The Cebuano who brought Ironman to the Philippines is, himself, an Ironman. And when we say “Ironman,” we mean the full and “pain-full” experience: 3.8 kms of swimming the open seas and 180 kms. of pedaling against headwinds, topped off with a full 42K marathon.
Fred Uytengsu has competed in over 50 events but none more fulfilling than the Ironman World Championships. Of the hundreds of triathlon races worldwide, the one in Kona, Hawaii is most prestigious; it’s the Wimbledon of triathlon. Fred finished twice, recording a personal best of 12.5 hours in 2011.
“But after 17 years of Ironman and triathlon,” Fred told me the other day, “I’ve taken a step back and focused on competitive swimming at the Masters level.”
On swimming, Fred gave this speech during the 2016 PSA Awards in Manila: “I took swimming in a relatively late age, starting off playing baseball, but I like the notion of swimming because, as a baseball player, sometimes you lose because your teammates struck out or someone dropped the ball.
“What I liked about swimming is that you look at yourself in the mirror whether you won or lost, and it is whether your work ethic or your time in the pool or your racing plan was executed that defined winning or losing. If I didn’t train hard enough, I had no one to blame but myself. If I’m successful, it’s because I worked harder.
“I enjoyed that notion competing for 13 years, swimming four hours a day, six days a week, 50 weeks a year. Along the way, I learned a lot about the importance of a great work ethic, commitment, dedication, and sacrifice. All of these would turn out to be great life lessons as I began my working career.”
Fred became the captain of the University of Southern California swimming team. He also represented the Philippines in the 1981 SEA Games.
Several decades later, Fred is back to competing in the pool again.
“Last August 2019, I competed at the World Masters Swimming Championships in Gwangju, Korea and was able to finish in the top ten in the 50 meter and 100 meter butterfly,” he said. “So I’d like to improve on that when the Masters World Championships are held in Fukuoka, Japan (now moves to 2022). I’ll be in a new age group next year (60-64), so looking forward to that.”
These days, given the restrictions of Covid-19, Fred has worked-out at home by focusing on strength and core training with just body weight. He also did jump rope but said, “while it’s a great cardio workout, it was hard on my knees.” Lately, when the restrictions eased up, he’s been back on the bike or on the pool.
“I’m also working on improving my lung capacity using a new gadget called Air-o-Fit,” he said. “So far, so good but I need to keep at it for at least 6 months.”
A Lakers fan, Fred has been stuck in Los Angeles the past months, unable yet to fly back to Manila. His parting words to us: “We need to keep a positive attitude and realize things will get better. #cebustrong #philippinesstrong.”