In triathlon, Aya finds Himaya

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Michelle Himaya “Aya” Garcia Shlachter reads her full name. In English, himaya means “glory and joy.”

Aya is a U.S.-schooled architect who does consultancy work for clients in Hong Kong and the U.S. She’s an entrepreneur who owns the thriving chocolate and coffee shop of six outlets, Tablea. She’s a mother of Ana, 6, and Ari, 3. Her husband is Larry Shlachter, who’s finished three New York City Marathons.

Aya is a multi-tasker. Aya is a multi-sport athlete.

Two Sundays ago, she finished what I consider one of the most fearsome of outdoor gimmicks: the XTERRA Off-Road Triathlon. Consider this: of the 219 who finished the full triathlon (1.5K swim, 36K bike and 10K run), only 21 were women.

Aya was one of the brave girls. “Several people discouraged me from joining since the bike course was extremely tough and technical,” Aya said. “They were concerned about my safety since I have very poor bike handling skills. I chose to ignore them and face the challenge of the bike course instead of backing down.”

During this International Women’s Month, Aya shows the boys that they’re not the only athletic type. Last year, Aya completed the Cobra Ironman 70.3 Ironman race. Before that, she completed the Tabuelan 111 event. Prior to that, she swam 6 kms. in the Olango Challenge.

Back to Xterra, here’s Aya’s experience:

“Swim: I love swimming and I am most comfortable in the water. The first 500 meters was a warm up and easy swim for me. The rest of the distance, I did some swim intervals. Slow easy pace for 3 minutes followed by 20 fast strokes.  That way, I was able to conserve energy for the bike and run portions.

“Bike: The bike portion was the most challenging since I had only been mountain biking for 2 months prior to Xterra. My bike handling skills are a bit challenged. My goal for the bike portion was to finish injury-free without getting cut-off. I had targeted to finish 1 loop in 2 hours; the problem was, I had no idea how long one loop would take since I had not finished one loop during training sessions. On the first loop, at 1:40 I saw Noy Jopson and he told me that I was making good time and that I was close to making the first loop in less than 2 hours. Noy gave me the boost and self confidence that I badly needed. I made it to the transition area 30 mins before cut off.  After the bike portion was completed, I knew I was going to finish the race.

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“Run: The run was the most fun for me since I knew I was going to finish the race at that point. The run was challenging since it was extremely hot and there were lots of uphills and steep downhills with sharp corals. The water stations were great! I made sure I took ice baths along the way to keep my body temperature cool. I tried to pace myself by doing a 6 minute run followed by a 30 second walk. I walked most of the steep uphills and ran as fast as I could on the downhills and flats to compensate for lost time during the uphill walking.  There were a lot of children during the run course giving me high fives along the way; the kids were very helpful in keeping my spirits high. I was surprised by my run time of 1:19!”

Why not Pilates or Zumba? “Triathlon allows me to go places that I normally would not visit,” she said. “I enjoy the company of fellow triathletes. I have met some very cool and interesting people along the way. I love racing!”

Aya’s 2013 calendar? She plans a full marathon, a few “more Xterra races” and, here’s the ultimate: she will go for the Timex 226! (That’s a 3.8K swim, 180K bike and 42K run.) If that’s not enough, she already has booked Nov. 2014 for a full Ironman race in Arizona.

Aya’s mantra: “I just keep telling myself not to stop no matter how hard it gets because when it is over I know I will feel great. Pride always overcomes any kind of temporary discomfort.”

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One of Aya’s close triathlon buddy is Sen. Pia Cayetano, who invited her in this event last month:

“Mr. Ugo 37K Sky Run was a trail run (in Itogon Benguet province) where the first 18k were all uphills until we reached the Mt. Ugo Summit, then 18k back downhills It was a very tough and mentally-challenging course. It took me 10 hours. There was a cut off time of 8:30 hours and, though I did not make the time, I still finished the race. Fifty meters before the finish line, my friends (Sen Pia, Belle, Che, Noel) were hiding behind a big rock. They emerged from the big rock and surprised me with my own finish line. They brought me fruits and water. We were all in tears,” said Aya.

“What I lack in ability and skill, I compensate for in will-power. Before I joined the Mt. Ugo 37 k trail run, I had several doubts about finishing the race. I had just recovered from a severe hamstring injury. A few days before Mt. Ugo, a friend of mine gave me a quote from Mother Teresa: ‘Focus on small things with great love.’ This quote stuck in my mind. To finish any race, one must just enjoy the experience one step, one mile at a time with great love!”

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