As the three-sport athletic competition, Triathlon continues to gain popularity in the country, Filipinas are also proving that they are a force to reckon with, especially with the growing number of bold and fierce female athletes, who are achieving greater heights and podium finishes. These real-life superwomen take on every bit of bravery and dedication, making them a true inspiration for all.
Among these inspiring triathletes are Dr. Ian Banzon, a practicing doctor and a running and cycling coach, and Sheila Gagui, a mom of two and a former flight attendant. These superwomen are part of the Sante Barley Tri-team, one of the best Tri-Teams in the Philippines, which has been competing both in local and international competitions.
But before taking part in these big races, such as the IRONMAN and Asian Triathlon Cup, Banzon and Gagui had to take on different challenges—a testament to their determination and willingness to conquer barriers as they propel in the world of the multifaceted sports.
From the starting line
Sports has always been part of Banzon’s life. Having been a swimmer ever since she was in grade school, she said that her friend, who happens to be part of her high school swimming team, opened the door of triathlon to her.
“My friend’s mom organized this triathlon for kids when I was in high school. She asked me if I want to join. I know how to swim and to ride a bicycle. And so, I took the challenge,” said Banzon. “That’s when I started as a triathlete but, that was very brief because I am really more of a swimmer.”
Her first stint with triathlon was put to a halt when she decided to focus on other things, including her studies as she started in medical school. However, Banzon cannot seem to take triathlon out of her life as she got back to it in 2012.
“I just want to compete and be physically ready all the time,” said Banzon on what made her realize to continue competing in triathlons.
Meanwhile, Sheila Gagui explained that it was after the birth of her second son that she got her first start on triathlon.
“My friend asked me to join her in a swimming camp. I did not have a formal training but I went on with it. She also invited me to join a short race, which I enjoyed since I really love outdoor sports,” Gagui said. “Triathlon gives me a sense of achievement. I am able to set goals, check my progress, and see how I grow in the sport.”
Gagui said that it was not something she dreamed of. “I did it for myself. I just want to be physically fit and to lose weight. Eventually, my body just started looking for it and I enjoy the training every day.”
Preparing for the race
One can only imagine the difficulties these amazing triathletes have to deal with as they try to balance their life and career while training. According to Banzon, there is so much training that goes into the process to maintain physical and mental strength.
“We have a training plan and a coach, who usually gives us a program. Every day, there’s also a certain number of hours that you have to put in. The fact that you’re training for three different sports makes the whole process really challenging,” added Banzon. “For now, I just run and teach cycling on my rest days. It is different but it is still cardio. I also like going to the gym but if you’re looking at the numbers, most triathletes would train six to seven days a week, either day or night.”
Gagui couldn’t agree more. When she started her first stint back in October 2015, she said that she would regularly do exercises to maintain her pace. Last year, she joined an IRONMAN event, where she placed fourth for her age group.
“I do back to back bike and stretching for gymnastics. You need to be in shape for the endurance and go to the gym for cardio on days that you are not training,” Gagui shares on how she prepares for a race.
Beyond the finish line
As more women get involved in triathlon, Banzon and Gagui hope to be a source of inspiration and self-empowerment for all ages.
“Don’t wait for anything else. Some people say ‘I still have to lose weight before I do sport,’ but you know what, just start and work from there. Everything else will follow,” said Banzon.
For Gagui, on the other hand, she wants to encourage even mothers like her to find their true happiness in sports.
“For me, I started with boxing after giving birth, but then I said, I really don’t want to ‘spar.’ I want to do something with a goal,” said Gagui. “That is when I learned about triathlon. Every time you do a race, you get to see your time. I like to see my progress. How I grow in the sport. And if I can do it, I’m sure that others can also do the same.”
Banzon and Gagui’s involvement in triathlon extends beyond strength. It also sets the narrative for women in sports and their drive towards greatness.
These superwomen, together with the members of the Santé Barley Tri-team, are set to join the lineup of triathlon events this year. As the pride of Sante International, the team is now composed of 44 triathletes of all abilities and ages, including its 10 female athletes.
EJ Dy Buncio
Don Clavo de Comer