A marathoner pays tribute to an aging family member
From the trail-clad athletes spread at The Farm grounds, a distinctive figure is doing stretches more heartfully than any younger runner preheating for the strenuous and notoriously dizzying 5 and 10-kilometer trails of the Alicia Panoramic Park (TAPP).
For the unfamiliar, Tatay Querubin Abella, 72, looked like a spent senior citizen in assertion of his previous Quixotic adventures in the race circles of Bohol. Medium built but thin by runners standards, Abella has nothing spectacularly outstanding in his physique, especially for distance runners, except for his age and his track and trail battered running shoes.
For those in the running circles, the name is hushed especially in his age bracket categories.
In his prime, Abella or simply Tatay, was a legend, running the Bohol 50 Miler Ultra Marathon on a team category with the distinction as the oldest local runner and took the fastest record in a segment running from Mansasa to Quinoguitan Loboc for the Panglao to Chocolate Hills and back marathon.
Perhaps to relive the inspiration and the glory, Tatay came to the 2021 The Alicia Panoramic Park in his winning jersey: a worn-out Bohol Marathon commemorative race shirt that was included in the 2010 race kit. He could have used the same comfortable sneakers he wore that winning day a decade ago to his trail race today, by the looks of it. His lucky runners, maybe.
Unlike some talented runners with a potential to be champions who pick on their training and physical conditioning, Tatay slides back to his farm in Candelaria in Dagohoy to resume his duties as a father and grandfather. Life in the farm in Dagohoy is hard for Tatay, and his earnings could barely buy him track shoes, much more get into a conditioning regimen he would need to keep fit.
With races in Bohol few and far in between, promising athletes like Tatay and the youngbloods only train and compete when their work schedule allow. Oon their own, that is, being in a family of runners at the Bohol Runners Club where everyone coaches in their own hard-earned way.
Those desperate for the cash rewards file leave of absences from work to supplement their measly daily incomes.
For Tatay, if the word does not arrive in Dagohoy on time, he can only gape at the thought of getting in but could not. At the news of the resumption of the Alicia TAPP Trail Run after two postponements, Tatay made sure he gets in the list. He took Bib No. 1001 on race day.
Running with family members again, Tatay unabashedly does his pre-run stretching, doing quick bursts of speed and then skip jogging. The next time Tatay got the cameramen's attention was when he was among the top ten male runners in the 10-kilometer category at the top of blackboard hill, some 2.5 kilometers from the start, and having successfully conquered at least two sauntering assaults in single trails, still wet with early morning dew.
When everyone who would have gone past the photographers' perch on top of Balisa Hill, most of the runners would be cursing, humping, and crawling. Tatay was still up and running a pace he picked from the starting line.
Clearly spent and without any water bladder or a hydration provision, running bare handed when other runners expecting the rough terrain came in complete with pouch bottles or hydro bags and trail walkers, many were betting Tatay would be out of the race soon. Many much younger marathoners, more trained runners and cross trainer athletes have given up on TAPP's races, as getting to the 2.5 kilometers still running is already a major major feat.
He did not.
Two hours and 46 minutes later, Tatay took a sprinter to the finish line, finishing 14th among male runners in the 10K category.
Tatay came after female 10-kilometer runner Ace Jess Ejoc who ran with him, or he nursing her to the finish line. And like a big family of runners, the crowd broke into an applause as Tatay received his finishers medals.
Somewhere between his celebration of another hill conquered and commanding his body not to give up on him yet, somebody slipped a pair of sneakers into Tatay's hands still dripping with sweat. It was a blue Merrell, not brand new but is just as good. It's an early Christmas gift, Tatay's toothless grin said it all.
The day before, Alicia's rich and poor shared the public switching of the Christmas-themed town plaza, one unmistakable look at how Boholanos ignite the hope even in the tough times and a clear gesture of spreading the holiday cheer. "Let us give time to our visitors to get inside the plaza, so they, too, can feel what we wanted our people to feel despite the gloomy pandemic season," said Mayor Victoriano Torres.
The sneakers Tatay received from an anonymous fellow runner is one much better than the one he wore to conquer the TAPP. (RAHC/PIA7 Bohol)