Since I took so long to blog about this anyway, here is the article by Babeth Lolarga:
By Elizabeth Lolarga, VERA Files
For Yahoo! Southeast Asia
While the nation whooped it up over Manny Pacquiao’s latest victory, a Filipino woman quietly flew home, lugging an international medal and trophy for the more physically taxing and rigorous sport of triathlon.
Her feat has received scant media attention, overshadowed by Pacquiao’s latest triumph.
Ani de Leon, 35, topped the Ironman 70.3 Race Series in Kenting, Taiwan, for the overall amateur category three weeks ago. Only one slot was given away to qualify for the world championships, and it went to her. She also finished ahead of other amateur women categories.
The first time her mother, feminist Anna Leah Sarabia, saw her compete, she described the sport as “masochistic” because Ani swims, bikes and runs longer distances than what’s required in the Olympics.
De Leon, an interior design graduate of the University of the Philippines and a visual artist on the side, looks back on how she got into sports.
“I was inspired by the commercial of gymnast Bea Lucero, but swimming with my sister Sinag throughout high school and college got me hooked into sports for the long haul,” she recalled. “After college, it was triathlon all the way. It seemed the most logical because Sinag and my UP friends were into it. I developed a lifelong love for it.”
While others may consider triathlon an extreme sport, she does not because she has taught her body to adapt.
“It is normal for my body to function that way,” she noted. “A lot of athletes, who are discovering multi-sport, will see this for themselves.”
She continued: “Humans are built to go long distances as evidenced in prehistoric times when man hunted for food. We have powerful engines; our frames can support that. So I am exploring how far my body-mind can go.”
She trains all-year-round since triathletes always join different kinds of competition. She said she plans to join six major international races in the Ironman and 70.3 calendar next year. That is roughly one every two months, not counting local races she participates in.
She maintains a disciplined schedule, but has taken time to pioneer the training of future Filipino triathletes. She is the coach of two squads: SuperTriKids and IronKids. The first group is under the Triathlon Association of the Philippines while the second is under the Ironman brand, which Fred Uytengsu of Alaska Milk acquired recently.
Together with Senator Pia Cayetano’s Pinay in Action, she visits public high schools, teaching kids, mostly girls, how to run. De Leon said all three organizations work for the same goal, that is, to get kids outdoors, get them active and embark them on a lifetime commitment to fitness and well-being. I
“It’s a great self-esteem and character builder, better than playing video games the whole weekend,” she observed.
Asked if a person can make a living out of being a professional sports woman, she answered: “If you decide to be a fulltime triathlete in the Philippines, it is not that easy. I am lucky because I’ve embraced the sport fully. I earn from coaching and holding training camps, conducting run clinics and organizing races. It is not work for me because I enjoy it.”
Since 2001, she has represented the country as national short-course athlete, then long-course athlete towards late 2007 to the present.
The first triathlon event she participated in was also in 2001 in Dumaguete City at the National Triathlon Trials.
Short course is one km swim,30 km bike, and 10 km run.Long course is two km swim,80 km bike and 10 km run.
Explaining her leap from short to long-distance events, she said: “Triathlon as a sport has a lot of race distances. Generally, if you are below 30, you excel in short-distance events. Once you hit 30 and above, you excel in long-distance endurance events.”
When competing, she feels tremendous happiness. It is her chance to experience nature closely. She explained: “I get to know different places really well. There is nothing like swimming, biking, and running from point to point which forces you to commune with all the elements.”
Racing has taken her all over Asia, parts of Australia and the United States to represent the Philippines. Her most memorable competition was the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii.
“Crossing the finish line there with the Philippine flag brought me to tears,” she recalled.
She continues to be inspired and driven by the performances of other athletes like Chrissie Wellington and Michellie Jones. She described them as “amazing women for whom I have so much respect.”
“Knowing that they are pushing the boundaries on behalf of all women makes me want to be like them, but I’m doing it in my own way,” she pointed out.
The bronze-bodied de Leon is aware that she is five years shy of 40 and her body may feel differently once she crosses that age. She is undaunted, having met female professionals still competing at the top of the field at 40.
As for her budding interior design career that was nipped in the bud, she shrugged and said: “I have shelved it and embraced the world of multi-sport full time.”
“Having said that, I am still going to be involved with triathlon through coaching,” she vowed. “I love helping kids achieve their potential in sports and in life.”