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    'Blind runner' Aga Casidsid knows no limits as he strives to inspire

    Sep 13, 2013

    RUNNER Mark 'Aga' Joseph Casidsid is new to all the attention he’s been getting lately from the running community and the media. Although the 'blind runner' says the experience is turning out to be a blast, he points out that his life has definitely undergone a few changes he’ll need some time to get used to. “Masaya, pero nakaka-stress!” he admits. “Nung una kasi, gusto ko lang tumakbo nang tumakbo. Ngayon, kasama na sa schedule ’yan — may photo shoot, guesting.” 

    Adjusting to the showbiz treatment he’s been receiving has been a challenge; he insists he doesn’t know how to project during photo shoots (though we beg to differ as he’s done a superb job for us on this one) and admits that he can’t sleep the night before an interview or a TV guesting. But there is one aspect of his celebrity status Casidsid knows how to handle. He confesses that he feels the pressure to perform well in a race, but he refuses to take it negatively. Instead, he recognizes that, as a differently-abled runner, there is a bigger role he must play. “’Yun na siguro yung calling ko — maka-inspire sa ibang tao.”

    IT’S NEVER TOO LATE

    Born two months too soon — hence his nickname, Aga — Casidsid was diagnosed with retinopathy of pre-maturity (also called retrolental fibroplasia), an eye disease that affects premature babies and is characterized by abnormal blood vessel development in the retina. Several physicians gave Casidsid’s parents the same prognosis, telling them their son would inevitably go blind someday.

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    And that’s what happened on March 28, 2003. At the age of 19, eight years after Casidsid lost the sight in one eye, his doctor confirmed that he was completely blind. Casidsid broke down upon hearing the news. He would lock himself up in his room and, at one point, even attempted to commit suicide. It was then that his father decided to take him to their home province of Aklan, where Casidsid showed some improvement and even took up drumming and joined a band for a time. But both eventually returned to Manila on the younger Casidsid’s request.

    In mid-2011, a neighbor and friend brought Casidsid along on a run in their village. This became a hobby for the 28-year-old, who liked that it allowed him to escape the confines of the house. Soon he was introduced to Gado Pelingo Jr., another neighbor and a more experienced runner who offered to be his coach and navigator. Pelingo, a Primer Group employee, approached Primer’s Center for Outdoor Recreation and Expedition (CORE), asking them to provide Casidsid with running shoes. Now, over a year later, the duo continues run as part of Team R.O.X. and is sponsored by CORE.

    A MILESTONE RUN

    Last July 29, 2012, a nervous yet excited Casidsid laced up for the Milo Marathon 2012 Manila Eliminations, his first 42K. By then, he’d already had a number of races under his belt, including a half marathon and a 12K trail run.

    “’Yung mindset namin, matatapos namin yung full marathon. Pagtungtong ko sa starting line, alam ko na challenge ‘yun. Kung tumungtong ako sa starting line, kailangan tutungtong din ako sa finish line,” he recalls.

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    After hitting 26 km, Casidsid suffered muscle cramps, so he and Pelingo slowed down to a walk. This was a setback for Casidsid, who started having doubts about his ability to complete the race. To keep him going, Pelingo gently reminded him that they had resolved to finish the marathon.

    With seven kilometers to go, Casidsid found himself tearing up. “’Nung time na ’yun, siyempre, iniisip ko ’yung oras, baka hindi na ako aabot,” he says. “Sabi ko, Sir [Gado], mukhang naluluha na ako ah.” Pelingo found some liniment to help with Casidsid’s cramps, but the latter still found himself fighting a mental battle. He started to cry silently, but tried to hide it from his coach.

    Casidsid shares, “Lalo akong naiyak nung pagdaan ko ng [last] 6K. May namimigay ng salt, kumuha ako.” But instead of feeling better, Casidsid threw up right then and there. “May paramedics na malapit. Naiyak ako! Inisip ko, baka damputin ako ng paramedics, eh, ang lapit lapit na nito, makikipag-away talaga ako! Kasi kaya ko na [tapusin yung race], kahit gapangin ko, kaya na.”

    But he pushed on, and he soon heard onlookers cheering him on and shouting, “Last 5K!” At his side, both his brother and Pelingo were urging him on. Casidsid couldn’t help but cry when he realized he was really going to finish his first 42K after countless hours of preparation.

    Pelingo told him to think of the people who inspired him to run in the first place. “Naisip ko yung family ko at naiyak ako,” he recalls. “Nagbubuhos na nga lang ako ng tubig, eh, para hindi mahalata.” After five hours and 14 minutes, Casidsid finished his first full marathon. There wasn’t a dry eye at the finish line, where his family instantly surrounded him.

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    KNOW NO LIMITS

    With a full marathon crossed off his list, Casidsid has added an ultra-marathon to his goals. He and Pelingo are also setting their sights on full marathons in the provinces and abroad — Hong Kong next year, then Chicago and New York. In fact, Casidsid and Pelingo’s training regimen has leveled up since they first started running together. They used to do 3K practice runs 2-3 times a week, but now they do 5 or 10K instead. They even run at 4 am to condition their bodies for early gun starts.

    Casidsid’s off-road workouts include core and weight training six days a week. In fact, we might have to start calling him “The Blind Triathlete” pretty soon because that’s what Pelingo is eyeing next for the pair.

    He is currently in talks with other coaches, trying to figure out how Casidsid can train for cycling and swimming legs. When asked what he thinks of all these plans, Casidsid immediately says, “Go lang nang go! Kung kaya, kaya ’yan! Kung di kaya, ’di kayanin!” he says. “Na-e-excite din ako, eh, kasi tulad nung pag-bike, gusto ko talaga ’yun kasi dati nagba-bike naman talaga ako. Yung swim, nakakapag-swim naman ako dati."

    Casidsid credits his can-do attitude to his coaches.“Hindi naman nila ibibigay ’yan kung hindi ko kaya, eh. Nasa akin na lang kung ipu-push ko. Sabi nga ni Sir Gado, ’Pag kaya, eh, ’di gawin. ’Pag hindi kaya, gawan ng paraan para maging posible. Kasi sayang naman yung mga opportunity na nagbukas eh.”

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    If Casidsid continues to do as well in his future endeavors as he has with the goals he’s accomplished thus far, he’ll have to start getting used to all of the attention. It seems that his race in life is far from over, and he has got more moving headlines to make and finish lines to cross.

    Mind + Body

    Aga Casidsid shares his tips on training for a race, physically andmentally.

    1 Adjust your diet.

    “Three days before a race, carbo-load at electrolyte-load. Tapos, dapat, kahit walang race, well-hydrated ka.”

    2 Prep your body for a race.

    “Kailangan may road workout ka, tapos may long-distance run at least once a week.” Do off-road exercises, too, for your  core, upper body, and lower body.

    3 Adopt a winning mentality.

    “Magtiwala ka lang sa sarili mo na matatapos mo. Kasi kapag ang mindset mo, kaya mo ang isang race, matatapos mo. Kahit anong bagay naman, basta pag sinabi mong kaya mo, gagalaw at gagalaw ang katawan mo para matapos mo.

    (This article first appeared in the December 2012 Men's Health, for more info check out their page: https://www.facebook.com/menshealthphilippines

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