OCR Pilpinas: Tibay at Puso, Laban para sa bayan!

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For most of us, our introduction to one of the most exciting and newest sports in the Philippines is by watching American Ninja Warrior or people climbing walls, crawling underneath barbed wire and jumping in mud pools on YouTube.

Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) is a race where participants run a certain distance over different terrain and having to overcome a variety of obstacles before reaching the finish line.

To say that the Philippine team that would be competing in the first ever Obstacle Course Race (OCR) in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games is a ‘mixed bag’ is an understatement

For the inaugural event, the Philippine Obstacle Sports Federation (POSF) assembled OCR Pilipinas National Team, veteran athletes who have excelled in different disciplines that include volleyball, dragon boat, Ultimate frisbee, parkour, gymnastics, football, triathlon, fitness, rock climbing, athletics and trail running.

The different obstacles is a roll call of challenges designed to make life difficult. These include the over walls, monkey bars, hurdles, rolling mud and dunk, low crawl under barbed wire, vertical cargo, Olympus, twisters, carries, rope climbs, crawls, slip walls, frame cargo, multi rigs, mud, over walls, Hercules Hoist, rolling mud, sandbag carry, rope climb, Atlas Carry, Inverted Wall, Vertical Cargo, Z Wall, Helix, Tire Flip and A-Frame.

The obstacles vary from race to race that require lifting, climbing and crawling but the one constant is distance running that combines trail, road and cross country. In adopting a “jack of all trades” approach to gain every possible advantage, the POSF included the selection of a pair who just happen to be the country’s best trail runners: Sandi Menchi Abahan and Manolito “Tolitz” Divina.

RaceYaya had the chance to sit down with them during their preparations for the SEA Games OCR event.

Sandi Menchi Abahan

Photo: Glairold Racella

Don’t let Sandi’s slight build and cheerful demeanor fool you: she is as tough as nails as a competitor.

An accomplished trail runner and triathlete with many titles and accolades in an international career under her belt, the 29-year old Baguio City native describes her transition from ultrarunning to OCR as “a very happy” chapter in her life.  

“It reminds me of the time when I used to play all day in the playground and the mountains when I was a kid,” said Sandi.

Her OCR journey started when a couple of her friends urged her to try an OCR race. Her most memorable race was the Frontrow Warrior race where she finished first but since all of 3 bands were cut, she was disqualified for a podium finish. Undaunted, Sandi used the experience during the 2nd Asian Championships where she redeemed herself by winning the Gold medal in the 5km event that also secured her place in the OCR Pilipinas National Team.

“Always expect the unexpected,” she said in her new sport.  

Not resting on her past achievements, Sandi trains hard twice a day for six times a week. She said she focused on improving her upper body strength, learning techniques and mastering the OCR basics to complement her considerable running skillset and mental toughness. Training with the National Team has brought added benefits when it comes to overall fitness and proper nutrition.

“At first I was tentative but now I am very happy where I am,” said Sandi who believes the Philippines have a chance for gold when the OCR SEA Games competition takes place .

And with the pride of the Cordillera donning the national colors on home soil for the 5km Event, we have a great chance.

Manolito ‘Tolitz’ Divina

Photo: SPartan Philippines

A fixture in the trail running circuit not just in the Philippines but in Asia, Tolitz Divina is usually stoic and calm when he finished his races.

But when he crossed the finish line at the Dayaw OCR in Davao City last August which was also the last qualifying round for the SEA Games lineup of the National Team, he admitted he was near tears.

“I almost cried because it was always my dream to be a part of the National Team,” after Tolitz took the final slot, fulfilling a dream he had since he was a boy. 

It’s been a long journey for the soft-spoken long distance runner from Marinduque. From a hard-working grocery worker on weekdays to competing in ultra-distance mountain races on almost every weekend to help support his family, Tolitz’ pours the same dedication as a member of the OCR Pilipinas National Team. He is also a full-time coach at Pretty Huge Obstacles, a multi-level obstacle course racing facility at the Bonifacio Global City where the National Team regularly trains.

The soft-spoken Tolitz said he first saw OCR on TV and was curious about the new sport. He had the opportunity when it came to Philippine shores and found that he liked it.

With the support of his friends and sponsors from the RaceYaya Team and multi-sport race organizer Thumbie Remigio, Tolitz took the plunge and has never regretted his decision that paved the way for new opportunities in his personal and professional life.

Training with the National Team, Tolitz said he learned all he could about the different types of obstacles, the techniques to overcome them successfully and limiting the risk of injuries.   Competing at a high level brought Tolitz to races and training in Hong Kong, Singapore and the US with the support of the POSF.

A runner at heart, Tolitz keeps close to his roots by running to and from the gym where he works to his home in Pateros every day and regularly participates in races that constitute a part of his training. He always try to share his experiences as an ultrarunner with his teammates.

With his running background, Tolitz says he brings an advantage in OCR competition that is “80 percent running and 20 percent obstacles”.

“I feel runners have a definite speed and endurance advantage since there are distances between obstacles. The training helps us develop strength to tackle the obstacles.”

Preparing for the 400 meter Team Assist Event, Tolitz described OCR training with the nationals as definitely harder compared as a trail runner but he has seen the benefits, particularly in strength, conditioning and flexibility. As part of his commitment, Tolitz trains six times a week with time spent on the track, the obstacles and the gym.

“Injuries are part of the sport even during training. So it’s important that I’m prepared in both both mind and body plus diskarte,” saying he puts getting hurt it in the back of his mind and while focusing on improvement.

Opportunities

Multi-sport race organizer Thumbie Remigio is highly confident Sandi and Tolitz will play important roles for the battles to come and that the SEA Games is just the beginning for OCR’s growth.

The man responsible for Spartan Trail’s races in Asia, Thumbie has had the opportunity to witness the sport firsthand overseas and what Filipinos are capable of in OCR. And he sees the Philippines in the thick of things to come ever since iOCRstarted in 2015.

“The future of OCR in the Philippines is very bright,” he told RaceYaya. “We will be able to sustain it for two reasons: First, our national sports authority is led by people with passion, expertise and are very supportive of our athletes. Second, the reception of the people to the sport has been very positive and a community has slowly and steadily been growing. The sky’s the limit for OCR!”

Thumbie Remigio (standing, second from the left) with the OCR Pilipinas Team

And so is the future for Sandi, Tolitz  and their fellow athletes and coaches in OCR Team Pilipinas as they make history this December.

OCR Pilipinas, Tibay at Puso! Laban para sa bayan!

The OCR events will held at the Filinvest City, Alabang, Muntilupa on December 2, 4 and 6. Let us support our athletes! We win as One!

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