Transitioning From Arts to Triathlon
Manila, Philippines – Life sometimes brings us unexpected surprises—whether it’s in the career we choose to take or the lifestyle we pursue that we think suits us best. For Ani De Leon-Brown, it seemed serendipitous that she grew up surrounded by art, yet she found a more fulfilling calling in coaching people and training athletes for triathlon.
“As a kid, my siblings and I are trained to be artists,” she shares. Turns out, her father is Felipe De Leon (Jr.), a humanities and arts professor at the University of the Philippines (UP) and the current chairman of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), and her grandfather is National Artist for Music, Felipe Padilla De Leon (Sr.).
De Leon-Brown was trained mostly in visual arts. Her hands are adept in drawing and painting as an artist. However, the athletic call was quite hard to ignore.
Inspired by acclaimed gymnast Bea Lucero on Milo ads, De Leon-Brown pursued gymnastics in her later years in grade school. Then, she started swimming back in her high school sophomore year.
De Leon-Brown accompanied her elder sister, who was suffering from asthma, to swimming training sessions. “I just accompanied her and I was like, ‘Ok, I don’t know how to swim.’ The doctor told my sister to try out swimming to cure her asthma and she became quite good at the sport.” Ditto for De Leon-Brown.
In college, De Leon-Brown took up Interior Design in UP. She joined the university’s varsity swim team, where she even became team captain.
After graduating from college, De Leon-Brown worked as in-house designer for a private brand (which no longer exists). She even had her own art gallery. But, it seemed that her body and mindset missed the physical competitiveness of triathlon. “I’m very competitive. At the start, I wanted to be good at it. At that time, we (a group of athletes) were the pioneers in coaching [for triathlon in the Philippines.] There were no coaches yet at that time.” De Leon-Brown would go to Australia, and through her own funds, would enroll herself in training camps there to improve her skills.
She would stay in Australia from two to three months for training. “I also like traveling around. If you’re somebody who’s adventurous like me, doing training camps abroad is ok. You have to do everything yourself. Even if you have friends in Australia, you can’t always depend on them.”
The training itself was manageable, but other aspects, like living expenses and lodging, were a different story. “You have to be resourceful,” says De Leon-Brown. “I looked for a house that would allow for housemates. It’s really about being strategic, otherwise it’s expensive.”
“When people found out that I was going out to these high-performance camps, they asked me for some help and I said, ‘Sure, sure.’ And when it became too time-consuming, I started charging. Then it started from there,” De Leon-Brown says. With training sessions and triathlon commitments, De Leon-Brown figured out that she had to give up her designing career for practical reasons. “Triathlon took over my life and I had to quit my day job as an interior designer. But I’m very happy. You never know what life brings you. I still paint on the side. It’s very minimal, though.”
De Leon-Brown shares that her foray into triathlon was at a time when running events were not in vogue yet in the Philippines. “In a way, I prefer how I got into the sport when there wasn’t all the hype yet,” she says. “When [some fellow athletes and I] were starting, it’s quite amusing. Like on my part, I would even borrow a bike and the equipment we used were not that advanced. But I feel more satisfied in doing it that way, old school. It was trial and error before but we enjoyed it.” She even recalls how she and 12 other athletes went to Subic one time. They were in one van, with their bikes crammed over together.
Nowadays, De Leon-Brown shares that hi-tech gadgets and equipment are readily available for aspiring triathletes. She is glad to be able to see triathlon’s development in the Philippines.
As a coach, De Leon-Brown prefers to be friendly and encouraging. “I’ve had different kinds of coaches, and I had one coach who terrorized everyone so I vowed to myself that I would never be like that.” It helped that one of her mentors was relaxed in contrast. “So I said to myself that I’m going to be like that. But when I have to be hard and firm on someone, I can also toughen up if I know that an athlete can still manage to do it despite complaining. If you’re too nice, an athlete won’t be able to improve.”
It’s about having the right balance of attitude toward her trainees. “An athlete is also a person,” she relates. “It’s not only the physical side that you have to take care of, especially for younger groups. You have to take care of their emotional wellbeing because it can affect their performance. You have to find what makes them tick. Others need someone who’s nurturing while others don’t like it.” Seeing her trainees win (and even beat her) empowers her as a coach. “It means that I did a good job. To help somebody achieve their goals is more satisfying.”
De Leon-Brown was recently appointed as a Sports & Recreation (S&R) consultant for the Pico De Loro Beach & Country Club in Nasugbu, Batangas together with her husband Dan. As S&R consultants, they want to further promote it as an ideal sports venue, with marathon and triathlon events in the pipeline.
These days, De Leon-Brown observes that Filipinos are getting less intimidated by triathlon. “It has become more popular, like everyone knows somebody who’s into the sport.” It’s a matter of positive influence, where triathlon’s different race levels and distances encourage more Filipinos to pursue a healthy lifestyle. Triathlon works out different muscle groups through swimming, biking and running. “Triathlon is [more fun] if you do it with friends,” De Leon-Brown advises.