Life begins at 40, they say. But for Luisito “Louie” Sangalang II, a kickass multi-sport athlete, this age means so much more than just reaping all the benefits of hard work. It is also a high time to continue taking on bigger and bolder challenges in life.
Sangalang knows, for sure, that he can still achieve greater heights. This April, he just made history as the first Filipino cancer survivor to finish the recently concluded FWD North Pole Marathon. He is also the sole flag bearer of the Philippines for the said race this year.
According to Sangalang, this event is one of the biggest and toughest race that he has joined so far. But, with the help of his family and friends, especially his coaches, Miguel “Ige” Lopez, one of the country’s most sought-after triathlon coaches, and Romi Garduce, one of the first Filipinos to reach Mt. Everest’s summit, he was able to conquer the classic 42K race distance entirely in extreme sub-zero weather conditions. He finished as the 44th among the participants in the Men’s Category.
But before winning this feat, Sangalang had to take on the rough side of the course.
Passion for sports
Ever since he was a kid, Sangalang has already been into sports. At a very young age, he found himself involved in team sports, such as basketball, football, track and field, and even in Dragon Boat rowing tilt. But as he was growing up, he developed a profound love for martial arts.
“I started with a martial art called Tatsu Do, which is a bit of Taekwondo but uses more of the hands. Then I did Arnis and Taekwondo, as well,” said Sangalang. “I am really more inclined to individual sports. Though, all the other sports I tried gave a great deal of contribution to what I’ve become now.”
He pursued being into these competitive sports even when he was in college. Despite engaging in these activities, he also made sure that he does good academics-wise as he took up a degree in Physics, and then shifted to Humanities, Minor in Physics.
During his last year in college, Sangalang faced one of the biggest challenges of his entire life as he was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer called acute adenocarcinoma of the appendix or appendiceal cancer.
“I think I was 20 or 21 years old when I found out that I have cancer. In college, there was a point in time that I, somehow, neglected my health. I was eating unhealthily and drinking alcohol heavily. And then one day, I found myself waking up with intense pain in the lower left side of my abdomen,” he said.
When he went to the hospital, the doctor said that he had to be operated on for appendicitis. Three weeks after the surgery, he was back to battle against a more serious disease.
“I went through an operation called left hemicolectomy, which is basically removing the affected parts of my large intestine, about a foot long. In addition to that, I also had to undergo six cycles of chemotherapy and 33 cycles of radiotherapy,” said Sangalang.
Getting back to the action
Instead of letting cancer bring him down, Sangalang chose to get up and literally fight back. He chose to lead a healthier lifestyle.
“While I am recovering from the surgeries, my oncologist also advised that I need to eat healthier food and of course, to be fit. A few weeks after, I went back to lifting weights. I even decided to do mixed martial arts professionally,” he said.
Sangalang, as a cancer warrior, fought five times in the ring in different weight divisions and fighting bouts. He even secured two belts in his latest MMA fights, proving that he can still do what he loves the most even after surviving cancer.
Blazing new trails
Aside from being an MMA fighter, Sangalang also joined triathlons as a way of staying in good shape. It was in 2008 when a colleague introduced the sport to him and he found it really interesting that he had a strong podium finish in his first race.
“When I started joining triathlons, I just wanted to test the water. But, I find the sport, really, interesting because it gave me a different kind of experience. It allows me to interact with people—not just with other triathletes in the race but also with the locals,” said Sangalang.
In 2015, he joined the Sante Barley Tri-Team and since then, he joined several triathlons in different race distances.
He also quit his job in the corporate world and ventured into entrepreneurship. He joined a boxing franchise and is launching a sports and lifestyle apparel brand. He is also teaching Procurement and Supply Management at the Jose Rizal University—all while continuously blazing trails in various sports and being a true fitspiration.
As an active sportsman, he’s often seen bagging podium finishes as a triathlete, being a member of Sante Barley Tri-team, one of the best Tri-Teams in the Philippines. He is also planning to go back to the ring as a Mixed Martial Arts fighter.
“Now that I’m 40, my bigger goal is to continue inspiring people to become more conscious about their health and well-being through my story,” said Sangalang. “I want to continue sharing my story to change the perspective of a lot of people, especially towards the lifestyle that they lead.”
Sangalang, together with the other members of the Santé Barley Tri-team, is set to join the lineup of triathlon events this year. As a pride of Sante International, the team is now composed of 44 triathletes of all abilities and ages. He is also set to go back to the ring for an MMA fight after his race in the North Pole.
Don Clavo de Comer
FWD North Pole Marathon