Often we focus too much on the first prize winners of every race. We often pay homage to these winners and they get the biggest prizes. But how much do we really know these runners? They are often depicted to be strong and iron willed. But most of them have come from humble beginnings, with many of our top runners figuratively running away from poverty and using running as a means to get away from such misery. It’s a hard battle that many have failed. But for those that have persevered, there awaits the rewards those with patience and determination to succeed in this field of running.
During my recent TNF100 in Benguet, I came across Merlita Arias of Cebu City. She grabbed the third place for the womens category for the 100k distance. She admits that she could have done better, but she is out of shape being out of training for close to two years. What kept her going throughout the race was her experience and her determination to finish and place in this event. So who exactly is Merlita Arias and why should we be inspired about her?
One, she was able to put herself through college because of running. It all started when she was in grade six, when she started running and winning medals for her school. This persisted all the way to college and even beyond that. She was the most recognizable running icon of the Queen City of the South during the late 1990s and early 2000s. But what most people don’t know is that she had her share of ups and downs in life. Which leads me to the next point.
Two, she is the only one I know who ran a 42k MILO Marathon and six months pregnant! The medical team of the MILO event was trying to make her stop, but she could not be stopped. She managed to finish sub four hours! Wow! That is an amazing feat. But what was amazing about this story was that she really ran that race because she was thinking that she might be able to “abort” the baby and in the process give birth on the street! Alas, God had other plans and she gave birth three months later in Cagayan de Oro. Her son knows about this and I have been given full permission to share this story here.
Three, she is the only one out of ten siblings who finished college! A graduate of Southwestern University, she neither got any support from her family, more so her parents. All her siblings are farmers and was not even able to go to college because of poverty. Merlita knew that she wanted to go further, and so she used her skill in running to get a scholarship and it enabled her to support her family during the days that she was a single parent to her child.
Four, she is happily married for a year now. When she gave birth to her child, she was still trying to finish college. So she decided to rent a small space and have a sari-sari store in Cebu City. This helped her provide for her child as the father of the child left them on their own. She also went back to running after giving birth and continued to run many races in and outside of Cebu City and made running an opportunity to provide for her family.
Merlita shared other interesting insights which I have reserved in another blog entry. When asked what she thinks about running, she shared these thoughts:
“Running is like a religion for me. My husband has told me to stop running but I just can’t stop. It is already a part of my life and that I cannot imagine a life without running.”
“It doesn’t matter how many times you fail in life. What matters is how you pick yourself up and keep going and moving forward. I made running my “kabuhayan” [translation -- livelihood] because it was the only thing that I knew I was good at.”
What Merlita is saying is that we all have limitations, but we are also blessed with gifts that God has given us. She still has a strong faith in God in spite of all the challenges in life that has come her way. But now, she has come to realize that after doing the TNF100 Benguet, she wants to do more trail running.
“I need new challenges since I am already getting bored with road races. Still, I am thankful for what I have and I am blessed that there is more support for runners now than before.”
I hope that this brief story inspires you to continue running, knowing that others have it harder. Running is a religion for Merlita, something that is like the air that she breathes. And she thanks God with each breathe by making sure that each gulp is with each leg moving forward, moving stronger towards the finish line of life.