed smash.

The 2015 Cebu Marathon

What a way to start the new year! On the 11th day of what is expected to be a grueling and up-and-down-and-up 365 days of 2015, thousands joined the Cebu Marathon last Sunday.

This will be a terrific year. To those who doubted if they’d be able to finish 21 kms. by foot or those who previously thought that running 42,195 meters was unthinkable — well, think again. You’ve done it. To the brave, to the bold and yes, to the barefooted… kudos!

You might still be limping today. Your calf muscles are still as hard as stone. But those memories: the 1 a.m. wake-up call; those joyful minutes that transformed into painful hours; all those weeks of training and thousands of pesos spent on running gear and registration fees last year; they’re all worth it. You’ve made it. What a running start for 2015.

The over three thousand participants, including dozens of foreigners, could not have asked for better weather. The skies were not only rain-free (unlike last year’s deluge of sky water); the temperature was cool. To those who ran the return stretch at the SRP, weren’t those clouds God-provided to help you? The ideal conditions provided the backdrop for many to do a PR.

This was the 8th edition of CCM. The first two were labeled “Sinulog Half-Marathon” and the last six included 42Ks. Some have made it a Sinulog-type of pilgrimage, running every second Sunday of the year, joining every CCM. Like Abby Ponce. Another is my ultra-marathoner idol, Tony Galon, who’s done 7. Same with Atan Guardo, who finished with a speedy time of 4:24.

Why run the marathon? It’s a crazy thought, no? Willfully inflicting pain on yourself while others are fast asleep. There are many reasons. For some, their loss of 60 lbs. of body weight has enabled them to be lighter — like CERC president Steve Ferraren, who ran his 28th marathon. For others, it’s to escape pain; yes, how ironic: to escape pain, you inflict pain; but marathon running counters all other problems we have at home and at work. It’s an escape and a legal drug. For many, because it’s a goal that seemed impossible to accomplish.. then. But now, they’ve deleted the word’s first two letters and made it possible.

In behalf of RunRio and CERC (Cebu Executive Runners Club), we thank numerous groups who have made CCM15 another good run.

Dr. Peter Mancao and his team of dozens of doctors (Dr. Arnold Tan was at the finish) and nurses and volunteers, who assembled medical stations and paraded ambulances throughout the route.

To Citom, to our police, and to the hundreds of marshals: I don’t think Cebu has seen a road race as cordoned-of and safe for the runners as last Sunday’s.

To our Hydration Station partners: Bionic Builders (of soon-to-be-Ironman Bernard Sia), the Primary Group of Builders (of marathoner Wally Liu), Cebu Grand Hotel (of 21K finisher Carlo Suarez), Filinvest, Aeolus Tires (of Gerard Tan, who personally handed out water and Gatorade), to Barangay Lahug, Honda Motor World of Jonel Borromeo, Cebu Parklane Intl. Hotel, Holiday Gym and Spa (represented by Veron Enriquez); to Tinago Brgy. Captain Joel Garganera, to the Talisay City officials; to Joel Juarez, who coordinated for majority of the technical needs… To Ayala Center Cebu, the event’s main sponsor and venue… To Rio de la Cruz, who expertly managed the event with his RunRio team, spearheaded by Franco Bambico and JP Arandia… thank you.

Finally, I quote Patrick Concepcion, the organizer of the Condura Skyway Marathon (which runs this Feb. 1), who joined the marathon four mornings ago and wrote in his blog: “All things considered, the Cebu Marathon is beautiful and probably one of the best I’ve run thus far in the Philippines. I highly recommend you include this marathon in your bucket list.”

To those who didn’t join last weekend, see you on Jan. 10, 2016.

Pit Senyor!

Jacksonville Marathon: Surviving 26.2 miles

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JACKSONVILLE—Happy New 2015! I continue our U.S. trek: After braving the 2C cold in New York and spending 30 hours in Washington, D.C. to view the White House and the National Mall, we traveled down south.

We’re in Florida where the weather is like… Cebu’s. Yes, it’s winter-time in America but it’s sunny in Jacksonville.

Tony and Sol Baluyot are my wife Jasmin’s relatives. Tita Sol is the younger sister of my mother-in-law, Malu Mendez. When we planned our Christmas trip to the East Coast, we made sure that we’d spend time at the Baluyot home in Jacksonville, where they’ve resided since 1977. I had never been to Florida and the last time Jasmin visited was 25 years ago.

This city is special. Jacksonville is the largest city in the entire U.S.A. in terms of land area. Based on Wikipedia, it covers 1,935 sq.kms. (compared to Cebu City’s 315). The nearby city of St. Augustine (about 45 minutes away) is historical because it’s the oldest city in the country.

Talking of sports, I’ve always envisioned on doing a “42 on 42.” That’s running the marathon when I’m the same age as the marathon distance. And so when Jasmin and I finalized our vacation, I googled “U.S. marathons in December.”

Would you believe, of the 52 Sundays in the year, the Jacksonville Marathon would fall on exactly the time that we’d be in the city: Dec. 28, 2014. Plus, and this would take on a stronger significance, my father-in-law Jack Mendez passed away last July. To run an event with the words “Jack” and “son” on them, this would be special.

And so it was set: six years after my last 42K (the Quezon City Intl. Marathon), I’d be running the distance again.

We arrived from Newark Intl. Airport (New Jersey) via United Express on a Friday afternoon. Hours after we were picked up at the JAX (shortcut for Jacksonville) Airport, I visited the Town Center Mall with Tito Tony to register onsite at the 1st Place Sports Running shop. I paid the $80 registration fee and got my bright orange-colored “Jacksonville Bank Marathon” shirt. This is it. Two mornings later, I’d be on the road by foot.

The Jacksonville Marathon, now on its 34th year, is a Boston-qualifying event ran on a flat course. The average temperature, reads the website, is 56 degrees F. That’s 13 Celsius — perfect for running.

The day before the race, Jasmin and I had to celebrate an important occasion: it was our 17th anniversary. We had dinner with the family at P.F. Chang’s.

On Dec. 28 (race day), I set the alarm at 4:59 but woke up much earlier (like all excitable marathoners do) at 2 a.m. I ate four slices of bread with peanut butter and drank coffee and orange juice.

Before 6 a.m. and with Tito Tony and Jasmin, I arrived at The Bolles School, the city’s most exclusive (and expensive) school, for the start.

(More on The Bolles School, I got an email message from Bill Byrd, now residing in Cebu but previously a Jacksonville resident, who said: “You might be interested to know that BASIC tuition at the Bolles School for grades 7-12, is $41,000.00 per school year–Again, that is just basic for room/board, and books… Don’t know if you have ever followed Major League baseball at all, but one famous former student from The bolles School is Chipper Jones all-star and future hall of famer, 3rd baseman for Atlanta Braves.”)

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The forecast: no rain. Good news because the year before, the runners were drenched with rain. I checked the history and it was varied. Some years, it was as cold as 9C; some, as warm as 25C. I prepared for the “worst:” Before leaving Cebu, I bought gloves, arm sleeves and a beanie totaling P300 from Gaisano Country Mall. These would be used at the start but disposed of after the body warms and sweat begins. I never got to use them. The weather was warm in Jacksonville. At 6 a.m., it was still comfortably cold (at 15C) but it would reach 24C later in the morning.

Jasmin joined me at the start and took photos. She left. I waited for an hour inside the indoor gym. I sat down, stretched and, with 15 minutes left, took a blueberry-flavored Gu gel. At 6:50, I took my position at the starting line. A few thousand stood ready for the race. Apart from the marathon, there are two other distances: half-marathon and the 5K.

Three minutes before gun start, the national anthem played. It can’t get better than this, I told myself. As the dawn’s early light arose, the anthem played, “Oh, say, can you see by the dawn’s early light…” At 7 a.m., the starting gun fired and 3,000 runners were off… The roads here are all asphalted. (If you’re a runner, you’ll know it’s softer than cement.) The best part: Residents along the route stood outside their homes to cheer. Many prepared placards to display. Since Americans don’t use the metric system (kms.), one poster read: “In a scale of 1 to 10, you’re 26.2!” That’s the marathon distance in miles. Another read, “Go, Random Stranger!”

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The race was well-organized. The registration process (both online and onsite) was easy. You can even register an hour before the start! (Something we can learn for the Cebu Marathon.)

Along the race route, uniformed policemen with their police cars were positioned all over. They’d block the side roads. One unexpected act that they did: they cheered you on. Not all police officers but some would greet “Good morning!” (We should request our Citom guys to do the same!) The course was flat and every mile had a marker with a digital clock. Water stations (with Gatorade) were plenty. These were all manned by volunteers —  hundreds of volunteers who did their work with greetings and smiles.

My first half was relaxed. The clouds covered the sun (sunrise here comes late, at 7:22 a.m.) in the first 13 miles. There were portions that were foggy; it was very scenic running in the inner roads amidst the Florida homes. I ran the first 21K in 2 hours and 14 minutes. I felt terrific (like many of us do halfway through the race.)

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But when I reached the 20th mile (Km. 32), that’s when my legs started to harden and ache. I’d stop every few hundred meters to walk and stretch; I slowed down. This was understandable because I only did one 30K in Cebu (with fellow CERC members Steve Ferraren, Roy and Rosan Trani, Jesse Taborada and Dodong Sulatre). As a final “long run,” I planned a 34K run (three weeks before race day) but Typhoon Ruby disrupted this plan.

The one thing that helped was the Bodivance cream (P55 per sachet in Runnr) which I applied to my muscle-fatigued legs. (Thanks to Dr. Tony San Juan for the suggestion.)

With hydration, I made sure to stop and drink at each station (found in every two miles). But if there’s one recommendation that I’d like to offer the organizers, it’s this: it would be good to offer bananas or chocolates in the last six miles. Though I took Gu (the energy gel) every 45 minutes, it wasn’t enough. By Mile 21, I had a case of “hypoglycemia” (hitting the wall) and I felt disoriented. It was at this point that I took more walking breaks.

My strategy: not to think of the remaining distance (let’s say, six miles) but to target a signage or a police car with blinking lights at a far distance and run without stopping towards it… then “reward” myself with a short walk upon getting there.

When I reached Mile 23, my legs started to cramp. Oh, no. This is the big challenge with running; unlike basketball or football, you can’t “run the clock.” You’ve got to run or walk and move forward to finish. Meaning, if you sprint so fast and you’re about to break the world record but you collapse 100 meters from the finish line, you can end up being the last finisher.

With those cramps in the last 5K, I walked, slow-jogged and made sure that I didn’t make any abrupt steps. Mentally, I told the cramps to stop. (After over four hours on the road, you can get desperate.) Plus, the previously cold skies weren’t cooperating. It was getting Cebu-hot, about 25C. The sun was starting to bake our weary backs.

Finally, seeing that “Mile 25” signage was a beautiful sight. At the last bend, we turned inside the The Bolles School as we entered a patch of grass before circling the rubberized track oval until the arms-up-the-sky finish. I finished in 4:47. Whew. Agonizing. Disorienting. Leg-cramping. But painfully fulfilling. This Sunday, it’s your turn with the Cebu Marathon.

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Lousy Knicks, lively entertainment

Knicks gameNEW YORK — Jasmin, Jana and I watched the New York Knicks vs. Dallas Mavericks game the other week (Dec. 16). We sat in Row 225 inside Madison Square Garden. This arena is iconic; built in 1968, its tagline reads, “The World’s Most Famous Arena.”

Today, MSG hosts over 300 sporting events each year and is home to three pro teams: the Knicks, the NY Rangers (hockey) and the NY Liberty (women’s NBA). For basketball, the seating capacity is 20,000.

Entering the coliseum, I was expecting a derelict facility (given that it’s 46 years old) but was surprised to see a spanking world-class arena. Newly-renovated last year, MSG was comfortable; the seats were cushioned; on top of the basketball court was a gigantic HD screen that endlessly projected slow-motion replays, up-close shots of the players and other highlights.

When we arrived at 7:45 p.m., the players were warming-up. As the Mavs and Knicks stars were introduced, the last man to be called was the most “sikat:” Carmelo Anthony. He wore an orange bandana that was the same orange color that spread across the Knicks uniforms.

Finally, the announcer says, “Let’s… play ball!” All the lights were off. The girls danced an intro number. After the players stood ready, Margot Bingham was called to sing the national anthem. Like we see on TV, once the song reaches those last few lines, everybody sings along. Someone screamed, “Let’s go New York!” It’s wonderful to see Americans so proud of their song, people, nation.

Game on! New York had possession after the jump ball. But, like an ominous sign of the bad things to come, they didn’t even fire a shot: they were penalized after a 24-second shot violation. Bad sign! Seconds later, Tyson Chandler was lobbed an alley-hoop pass which he barreled into the ring. A slam dunk for the Mav’s first two points. Shot after shot, the Mavs wouldn’t miss. They converted on their first six attempts. No miss. After four minutes, the score was lopsided: 19-7. Chandler had one more dunk. And another. Three dunks in five minutes.
Dallas is an amazing offensive team. They lead the NBA in points, averaging 113 per game. It was evident that night: after six minutes, they amassed 27 points. Moments later, the score was 29-11. Led by Dirk Nowitzi, the Mavs led from the first minute until the last. From beyond the arc, they buried 15 of 33 three-point attempts. This wasn’t a ballgame, it was a New York massacre.

You know Americans; they’ll let you know in your face how they feel. They’re blunt and direct. And the New Yorkers let their players know how they felt. They booed. They turned quiet. The initial atmosphere of excitement was replaced by oh-no-here-it-comes-again…. another beating.

By the end of the first quarter, the score was 36-24. At that point, the Mavs made 79 percent of their field goal attempts. Amazing statistic. As bad as the Knicks were, the Mavs were unstoppable — they were possessed when they possessed that ball.

The Knicks weren’t a team of five players on-court; they’re a one-player squad. Carmelo Anthony led with 26 points but that was it; everybody else was lousy. This is nowhere near the team that won the NBA crown back in 1973 (their last win) that had Bill Bradley, Walt Frazier, Jerry Lucas and Phil Jackson, now the Knicks president.

But as lousy as the Knicks were, the entertainment was fantastic. Plenty of celebrities watched. Golfer Jason Dufner. Actor John leguizamo. Devon Kennard of the Giants. Even John Starks came to watch.

During timeouts, they have what’s called a “Dance Cam” where they find spectators who’ll dance and they’ll showcase their moves on the large screen. One man juggled balls. They also had these “machine guns” where they’d fire t-shirts to the crowd. One shirt was fired towards us and Jana caught it. They had a Tic Tac Toe game played by two men. They had all these side entertainment gigs to make the lousy game fun. In all, it was fun despite the Knicks losing by 20.