FOR most beginning triathletes, swimming tends to be their weak spot for a variety of reasons: It’s the first leg, it’s not their element, it’s not something they’ve trained hard for, or it’s simply just not their thing.
Sixto Ducay has another reason entirely.
The 46-year-old national athlete gestures to his right arm in explanation. Diagnosed with polio at the age of eight, he has muscles there that remain underdeveloped, and he can only bend that elbow up to a 90-degree angle. Years of running have configured his body into a lean machine almost totally devoid of body fat, but at first glance, that arm is much thinner than the rest of him.
“Yun ang problema ko sa swimming,” he says. Because he has reduced right-arm function, he cannot use the front crawl, which is “considered the fastest swim stroke” according to the Portuguese authors of “Biomechanics of Competitive Swimming Strokes” in the book Biomechanics in Application.
“It can be argued,” the authors continue, “that upper limb velocity has a major influence in swimming performance.” Faced with his handicap, however, Ducay has no choice but to resort to the very slow breaststroke, with a wide sweep of the arms and a leisurely frog kick. “Di ko ma-develop ang flutter ko kaya ang langoy ko breaststroke,” he assesses. “Kasi puro kick. Malakas ang push ko e, samantalang ang flutter ko, mabigat.” He shrugs and gives a toothy smile. “Ewan ko—siguro kung na-train ko rin nang matagal, made-develop pa.”
It’s a mantra—always delivered with a humble, can-do smile—Ducay has recited for most of his life. Hailing from Sorsogon, he came from an athletic family. His dad was a professional boxer who refused to let polio get in the way of his son’s athletic career.
Ducay eventually ended up in running and athletics, a field where he hit the top levels in the early ’90s even against more able-bodied competitors. He recounts regularly placing in the top three of the annual Milo Marathon until 1996, when the demands of family and career (he’d set up a business in his hometown) forced him to take a nearly decade-long break.
One morning in 2005, childhood friend and para-athlete coach Bernard Buen knocked on his door and convinced him to go back to the sports scene. “Sabi niya, may sasalihan tayo ha,” Ducay remembers. “Wala akong training. Sabi niya, practice ka—one week na lang e!” It was only when he arrived in Manila that he realized Buen had signed him up for the 2005 ASEAN ParaGames—in the 400-meter sprint category, no less, a field he’d never even trained for. Just like that, Ducay became a national athlete.
He acquitted himself with a fourth-place finish, and from then on, he would consistently represent the country in international para-athletics competitions. But after a number of years, he was itching to try something new.
From the time he started seeing notices and adverts for it in the news, Sixto Ducay knew he wanted to join a triathlon. So in 2010, he borrowed a neighbor’s mountain bike and headed to Rainforest Park in Pasig City. Other contestants immediately complained. “Prinotesta ako dahil national athlete daw ako,” he explains. “Sabi ko, ‘Iba naman ang level na sinasalihan ko—para sa disabled!’” The organizers relented, but gave him a guest, unranked slot. “Sabi ko, sige. Ma-experience ko lang.”
As expected, swimming gave him trouble. He emerged 21st out of the Rainforest Park pool. Shaking off his poor finish, he made up for it in the non-aquatic legs, powering through the bike ride and the city run to finish ninth.
It was a fine start. In 2013, Ducay joined the WetShop Para-Tri Team, partnering with paratriathlete vets Arnel Aba (a swimmer with an amputated leg) and Godfrey Taberna (a cyclist with a right club foot) for a first-place relay finish at the Tri United 3 competition in Subic. Last year in April, he also beat rival Mohd Sabki Bin Arafin of Malaysia at the Paratriathlon Asian Championships, coming in first place overall. The two will face each other again this year, and Ducay is already training hard for it.
When asked how training is different for him with his disability, Ducay seems confused about the question. “Parehas ang training ng may kapansanan at wala,” he declares.
Nevertheless, it is difficult to live with. “Nagiging sagabal ang kapansanan ko,” he concedes, remarking that in the latter part of races, fatigue makes his right arm hang off his shoulder like a dead weight. To rest it, he keeps it close to his chest, depriving his gait of the arm swing so crucial to maintaining a solid pace. Even then, he still blazes past able-bodied competitors in the tough running leg. His immensely efficient legs allow him to go from 30th out of a pool to a podium finish, cleaning out the bike and run parts in the process.
When working out his upper body, Ducay has to make several adjustments. For push-ups, for example, he has to elevate his right arm on a bench or platform so his body remains aligned in the proper position. Still, he can crank out 10 pull-ups. Let that sink in for a moment. The guy can do 10 pull-ups.
Our amazement embarrasses him. “Kanya-kanya lang namang lakas yan,” he demurs. “May talento rin siguro ako. Kada isang sport, di lahat na, porke nag-training ka, mag-e-excel ka sa ganun.”
In his opinion, what he does is not out of the ordinary. It’s simply what he does with what’s been given to him—a circumstance, he notes, that’s no different from yours or mine. What’s important is that we embrace it. “Sagabal talaga ang kapansanan,” he says, smiling again. “Kaya lang, may isang bagay na [kapag] passion mo na talaga, parang okay lang. Nakakasanayan na lang.”
Beat Back Overtraining
As someone who plots his own training program, paratriathlete Sixto Ducay is always on the lookout for burnout. “Di baleng kapusin, wag lang mag-overtrain,” he cautions. He shares a three-month progression plan to help you be in peak shape for your own big race
Month 1: Strengthening Your Foundation
“Magsisimula ka muna sa mga easy run, at mga exercises: Sit-ups, push-ups, squats, mga pampalakas ng katawan.”
Month 2: Loading Your Speed
“Ide-develop mo na yung speed mo. Halimbawa, weekend mo, yun ang long distance na long-slow run. Pagdating ng Monday, ide-develop mo na yung speed mo. Halimbawa, 400 meters times 12.”
Month 3: Tapering Your Progress
“Huling stage ay yung ime-maintain mo na lang yung pace mo. May strengthening [nang kaunti], pero maiikli na. Sunog ang tinatawag [kapag] na-o-overtrain ka, na pagdating ng laro, puro hingal na lang yun.”
HELP OUR ATHLETES
The ParaTriathlon Association of the Philippines (PTRAP) is currently raising funds in pursuit of a qualifying slot for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. For inquiries on how you can join this endeavor, you may e-mail Mr. Vince Garcia, head coach and founder of PTRAP, at firstname.lastname@example.org.