Joy runs for flag and joy

JOY Tabal fights off loneliness to bring joy to Filipinos.


“Nobody can really predict a gold medal in marathon. You just have to go there, play your heart out and hope for the best.

Mary Joy Tabal may have been to a lot of races, but there’s one thing she can’t run away from – loneliness.

As the 18th Asian Games draws near, the country’s marathon queen is busy counting the days of her return from a five-month training at the Tuscany Training Center in Italy.

She said she’s making progress under the guidance of noted Italian coach Guisseppe Giambrone while Filipino coach John Philip Duenas and Japanese mentor Akio Usami are also tracking her improvement to make sure that she will be in fighting form by the time the Tokyo Olympics rolls off in 2020.

Right now, she’s on her way to surpassing her personal best in half marathon after winning the crown in a tournament in Seoul, South Korea in April and the silver medal in Padova, Italy in May.

Her personal best in 42-kilometer marathon is two hours and 43 minutes, which she tallied in the Scotiabank Ottawa marathon in Ottawa, Canada two years ago. That impressive feat earned her a ticket to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and sparked her rise to international prominence.

“She’s targeting at least 2:40 before the Asian Games next month,” said Duenas. “That’s very doable since she’s slowly reaching her peak. With hard work and perseverance, I’m sure she’ll be ready in the next couple of weeks.”

Duenas, however, clarified that winning an Asian Games medal is quite hard to predict.

“Well a lot of factors are in play in marathon. It’s a totally different discipline. Aside from notching your best time in training, you also have to consider the weather, the track and, most importantly, your body condition on race day.”

“Nobody can really predict a gold medal in marathon. You just have to go there, play your heart out and hope for the best.”

But becoming a champion is not an overnight process.

And as Duenas said, it requires hard work, perseverance – and a lot of sacrifices.
Tabal is willing to do all that.

In a sleepy city of Siena in central Italy, the petite 27-year old runner from Cebu wakes up early every day for morning training. Then, she goes home for breakfast before taking a rest and rising up for lunch.

She will train again in the afternoon, go back to the camp for dinner and an early sleep.

While women her age are busy with their respective careers, friends and starting their own families, Tabal is in a different world trying to fit into a different culture in pursuit of a goal that would put joy in every Filipinos’ heart – an Olympic gold medal.

“To be honest, there are so many nights that I cry because my life here (in Italy) is hard. It’s never easy,” Tabal told Daily Tribune in an exclusive interview.

“When you’re here, you have to change your daily routine, eat different food, fit into a different culture and change your daily routine. Then at the end of the day, you will ask yourself: ‘Am I doing good?’”

She said the physical challenges of daily training are nothing compared to the mental and emotional stress she’s going through.

“I have fears, I have doubts and this gives me mental and emotional stress,” she said.

“But I always put my dream into heart and I always hope that everything will pay off. It’s just a matter of trusting the process.”

Ready for challenge
Filipinos have been longing for an Olympic gold medal.

Four years ago, weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz lifted the country’s spirit when she emerged with a silver medal in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Two decades before that, boxer Mansueto Velasco punched a silver medal in the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, a feat that sent the entire country in celebration.

Thailand, the gold standard in sports among Southeast Asian countries, has nine Olympic gold medals while Indonesia has seven and Vietnam has one.

Even Hongkong, the tiny island that used to be a British colony, has one courtesy of its sailors in the 1996 Summer Games.

The Philippines has yet to win an Olympic gold medal despite having 100 million inhabitants with a lot more scattered all over the world.

But Tabal is ready for the challenge.

“I know that achieving a certain goal is to overcome challenges and without it, I won’t be able to make this far,” she said.

“It wasn’t an easy road for me. But what keeps me going despite all the hardships, discouragements and challenges is my goal of bringing pride and joy to the country.”

“Nothing is impossible for as long as you believe in yourself, you try to give your all and you love what you do.”

Tabal is set to return to the country on Aug. 14 and visit the national track and field team in its training camp in Imus City.

She will fly with her teammates to Jakarta for the Asian Games on Aug. 24.

By then, the loneliness in her heart may have subsided and she’s already focused on emerging victorious in the Asian Games en route to another golden performance in the SEA Games.

Still, her mission will be the same – to run and give joy to every Filipino.

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