Based on estimates, the number of people who’ve reached the summit of Mt. Everest is 3,425. If you think this number is very small compared to the world’s population of seven billion, consider this: An estimated 625 people have ever swam from Europe to Africa via the Strait of Gibraltar.
One of those 625 swimmers lives right here — in Banilad, Cebu City.
Sebastian “Basti” Lacson is this rare individual — and possibly the only Filipino — to have ever done a marathon swim between these two continents.
Today, Basti is popularly known as one of Cebu’s top executives; with the Visayan Electric Company, Inc. (Veco), he’s the Chief Operating Officer. But back in 1996, Basti was operating chiefly a different type of challenge: swimming (from Spain to Morocco) one of the toughest crossings on earth.
Here, in Basti’s own words, is the full and first-hand account of that risky, superhuman, crazy and amazing feat:
“Dear John, Thank you for your interest in that swim which, in more ways than one, shaped the person that I am today. That self-imposed test of will taught me many things, showed me what to do and what not to do in life. It opened many doors, as it continues to do today. It establishes a reputation that precedes me in many things I do.
“Your interest led me to dig up my files and thereby recall, once more, exactly what I was thinking back then in 1996. Much of what we do, especially when young and carefree, we cannot readily explain the reasons for. Only later, looking through life’s rear view mirror, can we understand precisely why we chose that course of action. My diary entry for 30 September 1996 states, in response to my very own question, ‘Why am I doing this?,’ states ‘Too see the face of God’ as the reason.
“The swim was a challenge. One fateful April Sunday in 1996, I happened to be lunching with a cousin in Castelldefels, a coastal town south of Barcelona. She had arranged for a friend of hers to join us. This friend was Andreu Mateu, a Spanish adventurer and explorer. Over lunch, he regaled us with stories of his numerous adventures, among them his swim across the Strait of Gibraltar. He added that he was planning to do the swim once again in October of that year. Without any hesitation, I signed on.
“Why was I so quick to get myself into such a commitment? I was winding up my MBA and was having some difficulty landing a job in Europe. I felt I took the MBA too young (I started at 24, the youngest in our class) and perhaps companies I interviewed sensed this. I was trying to keep a long-distance relationship with my girlfriend, who was herself studying in Boston, alive. Working back in Manila after an MBA in Barcelona worried me. Looking back, now I know why I was so audacious as to commit to the swim despite my complete lack of swimming background: I needed something to catalyze success into my life.
“I eventually ended up back in the Philippines and worked in our family enterprise. Four months before October, I started to train. My simplistic regimen was this: swim until I could swim no more. No interval, no stops, no pulse-taking. Just swim non-stop. Two weeks before the swim, I was doing 10 kilometers per swim, which I thought was sufficient preparation. All this time, I became obsessed with the swim and my life was work and training. My Boston girlfriend, who by then had also returned to Manila, decided she had had enough neglect and called it quits. At that point, it didn’t seem like I cared.
“Andreu and I met up in Barcelona in the last week of September 1996. Three friends of his were joining us. Two guys, Gonzalo Ceballos and Pedro Vernis, and a girl named Cori Sangenis. We all flew down to Malaga in the south of Spain and took a bus to the coastal village of Tarifa, which is the southernmost point in the Iberian Peninsula. I still have some expense items listed down from that time (assuming exchange rate of 3 Pesos per Spanish Peseta):
Barcelona-Malaga plane ticket 20,000 6,700
Neoprene suit ¾ inch 21,000 7,000
Hotel in Tarifa 20,000 6,700
¼ share in 2 escort crafts 31,250 10,400
¼ share in doctor 6,250 2,100
¼ share in fishermen-escorts 5,000 1,700
¼ share in other expenses 5,000 1,700
TOTAL (without counting meals and
Ticket from Manila to Spain) 108,500 36,300
“My sponsor was the now-defunct Pilipinas Bank, whose president was the gentlemen banker Carlos “Lito” Pedrosa. He gave me USD1,000 which, if you look at the expenses indicated above, was just on the money. My father sponsored the ticket to Spain and gave me some money for meals.
“During the first few days of October 1996, the wind was not in our favor. Strong Levantine winds buffet the cost of Cadiz constantly throughout the year. This is why the area was already, at that time, dotted with wind turbines. But during the first few days in Tarifa, it was howling. These easterly winds reach their maximum expression in the Strait of Gibraltar, turning this sea lane into a nightmare or, as I wrote in my diary, ‘…rendering the Strait impassable with its monstrous rage.’ I observed further that ‘…the waves tend to break or wipe-out and this, combined with their 2-3 meter height result in any swimmer’s nightmare.’
“On October 5th, the winds died and we planned for an early start the following day. We started at 6:56 am of October 6th from Punta Marroqui in Tarifa. Led by one of our guide boats, a small zodiac, we made for a southwesterly tack, swimming into the Atlantic Ocean. This is against the current which is from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. This was very tedious although necessary in order to get to out intended destination: the beaches of Punta Cires in Morocco. So tedious was this first part of the swim that it took about 3H 30mins (out of 5H 19mins total) to cover less than half the total distance of the route. Once the critical inflection point had been reached as determined by our fishermen-guides, we drifted southeast with the current until we reached the beaches of Morocco. We had forgotten to bring our passports (something you don’t normally bring when out swimming) and when we spotted armed men waiting on the beach, we opted to dive down, touch sand, and motored hurriedly back to Tarifa. We had done it: left Spain at 6:56 am, got to Morocco 12:15 pm. 5 Hours and 19 minutes from Europe to Africa. For further verification, please consult the ‘neoprene’ category in www.acneg.com, website of the Strait of Gibraltar swim association.
“The swim did turn out to be a good thing. I got my first good job because of it. The Spanish guys interviewing said that I could ‘do anything if I could swim the Strait of Gibraltar.’ I realized the value of working tirelessly for a goal and of the value of deferring the reward until the end. I apply those virtues at home, in the workplace and in sport, where my love for endurance tests stills persists. I also realized that in life, balance is necessary, that I cannot ignore all else just to pursue some single-minded objective, like I did with the swim. As for the girl in Boston, well, we married in 1998 and now have two wonderful children. So I guess that got sorted out.
“In the end, maybe I did see the face of God.”
COMMENTARY ON SPORTS. My discussion about sports with Basti did not end with his Strait of Gibraltar swim.
Basti has been a lifelong sportsman. Back in college at the Ateneo, he was captain of the Blue Eagles basketball team.
While taking his MBA in Spain, he decided to run a 42K. “I ran the Barcelona Marathon in 1995, which was I believe the first time they used a timing chip,” he said. “It was a fabulous route down the northern coastal road towards Barcelona. It culminated in the Montjuic stadium where the 1992 Olympics began and ended. The last three kilometers were up the hill to Montjuic, and many of the professional runners complained. I also recall that after that year, they stopped ending in Montjuic. I ran that in 3H 56mins. I also did a couple of half-marathons in Madrid some years later.”
MORE Q & A. Here’s the rest of my interview with Basti…
John: Given that we’re a country of 7,107 islands, it’s a wonder why swimming is not that popular; why do you think this is so?
Basti: The islands and beaches are for having fun and frolicking. Swimmers are bred in public swimming pools, and we don’t have any. To expand the talent pool of any sport, public sports facilities must be available and young athletes must be able to revolve their sporting and social lives around those sporting facilities. This applies to tennis, soccer, swimming, cycling, table tennis and the like. If one wants to swim in this country, where does one go without spending much money or becoming a member of a private club? In other countries, municipal facilities provide the breeding ground for what later become world-class athletes. Once in a while we will produce an Akiko Thompson (very well to do parents), or import soccer players from Europe, but our talent pool is not rich because we have chosen, as a society, not to invest in sport. Since there is nowhere to swim, we won’t produce many fine swimmers.
John: What do you think of the Olango Challenge (which just finished two weeks ago) and the long-distance swims?
Basti: The Olango Challenge is a great opportunity to experience the delight of open sea swimming. We should have more of it.
John: Do you still swim nowadays? Any events you’re targeting? What exercise keeps you busy?
Basti: Recently I’ve started swimming again and have been doing 2. 5K workouts whenever possible. It isn’t easy to find a decent 25-meter pool in Cebu. When in Manila, I try and swim every day since I have access to a nice 25-meter pool out there. I just do it for my own conditioning. I haven’t caught the triathlon bug yet. I have a bias against sports that require heavy investment. I’m a bit of a purist in that the best sports for conditioning are the ones that require minimal investment and maximum effort.
John: Why is sport so important in life? What lessons can one derive from sports? What have you personally learned from sports?
Basti: Sport means different things to different people. Sports and/or music in young people set the important keystone habits that unlock other beneficial traits that will help them throughout life. They underscore the need to practice relentlessly to excel at something. In this age of instant just-swipe-your- I-Pad gratification, this value can be forgotten, to the detriment of the child. They underpin the need to set priorities and follow schedules. They teach a child how to win, and how to lose. Sports and music create friendship bonds that last longer than other friendship contexts. To win and to succeed in music and sport, one must rely on teammates, coaches and parents. Winning by cheating is frowned upon, also a valuable learning point.
Once we get older, sport becomes important in staying fit and healthy. It releases much of our angst and tension that can accumulate because of work and the like. We also need to accept when the body starts slowing down and the next generation come in and take over. That is life’s cycle.
Guy Concepcion, one of the chief architects of the Cobra Energy Drink Ironman 70.3 as Race Director, sent me an email. Guy is organizing a couple of swim events called the Swim Masters Series. (For more info, please go to www.sportsmgt.ph.) Here are a few details:
First, the Speedo 3.5.8 Open Water Race in Anilao, Batangas (November 4). Race Distances are 3k, 5k, and 8k.
Plus, the Swim Masters Series at the Village Sports Club, BF Homes, Paranaque (November 10).
Various events of all strokes (50m, 100m) for the following age-groups: 20-24, 25-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60-above.
“Open Water is already an Olympic-sport, the 10k distance,” said Guy. “It is quite popular outside the Philippines already — remember I joined a race last April in Israel? We should really stage more open water events locally. We do have great waters in our country, Cebu especially. One day there should already be a Filipino Open Water Olympian. We just have to get started with organizing events. As for triathletes, these open water races are great opportunities to improve their swim leg.”
“Masters Swimming is even a more popular phenomenon all over the world. The FINA World Masters Championship usually attracts 9000 participants. I’ve actually set my sights for the 2014 World Masters swimming championship in Montreal, Canada. If runners have their Sunday races, fitness swimmers should have their fun pool races too, right?”
For more information, visit www.sportsmgt.ph.
His name is Maxime Rooney. You’ve never heard of him before. The only Rooney you and I know of is, of course, Wayne Rooney — the football star of Manchester United.
Maxime is 14. And, guess what? Though he’s lived in the US all his life, he’s half Filipino. Maxime is a swimmer. Not your ordinary varsity star — but someone whose best times on the pool can rival those of a younger Michael Phelps.
It was Harry Radaza, the sports czar and City Councilor of Lapu-Lapu City, who emailed me this amazing find a couple of weeks ago.
“I watched this kid named MAXIME ROONEY compete 2 weeks ago in a lot of different swim events,” Harry said. “He blew out the competition (they were 18 year olds and he is only 14).”
How good is Maxime? In the 14-and-under category of ALL swimmers in the United States, he ranks the following: 1st, 100m freestyle; 1st, 200m freestyle; 1st, 400m freestyle; 1st, 200m backstroke; 2nd, 100m backstroke; 1st, 200m butterfly; 2nd, 100m butterfly; 1st, 400m individual medley.
Of the thousands of Michael Phelps-wannabes in America, he is the young Michael Phelps. Want to hear even more scintillating news? When Phelps joined the 13-14 years old category, his best time in the 200m freestyle was 1:55.37. That ranks him 8th in the all time list in the US.
Maxime Rooney? Better than Phelps: 1:54:41 — ranking him No. 5 in the all-time fastest list.
“Why am I telling you all this about Maxime Rooney?” asked Harry Radaza. “Well, his father is my cousin. His father’s mom remarried that’s why he has a non-Filipino sounding last name. Maxime is half Filipino, of course. His grandmother is the sister of my uncle, Congressman Radaza. She grew up in Lapu Lapu City.”
Harry, his wife Mayann and their son Zach were fortunate because, just a few weeks ago in the US, they witnessed Maxime’s record-setting 1:54:41 time.
Keenan Rooney (Maxime’s dad), Mayann Radaza, Maxime Rooney, Zack and Harry Radaza
“Maxime grew up in the US but he is looking to come to Cebu next year to do some volunteer work by training swimmers there,” Harry said. “This would also be a good chance for him to meet Philippine swimming personalities and coaches as he is looking at something 4 years from now – the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. And guess who he would like to represent? Team Philippines, of course!”
Upon receiving Harry’s email, I forwarded this to Guy Concepcion, the Olympian swimmer who represented our nation in Seoul, Korea in 1988.
“Maxime’s times are quite impressive, especially for his age,” said Guy. “As of now, just based on who I know in the Philippine swimming scene, there would only be one guy faster than him in the 200m Freestyle, and he will race in London in August.”
That would mean Jessie Lacuna, the only Filipino male swimmer to compete in next week’s Olympics.
“For the 400m Freestyle, there’s another Pinoy training in the States, but I don’t know his current status, but his personal best time is faster than Maxime so far. Maxime’s 100m butterfly time would rank him high in the Philippines now also.
“Anyway, I hope he keeps up this impressive improvement year per year. I am glad he is looking to join the Philippines for Rio 2016. I hope in the meantime, Maxime also joins other competitions like the SEA Games, Asian Games, even the annual SEA Age Group, representing the Philippines, of course.”
Guy advised that we send Maxime’s accomplishments to the head of the Philippine swimming NSA. That’s Mark Joseph, the brother of our fellow Cebuano, Dondi Joseph, and one I’ve communicated with when I went to the Beijing Olympics four years ago. “Present Maxime’s Filipino background, therefore, the Olympic committee can determine his true eligibility. Most important, Maxime should always send his times so if there is an upcoming major competition (SEA Games, Asian Games, etc), then they can see if Maxime can compete. I hope he does,” said Guy.
Yes, I hope Maxime does.
Jose Antonio Aboitiz was our guest speaker last Tuesday. He spoke about water. “We take for granted the importance of water in our lives,” said Tonio, during our Rotary Club of Cebu West meeting at the Radisson Blu. “But all of life depends on water.”
True. The Chairman for the Visayas of the PBSP (Philippine Business for Social Progress), Mr. Aboitiz explained the various initiatives of his organization. Tonio also discussed a sporting event. A marathon, he called it. Only, this time, unlike the many races on foot that bombard the streets of Cebu, this one uses the feet in a different way.
“It’s a swimming marathon!” said Tonio. A swimming marathon? What’s that? Well, if there’s a 42K “Marathon” on asphalted road, there’s also a long-distance event… for swimmers. Six kilometers. Yes. That’s six thousand meters of swimming. “That’s tough,” I told Tonio. “It is. But with practice, you can finish it,” he said. (Earlier that Tuesday, Tonio practiced in Tambuli Beach Club — the site of the start/finish — with a 4K swim.)
The 4th Olango Challenge, it’s named, and it’s an open-water event that’s organized not only for sports — but more importantly, to raise funds for Olango Island. “In the past three Olango Challenge events,” said Tonio, “we’ve raised over P1.7 million. We’ve built many classrooms for the children of Olango.”
Two nights ago when we met, Tonio counted 85 participants for the 2011 edition. “This is the biggest we’ve had,” he said. And, my guess is, this number will balloon to over 100 swimmers. The deadline for registration is on Saturday morning, the day of the race, this April 30. The race begins at 10 a.m. Late registrants can go to Tambuli by 8 a.m. and still join.
What’s fun about this event is it’s not all-serious. Yes, for the serious “dolphins” like Paula Abigail Vega, Erika Lukang, Nikita Dacera and Michael David, there is prize money (P10,000 to the champion). But, to the rest of the non-competitive swimmers, there is a 2K swim and a 6K relay event.
“The Philippines is an archipelago surrounded by so much water,” said Tonio. “We have so much coastline. But the sad part is… we Filipinos are non-swimmers. Not all of us can swim — despite our many beaches. Many children drown. This event hopes to spread the joy of swimming and the love of the sea.”
The 6K, though daunting, is doable. It is divided into three 2K loops (or rectangles fronting Tambuli’s coastline). For the Fun category, participants can wear flippers. One person challenged by Tonio to join is Harry Radaza. Lapu-Lapu City’s energetic councilor will run the Run4Japan event the night before, on April 29, and will swim the next morning for Olango. (Is this Harry’s practice to join the TRI-Lapu-Lapu triathlon this December?)
“Swim for Nature, Swim for the Future.” That’s the tagline for this Saturday. It makes sense. You swim with nature to help preserve water; the proceeds of the swim go to “the future,” the children of Olango.
Mark Joseph and Lex Reyes of the Philippine Aquatic Sports Association (PASA), the two honchos of the national organization, will be here to join. (Mark is the brother of Dondi, the president of the Cebu Business Club.) To those interested, call Riva Valles of PBSP at 2325283 or 2325270. You can also visit olangochallenge.wordpress.com.
OPEN WATER SWIM FOR A CAUSE ON APRIL 30
KICK off those running shoes and put on your swimming caps; the time has come to take your athletic skills away from fun runs and test them in the open waters of Mactan Island. Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) and Philippine Aquatic Sports Association (PASA) invites all competitive and non-competitive swimmers to join the 4th OLANGO CHALLENGE, a fund raising open water swim for the benefit of the people of Olango Island.
The event will take place at Tambuli Beach Club on April 30, 2011 from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Launched in 2008, the OLANGO CHALLENGE was crafted with the same dynamic as that of the open water swim category of the Beijing Summer Olympics to help promote open water swimming marathon discipline in this country. The swimming event also serves as an advocacy campaign to highlight the importance of a clean marine environment and raise awareness about the high incidence of drowning in the Philippines.
For four years now, the OLANGO CHALLENGE continues to help improve the lives of 2,300 families on Olango Island through the delivery of basic social services, the provision of sustainable income opportunities and the rehabilitation of the unique environment of the island.
Proceeds of the past Olango Challenges went to the construction and refurbishment of classrooms, the promotion and practice of organic vermiculture and the greening of Olango Island. The 3rd Olango Challenge allowed for the reforestation of 5,200 trees on Olango Island. The construction of another two-room classroom building for the public elementary school at Barangay Caw-Oy shall begin next week and should be completed in time for the 2011-2012 school year.
Proceeds of this year’s Olango Challenge are programmed for use towards an extensive reforestation effort of Olango Island.
Winners of last year’s Olango Challenge include Rey Suerte and Alali Ada Villocino for the 1.5K. Competitive Category; Jason Ong and Lorhiz Echavez of the 2.5K Competitive Category; Nikita Dacera. and Erika Lukang of the 5K Category and Franz Baguio of the 5K Fun Category.
Interested entrants of the 4th Olango Challenge may join the 2K and 6K competitive, competitive relay or the fun categories. Registration is pegged at P500.00 for the 2K and 6K competitive swim, P500.00 for the competitive relay category and P2, 000.00 for the fun category. Discounts will be given to those who register on or before April 8, 2011.
To join the event, interested swimmers may visit the PBSP office at the fourth floor of PLDT, Juan Luna Ave., Mabolo, Cebu City or the PASA office located at Rm 201, Bldg. B, Philsports Complex, Meralco Ave., Pasig City. Online registration is available via email at [email protected] or [email protected] Visit the event’s blog site at http://olangochallenge.wordpress.com/ for downloadable forms and updated
For personalized information, please look for Riva of PBSP at (032) 232-5270 or 232-5283 or Alex of PASA at (02) 687-7403. @
Other queries may be addressed to:
Philippine Business for Social Progress
Visayas Regional Office
4F PLDT Building, Juan Luna Ave.
Mabolo, Cebu City 6000
Tel: (032) 232-5270 | 232-5283
Fax: (032) 232-5286 Email: [email protected]
Please visit our Web site www.pbsp.org.ph
Please visit our Visayas blog www.pbspvro.blogspot.com
Mention the name “Marathon” and what definition comes to mind? Long-distance road-running that stretches as far as 42 kms., right? Right. Well, there’s another type of marathon that you probably haven’t heard of. This time, it’s not on the asphalted road—but on this vast God-given resource that occupies 71 percent of the earth’s surface: Water.
“Open sea marathon” is its name and, in our country of 7,107 islands, it’s the only event that exists—and it’s right here in Cebu.
Jose Antonio Aboitiz, a member of Cebu’s most respected business family, started this project last year. The 2nd Olango Challenge, it’s called, and yes, at first thought, it’s an intimidating mission: to swim, amidst the open waters along Mactan, the distance of 6,400 meters.
Visit the official website here.