Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The challenges of Mary Joy Tabal, marathon runner

The challenges of Mary Joy Tabal, marathon runner
by rick olivares pic from

There is this old print ad -- back in the early 1990s to be exact -- about the goals and joy of running by Adidas where the copy reads: “Just to the signpost. Just to the car. Just to the crossroads. Just to the curb. Just to the truck. Just to the signpost…

It says a lot about running being goal-oriented and pushing one’s self’s limits where one says, “up to the signpost then I am done.” When you get there, it’s “ah, maybe a little more – to the car on the curb” and so on and forth until you’re well past what you thought was your goal or threshold for pain.

The same can be said for marathon runner Mary Joy Tabal. Her signpost, car, crossroads, the curb – well, they are all challenges in her goal to win glory for the country.

It is ironic that some of the powers that be accuse her as someone who is motivated by money. Perhaps, they do not know Mary Joy Tabal’s story.

School, family, scholarship, Sea Games, and the Olympics were Tabal’s version of that Adidas ad.

Let’s break that down by Imagine at the age of 12 when one is supposed to be learning how to spread your wings, have fun, meet members of the opposite sex when your life comes crashing down.

Her mother left the family when Joy was 12. There wasn’t much time to wipe away the tears when she confronted the stark reality that continuing her education was going to be a problem.

“When you’re young, you don’t really understand what sports can do for you,” she says. “You just play for the love of it and not because you see a future in it.”

She ran a 100-meter race and won. Right there and then, coaches from all over Cebu tried to recruit her. In high school, the goal shifted from earning a collegiate scholarship. When she earned that at Southwestern University, her sights turned to running.

“I was in third year college when Coach Philip Duenas asked me to switch from sprints to marathon running. I wondered, ‘Kaya ko ba ito? I never thought that I could finish a marathon from being a sprinter that is why I’ve struggled. I had to consider many things from a bulk-body sprinter to being a lighter-weight long distance runner. The nutrition is different. The discipline and time management is also different.”

Tabal’s career took a detour as well when she had to run and earn for her siblings being the oldest child. It is through her running that all her siblings graduated. Once that was accomplished, she fully concentrated on her career. That’s when the wins, trophies, and opportunities all piled up.

“That gave me a different sense of satisfaction knowing that I’ve helped other people who can now do something with their lives,” she says. “Running in marathons and races have given us a means of livelihood. Maybe now, I can give glory to the country.”

And Joy Tabal became the first Filipino to qualify for the Olympic marathon.

“The Rio Olympics was an eye-opener,” she confesses. “I know you hear about first-time adjustment or jitters. It’s not an excuse but it is true. But I will say I am disappointed with my performance and I know I can do better. Much better if I can qualify again.”

Since Rio, she has been in limbo. She is said to be a part of the Philippine delegation to the next Sea Games but she will not be a part of the national team. For some unexplained reason, she has a strained relationship with PATAFA, track and field’s local governing body. She cannot begin to fathom why the relationship never got off the ground whether it was training out of Cebu and not in Manila, whether it was sticking with her long-time coach Philip Duenas, or whether it was running in other races (not all of them offer cash prizes as some are for learning how one stacks against international and regional competitors), there has always been something. And it hasn’t been quite clear.

“I know this will all be resolved,” she hopes. “It is all just miscommunication. Hopefully, we can all align ourselves.”

“This is just like a hurdle in a hurdles event,” she compares making use of a track and field allegory. “We just need to hurdle this.”

What is her goal? That next signpost (it could be the crossroads that sounds more apt)?

It’s resolving the PATAFA issues.

Then “the car”?

It’s Tokyo 2020.

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