Hero of heroes: Meet the coach behind this PWD triathlon team

Barry Viloria on Sep 06, 2016 10:15 PM
Hero of heroes: Meet this PWD triathlon team's coach
TODO Triathlon Team’s Vincent Garcia is taking this on as a ‘personal CSR.’ (Photos by Barry Viloria, Vincent Garcia, and FINIS Swimming Philippines)

Spectators waiting at the finish line of every race, including the prestigious IronMan 70.3 Asia-Pacific Championship recently staged in Cebu, couldn’t help but get star-struck at the sight of these guys making it to the end. That is, despite their physical limitations. Celebrities? Not to many who might be expecting the likes of Matteo Guidicelli for a sweaty post-tournament fan snap with him. But in their own right, they could be. Godfrey Taberna, with his right foot facing backwards, is a cyclist; Raul Angoluan, who lost both arms, is a runner; and Jomar Maalam, who was born with no legs, is a swimmer. They are members of the TODO Triathlon Team, under the ParaTriathlon Association of the Philippines, and composed of people with disabilities (PWD) treading a career in triathlon.

For some, these guys stand as an inspiration. Behind this #squadgoals-worthy pack of athletes, not many acknowledge, though, is a man who has brought them something brighter than hope.

Small-scale charity
It was 2009 when Coach and former triathlete Vincent Garcia spotted Taberna and another triathlete at the registration table of a tournament.

“Casually lang, I accidentally bumped into them. They wanted to register, but couldn’t afford it when they found out how much the registration was. So, kami nag-sponsor,” Garcia recalls.

What started as a random act of charity became something else. Garcia, who’s in garment manufacturing and sports retailing, saw this as a “personal CSR” for him and his wife. He has since become more involved when it came to recruiting more “paraboys”--as he likes to call them.

Some, Garcia scouted from referrals. Others, he saw himself in competitions. For example, he discovered swimmer one of his youngest Paraboys, 20-year-old Maalam, at a Palarong Pambasa—“He’s a perennial medalist in swimming among the handicapped, and after some emails and swim meets, we finally took him to be part of the team.”

Real training
What happens after the recruitment is another thing, though. Training sessions with intensity matching those of the usual. Maalam, for his part, is a first hand witness on the lack of special treatment, “Umaga, gabi ang training. Pinapagalitan din kami (pag pasaway).”

That's because Garcia believes in "no excuses," or so what their Facebook description says about them. “With para-athletes among us, we try to have NO EXCUSES and when there is something worth doing we give it our all. GO TODO!”

He adds, “It’s just I find this satisfying that I’m a coach in triathlon and if I can get this guy with disability to do what he’s doing, it gives everybody else no excuses. It inspires everybody.”

For now, Garcia’s Paraboys are excelling in relays, but would very soon participate in individual tournaments. In fact, this September 11, some of them will be racing individually at the Philippine Aquathlon Championship.

But Garcia has a bigger vision for the team of athletes: Growing a pool of PWD coaches who will be eventually coaching PWDs.

“We‘re training them to be certified coaches. The new breed who will fall under them cannot say na, ‘You don’t understand, you’re not PWD!’ But if I have a pool of PWDs as coaches, there’s really no excuse for that.”

‘Personal CSR’
The expenses of supporting a squad to pursue the sport on their own despite not having much are no joke either, Garcia discloses, “especially with the equipment.” The registration fees are already a handful at more than 18,000 for relay teams, so what more the hotel and transportation expenses all shouldered by Garcia?

But, he adds, “Friends and patrons help a little but we were never out there soliciting.” Check out their tri-suit and inspect if they’ve got any big brands supporting them—you’ll find nothing, except for his brand wetSHOP.

Schooling is a factor, too, in terms of the depth of training Garcia conducts with his athletes. Hence, he works hard on finding interested sponsors to fund the athletes’ schooling in Quezon City, where he lives, a place more convenient for him to train them without letting go of the rest of his jobs.

But why would Garcia even bother, you ask? He may seem to be living a good life as a father of two daughters who are presently in the USA and New Zealand, respectively; a first-time grandfather; a businessman; and a traveler. Yet, he took a rest from triathlon and, instead, has been coaching it for two years. Really, he’s had no deep-rooted history about PWDs that pushed him to be this… hero.

“I don’t know, it just a happened. It was just a calling,” he tries to explain.

“The feeling of growing up, and feeling deprived—if you let them live they way the arem they would be probably in the streets because they re being discriminated upon. By lifting their spirits, that there are people confident in this sport, other things become natural also like their confidence (coming out).”

“I love that they can do things that even I cannot.”

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