In Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon, 2 Filipinos ‘achieve the impossible’

Architect Mara Guevara and businessman Manuel de la Serna trained for two years for the triathlon.

By Ludy Astraquillo Ongkeko, Ph.D.

“It’s not only winning that counts, but how one finishes a race,” is what was echoed by the Philippines’ two contestants in the early June Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon against the backdrop of San Francisco, the City by the Bay.

Mara F. Guevara, still in her twenties, a professional architect, and her team mate, Manuel de la Serna, a businessman engaged in the printing industry, dared to do what was what they had on their ‘bucket list.’ They enlisted for, and continuously trained, in the highly-vaunted overseas event some two years ago.

In preparation for their competition, Guevara and de la Serna had the following objectives in mind:
• 1.5 mile swim from Alcatraz Island to the S.F. shoreline.
• 18-mile bike run through the Presidio.
• 8-mile trail run through Golden Gate Park.

They are up against 2,000 participants from 40 countries.

Andy Potts from Colorado Springs won the triathlon for the sixth time. Contestants who made it to the second and third notches came from New Zealand, Australia and Germany.

Finishing the race is what both Guevara and de la Serna had aspired for, and they achieved their goal.

Guevara said she first heard about the “Escape,” in ‘reading up on pro triathletes; that dream race surfaced from their list of future races.’

“I dreamt about doing the race ever since. I was never sure if I would get to do it in my lifetime,” she said.

She attributed a desire to join the race which became clearer after she found out that her Timex-Gold’s Gym team mate, De la Serna, also nurtured dreams on the same race.

Architecture and triathlons have much in common, according to the youthful professional, an alumna of the University of the Philippines-Diliman College of Architecture.

“It is the necessity for a systematic approach. A triathlon is not something that you can do on a whim. After all, a triathlon is composed of not just one, but three different sports, requiring a lot of time and effort looking into the tiniest of details to make sure you are 100 percent ready for battle on race day. They say that the race is a celebration of your training – the countless hours spent training day in and day-out; balancing work, family and training. It is similar to architecture in the sense that the finished product, the building, is a sum of the limitless hours spent on the drawing board, coordinating with consultants and the contractor to ensure that every piece in the building serves its purpose,” she explained.

When asked what she learned from her recent participation, Guevara responded: “That being my first foray into international triathlons, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had heard from friends and team mates about how different the international scene was, compared to our local triathlon races. They had mentioned that the crowds were always more enthusiastic, a big plus when you’re half-way through the race, and just willing your feet to move forward.

“Luckily, San Francisco did not disappoint. At almost every corner, especially through the hardest climbs, there were always people cheering you on. It didn’t matter if you were first or last. I finished at the back of the pack, and those people on the road did not show one sign of fatigue. They cheered you on from start to finish. If anything, I learned that triathlons transcend borders and all cultures.

“We are all the same. We all just want to see how far we can push ourselves and achieve the impossible. Countless people asked me what it was that I got for finishing the race – a medal? Pride? It is indescribable, really. Perhaps it’s that feeling of accomplishment knowing that, against all odds, you crossed the finish line. It is something that I will look back upon when I’m faced with a difficult task, to gain strength from, and say, hey, I managed to swim in ice cold, shark-infested waters. Surely, that is something I can handle.”

Asserting there is a future, for women athletes in the home country, the dauntless Mara declared, “There is an increasing popularity for triathlons in the Philippines which has shown a spotlight on the outstanding women in our sport. Amazing athletes like Monica Torres and Ani de Leon continue to raise the bar on excellence in our sport, proving that women can be just as good as men, or even better: such wonderful role models who have paved the way for an increase in female participation in triathlon events.”

Mara’s advice to all younger aspirants who wish to set their sights on varied international competitions:

“Just go for it; train hard and have fun. And don’t forget to thank God after.”

When she is not running, Guevara has found time to be active in the Heart of Music, (HOM), a non-profit organization that provides health care assistance to local musicians. Inspired by her late uncle, Leo Ferreira, “who loved to perform in his spare time,” he, along with a small group of selfless people set up HOM to address the needs of ailing musicians, especially the ‘forgotten music makers’ or back-up players for some celebrity Filipino musicians.

Guevara said she will keep on proceeding with her crusade for the “forgotten musician.”

Mara (top) and Mannie managed to cross the finish line.

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