WHEN Marion Kim Mangrobang returned to the Philippines three days before Christmas last year, one of the first things she did was to go to Jollibee.
Training and competing overseas for the past three months, Mangrobang felt the need to satisfy her craving for palabok. And deservingly so as she won bronze at the recent Dakhla Sprint Triathlon African Cup in Morocco last December, propelling the 25-year old triathlete up 48 spots in the International Triathlon Union (ITU) world ranking to 153rd.
The sharp rise made her the highest ranked among all Filipino elites, a big boost in her bid to make her Olympic dream a reality in the 2020 Tokyo Games.
Before she left for Portugal on another 90-day training cycle last January 15, the pride of Santa Rosa, Laguna shared some of her experiences and her plans with SPIN.ph last week at a restaurant in Bonifacio Global City.
“Hindi ko na-expect ang Morocco. Ang sabi ni coach, Top 5 okay na sa position sa ITU ranking,” Mangrobang said. “Sa race, nakita ko maganda yung position ko so sabi ko ituloy-tuloy ko na ito!”
The lone entry from the Philippines said she was surprised by her performance, “Nagulat ako sa swim kasi pag ahon ko, second out of the water ako. Usually pag umaahon ako yung huling-huli sa first pack. Nagulat ako na nagawa ko iyon pero ang sabi ni coach alam niya na magagawa ko iyon.”
After the race, her coach Sergio Santos told her not to relax and that they should continue what they were doing.
“Sobrang happy ako sa ginawa niya. Sa buong three months ko sa Portugal sobrang focus niya sa akin. Kahit ako na lang mag-isa sa pool (Kim says she does not like training alone) nandoon lang siya sa tabi. Nakatayo nagta-time sa akin. Si Sergio kung anong sinabi kong goal gagawin namin.”
Since 2014, Kim has been training with the renowned Portuguese coach at the DESMOR High Performance Camp in Rio Maior, a sleepy town 45 minutes away from Lisbon. Also joining her there are national mainstays Claire Adorna, Edward Macalalad and Mark Anthony Hosana.
Even with Olympic qualifiers set for 2019, Kim feels that Tokyo, her dream race, is already very near.
“Kailangan kong mag-strive hard kasi malayo pa din naman ang 150 (ranking). Kailangan kong mag sure-ball sa Olympics,” said Kim whose focus is to break into the ITU Top 50 to ensure her participation in the quadrennial event.
After her second podium finish in the elite level (Kim had a gold medal performance in the 2016 Subic Bay NTT ASTC Triathlon Asian Cup) that served as a testament to her continuing improvement, Kim has gained more confidence and aims to participate in more ITU races such as the World Cup and, once Santos believes she’s ready, the World Triathlon Series.
Although there are rumors that Tokyo might be a sprint distance race, Kim’s training is set for Olympic distance — 1,500 m swim, 40km bicycle and 10km run, the same distance for major races.
Kim competes in six to eight major races per year, a good number overseas. In between, she takes part in fun runs almost every week.
“The level of competition mas mataas pag sa abroad. Sa Philippines, kaunti lang naman kami, alam mong parating magpo-podium ka so comfortable ka sa pace mo. Hindi mo na kailangan mag-strive ng sobrang hirap unlike sa ibang bansa na kailangan i-push mo sarili mo sa limit para maging one of them ka.”
Asked what would be the toughest challenges she would be facing between now and 2020, Kim said it would be the world-class races like the World Triathlon Series, “Kasi sobrang hirap mag-qualify doon, so kailangan ko pang galingan. Yung training din, sobrang hirap ng gagawin kong training from now until the Olympics.”
For seven days a week, Kim starts out with 9 a.m. to 12 noon sessions followed by lunch and rest. Training then resumes from 4 to 6 p.m. Three weeks per block with one rest day between blocks.
Possessed of a sunny disposition and a girl-next-door persona packaged inside a waifish frame, it’s easy to underestimate the top-ranked Pinay triathlete who takes her mission and her identity very seriously.
“Madami kaming kasamang taga ibang bansa. Kung kaya ng mga Brazilian o Portuguese, bakit hindi ko kaya? Parehas lang kami ng kamay at paa so wala silang advantage sa amin.”
Being away from home an equivalent 10 of 12 months does take its toll. Aside from the grueling schedule, she also misses her family and friends. “Sobra. Minsan naho-home sick ako pero gusto ko yung ginagawa ko and alam ko may mararating naman ako.”
Living in a dorm by herself, Kim spends her precious free time catching up with loved ones on Facebook and Instagram. She’s also a fan of NetFlix and lists Blacklist, Black Mirror and Sense8 among her favorite series.
“Mahilig ako sa clothes. Pag wala akong ginagawa, siempre mag-isa ako sa room. Sinusukat ko lahat ng damit ko. Eto maganda ito sakin! (laughs)," said Kim, who considers gold her favorite color since people associate it with “winners.”
As a sign of home, Kim always has a stockpile of her favorite Choc Nut and would ask teammates such as Claire Adorna to bring her a batch when her supplies run low (and which she hides from her coach).
Competing since she was nine years old, Kim said she will continue to wear the country’s flag in competitions until she reaches her Olympic dream. But with one caveat.
“Makaabot lang ako ng Olympics puwede na akong mag-retire. But if mangyari na (sobrang maganda) ang result ko sa Olympics, bakit hindi pa ako mag try ng isa pa?”
Three years ago, Kim thought about quitting the sport due to a lack of training opportunities and the absence of international races. She thought about continuing her studies and later settling down to work “in an office.”
But 2017 finds her hale, hearty and showing steady progress. Kim said “a normal life” can wait.
She shared that her parents have always pushed her to be the fastest that she can be ever since she was nine, when they would drive her every day at dawn from Sta. Rosa to Sta. Cruz to attend swimming practice.
“They tell me school is always here and I can always study after triathlon," she said. "Pero yung lakas mo, ngayon lang iyan.”