MARY Joy Talabal has consecutive National Milo Marathon titles and a silver medal in the 28thSoutheast Asian Games.
Not bad for someone who had a 'flat' start to her running career.
The reigning running queen from Guba, Cebu recalled that the first time she competed in a 10-kilometer race in her hometown, she ended stumbling flat on her back at the finish line.
Then 19, Tabal ended up landing on the sports pages of newspapers for collapsing at the finish line. When she regained consciousness, Gabal said she was already at the hospital.
“Sa Cebu, 2009, first salang ko ng 10K, nag-collapse ako,” she recalled. “Kasi nga pinu-push ko ang sarili ko na matapos ko ‘yung 10 kilometers kasi during that time gusto kong talunin ‘yung mga ka-age bracket ko sa university.
“So nag-collapse ako pero nag collapse ako doon na sa finish line,” she added. “Wala na akong idea kung anong nangyari. Doon na ako nagkalamay sa ospital.”
Although she didn’t win and in fact barely finished her first race, that unfortunate ending served as her driving motivation as she pursued a long-distance running career.
The next time she appeared in the sports pages, Gabal made sure it was for the right reason.
“Kahit nalagay sa newspaper na nag-collapse, pero 'yun kasi ang dream ko na malagay ako sa newspaper,” she continued, able to laugh at the experience now.
She was glad to see the deadlines turn for the better in her next race.
“Sabi ko sa sarili ko, next time hindi na 'yung collapse (ang masusulat),” she said. “Kaya the next na 10K na 21K elimination ng Cebu, doon ako nag-champion.
“Parang one week, every day nasa newspaper ako ‘yung news doon, 'Collapse No More' na ‘yung title, mas marami nang na-inspire,” she continued.
But the road to the top wasn't without road bumps for the Cebuana, who was discouraged from pursuing a marathon career by friends who feared for her health.
There, too, were doubts on whether the former sprinter can excel in longer distances.
“Kasi pagkatapos ng collapse ko maraming nagdi-discourage sa akin na, ‘Wag ka nang magpatuloy sa ganyan,'” said the former sprint star of Southwestern University.
“Kahit mga teammates ko sa Southwestern, dini-discourage nila ako na wala raw akong space sa long distance, sprinter lang daw ako, mga coaches doon dini-discourage ako,” she added.
But the pint-sized Tabal simply won't be derailed from her dream to achieve the same status of her idols - five-time Milo marathon king Eduardo Buenavista and former winner Jho-An Banayag.
“Pero dream ko talaga na maging champion sa Milo (Marathon),” she said. “Kasi na-inspire ako kina Eduardo Buenavista na tinatawag na marathon king, si Jho-An Banayag marathon queen, so gusto ko rin ma-feel na ganoon na matawag na Marathon Queen.”
“So ayun na pangalan ko na ang nakalagay doon (as marathon queen), ‘yung mga dreams ko unti-unti ko nang naa-achieve.”
Despite the success, the 25-year-old is hungry for more. She will be competing in the coming Milo national finals, longing for the opportunity to race in the Boston Marathon.
She also wants to pave the road for youngsters in her hometown who wants to follow in her footsteps.
“Meron na akong grassroots program sa Guba Elementary school, doon ako lumaki so gusto ko mag pay back kung saan ako lumaki,” she said.
“Doon ako nag-umpisa mangarap, at least ngayon ‘yung mga bata may konting guide na sila mula sa akin tapos mas lalo sila na inspire ngayon,” she added.