Payback time for Tabal
Lemuel P. Maglinte (The Freeman) - September 29, 2016 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines - The Milo Marathon, which takes pride as the oldest, the grandest and the most pretigious footrace in the country, has brought so much goodness in the life of Mary Joy Tabal that it has become her chief driving force in making a difference to the society where she belongs through her athletic prowess.

By joining in the annual Nestle Philippines-bankrolled footrace and dominating it in record fashion for the past three years, the Cebuana long distance running star further broadened her horizon after earning all-expense paid trips to world-renowned marathons in Los Angeles, Paris and Boston.

  That became her ladder to evetually climb the summit of success in historic manner, becoming the first Filipina runner to compete in an Olympic marathon event she achieved just last month in the former Brazilian capital of Rio de Janiero.

For a runner from a mountain barangay who collapsed at the finish line during her first ever 10-kilometer battle, the 27-year-old Tabal has really gone a long, long way.

Blessed with such golden opportunities, Tabal has now that longing in her heart and mind to give back something to the community by sharing her talents to the young aspiring runners with hopes of molding champions in the future under her guidance.

 That is the kind of path Tabal wants to take right now.

Since her reign as the country's undisputed marathon queen, Tabal, with the help of her longtime coach Philip Duenas and the Cebu City Sports Commission, has gingerly planted a grassroots development program that ha turned her beloved Barangay Guba, a far-flung area in Cebu City, into a breeding ground for future running stars.

Now on its second year, Tabal is slowly reaping the fruits of her labor that is borne out of her passion for running.

Aside from attracting hundreds of kids from their place and its neighboring areas, Tabal has also produced highly competitive athletes that are making waves in local road races out of her noble endeavor.

During the Cebu leg of the 40th National Milo Marathon last Sunday at the Cebu City Sports Center, Tabal saw six of her wards from Guba Elementary School making a relative improvement from their performances last year.

Jeseil Ochia placed second in the girls 3K category followed by Angelyn Potot at fifth and Maryjane Sadili at ninth spot. In the boys division, Juvan Yongco, Carl John Beboso and John Earl Alferez landed at sixth, seventh and ninth place, respectively.

“I couldn’t be happier with the result. I told them to just do their best but seeing six of them climbing to the stage to receive their awards made me really proud,” said Tabal. “The good thing is that even at a very young age, they already showed dedication for the sport.”

  “I am really thankful for the support we are getting and for Milo Philippines because giving opportunity like this makes the children realize on what they can achieve as they grow old,” added the Pinay Olympian.

Ochia, who is the youngest at 10 but interestingly the most experienced of the six, said having their “Ate Joy” by their side helped them a lot in training and in competition. “She (Tabal) always teaches me things on how to improve my skills. I really like joining races because I want to be like Ate Joy, a popular and accomplished runner, someday."

During races, Tabal said they are not putting any pressure to the children believing that it is more important for a young runner to enjoy and learn at the same time.

“I always tell them to just enjoy what they are doing because that is how they will love the sport and they will also learn something whether they win or lose,” Tabal said.

Tabal’s advocacy wasn't left unnoticed. It earned her praise and admiration from topnotch running coach and race organizer Rio de la Cruz.

“Nakaka-inspire siya.  She really showed that aside from being an Olympian, she is also aggressive in promoting and helping the sport of running in the country,” said De la Cruz. “I am very happy with what Joy is doing and I pray that it will grow bigger and she gets more supports with her endeavor.”

De la Cruz attests that Tabal is doing the right thing in training young children because he believes that learning proper techniques and having the right attitude at a tender age is the key to molding future champions.

And as she treads the route of her new 'marathon' in life, Tabal can never go wrong, more so that her noble motivation is in line with Milo Marathon's battlery of 'Energizing Champions, Inspiring Millions', which further solidify the bedrock upon which the race was established way back on May 26, 1974. (FREEMAN)

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