AS she heard her cue, Maria Camille Manalo strut her stuff on the catwalk at the jampacked Smart-Araneta Coliseum on Monday, glowing as she wore a lovely white gown and a lovelier smile – instead of a white kimono uniform and her game face.
For a few months that culminated on Labor Day, the former national taekwondo jin showed that she can also excel out of her comfort zone.
A 2011 Southeast Asian Games gold medalist and 2010 Asian Games veteran, Manalo reached the Top 15 of this year’s Binibining Pilipinas pageant, barely missing out on a spot in the honor roll of eight women.
Not bad for a beauty pageant first-timer.
The 26-year-old former athlete, though, hardly showed rookie jitters as she thrived out of her comfort zone – thanks to the qualities she gained in years of training and competition in taekwondo.
“I’ve been into sports since I was 10, but I can easily adapt to the situation since taekwondo and pageantry have similarities like discipline, perseverance, confidence, and the dedication to win,” Manalo said in chat with SPIN.ph.
Beauty pageants, though, have been a long time coming for the 5-foot-9 jin as she has always gotten offers to join, only to decline each time to focus on her successful taekwondo career.
“Talagang nire-recruit ako to join beauty pageants dito sa amin, high school days pa lang,” the Silang, Cavite native admitted. “Eh sabi ko, it’s not my priority kasi I’m into sports pa, and that time, meron rin akong studies.”
Manalo was a winner on the taekwondo mat . The former University of Santo Tomas standout was named UAAP 73 Athlete of the Year after leading the Tigresses to the women’s title, before she represented the country in the 2011 SEA Games in Indonesia in the women’s lightweight division.
A few years after graduating with a Library and Information Science degree, Manalo finally gave in to requests as she joined her first pageant – on the biggest stage no less.
“For me, I’m old enough to handle – hindi naman everything, basta siguro yung maturity ko na lang din,” Manalo said. “Then yung handler ko, pinagpaalam ako sa parents ko to join Binibini, and that’s when it crossed my mind na, 'Why not join?'”
“Wala naman mawawala sa’kin,” she added. “Mag-ge-gain pa ako ng knowledge and experiences, so why not?”
But first, she had to conquer one fear.
“Hindi ako nagbi-bikini dati,” Manalo admitted with a laugh. “Hindi mo ako mapapasuot ng bikini, kaya hindi rin ako sumasali ng pageants.”
Manalo went through a baptism of fire as she related that her handler dared her to wear a bikini on the spot at a qualifying event for Binibini.
“Na-embrace ko lang siya nung kasama ko yung handlers ko tapos nung time na nakita ko na naka-bikini yung iba, dun ko talaga…syempre ayaw mo naman magpatalo, ‘di ba?” Manalo said. “Talagang kailangan mo i-flaunt yung sarili mo to be part of the official candidates of Binibini.”
“So yung first bikini ko talaga was on national television,” she added with a chuckle. “Never talaga before, kahit sa harap ng family at friends.”
Yet Binibini No. 17 looked confident as he she wore a black with red trim two-piece swimsuit on coronation night on the way to making it to the Top 15 from among 96 aspirants.
“Yes naman, sobra (na achievement),” Manalo beamed. “Yung napasama lang ako sa forty na official candidates, para na akong nanalo, kasi I don’t have any background sa pageants. Sobrang thankful na ako dun. What more na napasama ako sa Top 15?
“Kumbaga sa taekwondo, I’m a white-belter, sila red, black na,” she added.
And Manalo’s stint has immediately opened the doors for opportunities, including an offer to be a flight attendant at Philippine Airlines, on top of TV commercials, and fashion shows.
“Yung FA, matagal ko ng plan siya,” Manalo said. “However, yung sa PAL kasi, gusto nila fair yung skin, walang pimples, yun ang problem ko that time kaya hindi ako nag-push through sa pagiging flight attendant.”
“Yung commercials, fashion shows na offers, dumating after the pageant,” she added. “I’m looking forward doon.”
While offers are certainly lining up, are her suitors also doing the same?
“Wala,” she said with a chuckle when asked if she has a boyfriend. “Pero okay lang. I’m willing (to entertain).”
Good luck to those brave souls who'll try to woo this lovely lady with a mean finishing kick.