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Freeman Cebu Sports

Shaping dreams, molding Olympians

Lemuel P. Maglinte - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines - For the past four decades, the Milo Marathon has painstakingly nurtured a truly genuine grassroots sports development program that has created a lasting impact to aspiring runners in the countryside.

Above all things of beauty that blossomed out of its humble beginnings, it helps each athlete not only in shaping their dreams but also in molding them to become a starry being in the running constellation one day.

Since its inception in 1976, the annual Nestle Philippines-bankrolled footrace has lived up to that vision with unbridled passion. Through the years, it has produced Olympians a many, most notable among them are Cebu's homegrown talents  Roy Vence and Mary Joy Tabal who both look back with pride to the Milo Marathon as their launching pad to athletic stardom.

A six-time Milo Marathon champion, the Bogo City-native Vence represented the country in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, placing 100th with a time of 2:37:10.

Twenty years later, the 27-year-old Tabal hogged the limelight for becoming the first Pinay athlete to compete in an Olympic marathon event. She timed 3:02:27 to finish 124th overall but what she had achieved is already a feat in itself.

From an aspiring runner out of a far-flung barangay in Cebu City who collapsed at the finish line during his first 10K race some years back, Tabal has really gone a long way.

And for what she has become now, Tabal, with a heart full of gratitude and appreciation, gave due to credit to the Milo Marathon.

"The Milo Marathon became my venue in achieving the success of  my career. I want the young athletes to experience what Milo has done to my life and that is making my dreams come true," said the country's reigning marathon queen, whose complete domination of the event for the past three years has earned her trips to the prestigious marathons in Los Angeles, Paris and Boston.

Indeed, Vence and Tabal have created a ripple effect of inspiration to others who yearn to follow in their footsteps.

Count Rafael Pescos among those who are fired up by their success.

Coming off a knee injury that sidelined him for a year, the Hinigaran, Negros Occidental-native Pescos has returned to the running circuit in a blaze of glory after he dethroned two-time champion Noel Tillor to snare the men's crown right in his first 21K race during the Cebu leg of the Milo Marathon over the weekend at the Cebu City Sports Center.

Driven by the accomplishment of Tabal, his fellow Southwestern University-Phinma alumni, Pescos now trains his sights on a higher goal and that is to race for the flag and country in the Olympics someday.

"My only goal in joining running events is to earn money but now I have a sense of purpose and that is to become an Olympian someday," said Pescos, who earned an all-expense paid trip to the national finals this December in Iloilo for finishing well within the qualifying time of 1:15.

"I strive hard so that I can qualify to the national finals but God gave me more because I became the champion. The national finals will be the start of my path in becoming the next Filipino Olympic marathoner," added Pescos.

3K winners Kent Lloyd Gabino and Moira Frances Erediano have also dreamed big this early with fervent hopes and prayers that one day they will share the joy of Tabal, whom they both look up to as a foundation of inspiration.

"It's a dream come just by joining Milo marathon. I only see this event on newspapers and TV but now, I am happy to be here. I want to be a great runner someday that is why I will train more," said Gabino, who hails from a mountain area in Balamban town south of Cebu.

"I did not expect to win because I am only new to this sport. I started as a swimmer but now I want to give time in running and hopefully I will be more successful in this sport. I idolize Mary Joy Tabal and I want to be an Olympian like her someday," quipped Erediano.

For all that it has done and about to achieve in the years to come, the Milo Marathon takes pride for living up to its primordial goal of building a nation of champions not only in the athletic field but also in life.

The star athletes like Vence, Tabal and many others it has minted for nearly half a century now spotlights the worthwhile attainment that earns it a well-deserved spot in the pantheon of Philippine sports. (FREEMAN)

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