Toastmasters Project Number 2:



June last year, I ran the Gold Coast marathon. It was 42 kilometres of long-distance running, and it made me feel at least 42 different kinds of emotions – from the excitement and anticipation at the beginning through the excruciating pain and extreme exhaustion in the middle to the pure, intense happiness in the end.

This marathon was an emotional and physical roller coaster ride. I wanted to give up in the middle of the course! By the 25th kilometre, I THOUGHT I was dying. By the 35th, I KNEW I was definitely dying. I was about to give up when somewhere inside of me I heard my hero, professional tennis player Rafael Nadal cry out, VAMOS!!!

Mr Toastmaster, fellow toastmasters, you might be wondering, How on earth is a Spanish word relevant to a Filipino in an Australian marathon? Here’s how. Vamos means ‘Let’s go!’. It is the expression Rafa screams every time he makes a crucial winning point in the every match he plays. It is a statement of resilience! of the will to survive, of the desire…. to win.

Despite every challenge thrown at him, Rafa is tenacious and just keeps on going. He started playing when he was three and by the time he was 12, he was practising four and a half hours every single day. At age 19, he charged through competitors to win his maiden grand slam – the first of his nine French Open titles in the terra battue, or the red clay of Roland Garros. After that, he kept winning – and winning. He reigned supreme and annihilated the rest of the competition.

In the final stages of my marathon, the screams of Vamos became more and more deafening. Kilometre 37, Vamos! 38, Vamos! 39, VAMOS!

By the time I reached the final kilometre, I realised I was too tough to kill. And when I finished, I was reaffirmed that I am INVINCIBLE.

Or so I thought.

Being and feeling on top of the world is temporary. It can suddenly go away. After a decade of dominance, last year Rafa experienced his ANNUS HORRIBILIS – the year of unimaginable horrors. He failed, failed, failed, until he fell to world number 10. At that point, many have written off Rafa – believing he will never win any more grand slams. It was going to be a downward spiral signalling the fall of the king.

I was thinking to myself. What did I get myself into? After finishing the marathon, like Rafa, I felt like a fallen king. My legs were numb, cramping, and immobile. I was hungry beyond belief. My head was spinning like a tornado. This fall from grace reminded me that I am human – frail, weak, and vulnerable. Ironically, this was a light bulb moment revealed to me that when I’m down to nothing, the only way is UP.

The marathon is the perfect epitome of my life’s journey and I am the relentless, persistent go-getter who doesn’t take no for an answer. I was born and raised in a far-flung agricultural town in the Philippines called Magpet. My parents were average wage-earners, who happened to have eight children. Even though my parents worked extra hard, it was never enough.

It was not an easy life, but it was the kind of life I needed to get to where I am right now. My humble beginnings, and having Rafa as my hero has shown me what life is really about. Life is a FRENCH OPEN FINAL. You play for every point, for every game, for every set, for that one championship match. The red clay of Roland Garros is the battlefield and LIFE IS A STREETFIGHT! It is raw and rough, and there is always someone who will try to win as much as you would. To keep me going, I have emulated Rafa’s champion’s focus and his burning desire for supremacy over life’s obstacles and commitment to personal victory.

Rafa’s days of glory may be over, but fellow Toastmasters, that is fine. In my world, and I sincerely hope in yours as well, a HAS-BEEN is always better than a NEVER WAS.

That’s why we never give up. We just say, Vamos!

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