Ironman 70.3 is not for the faint-hearted. Proper training and preparation and a great hydration plan aren’t enough. You have to have guts and nerves of steel to back it up. And the Wetshop Para-Tri Team composed of a one-legged swimmer, a club-footed cyclist and a one-armed runner has it all.
Arnel Aba swims with just one leg. Godfrey Taberna rides with a club-foot. And Isidro Vildosola races with only an arm. It is mind-boggling really for those of us who haven’t heard of the three. They’re differently abled athletes. How can they beat full-bodied athletes?
But truth is, they did. On a hot and humid Sunday on a perfect venue fronting the Mactan Waters at the posh Shangri-La’s Mactan Resorts and Spa in Lapu Lapu City, Cebu, Aba, Taberna and Vildosola came, went and conquered everything. Seeing them compete is simply a triumph of the spirit. An inspiration to everyone, physically challenged or not.
They came with another performance to remember by coming through with a strong second place finish in the men’s relay team event against competitors blessed with full body parts. Despite encountering some troubles during the race, the troika managed to finish strong and clocked four hours, a minute and 16 seconds. It was their third straight as a team, the last coming in the Century Tuna 5150 Triathlon in Subic a couple of months ago when a team spearheaded by cycling Tour king Santy Barnachea won first place.
They didn’t get the win they aspired for in the fourth edition of the Ironman 70.3 Philippines after timing in the second fastest time in their category behind the Nike Park Team A of Johansen Aguilar, Eusebio Quinones and Eric Panique. Of course, Aguilar is a UAAP and Palarong Pambansa gold medalist, Quinones a Tour veteran in cycling and Panique a 2011 Southeast Asian Games marathon silver medal winner last year. Finishing second ahead of a phalanx of teams of full, complete people is as equal as winning the event itself.
So meet these champions: Aba, Taberna and Vildosola, each with a bitter, painful past that they all conquered. And let us hear their stories.
The 28-year-old Aba spent his youth doing things he should not have done–Smoking, drinking and even taking drugs. And then eight years ago, he figured in a vehicular accident back home in Iligan City and lost a leg. Depression sipped in. He got suicidal after it. Name it; he did everything to end his life. He even wanted to get hit by a truck. But as fate would have it, his redemption came. The truck driver who almost hit him spoke to him and gave him advice never to give up. The same driver invited him to just focus on learning how to swim instead. Of course, it was tough at first, swimming with just one leg, and a trauma of water didn’t help too. But he conquered all that.
“I had a phobia of the water when I was a child that’s why I never learned how to swim,” said Aba.
Eventually, Aba learned and everything just fell into place, as he got good in his newfound redemption. He later used it to give the country pride and glory after copping gold medals in the Southeast Asian Para-Games.
“We just want to prove that disability is not a hindrance if you will just believe in yourself,” Aba, who, all in all, has already collected five gold medals to go with several silver and bronze medals in the Southeast Asian Para-Games.
Taberna’s experience was different. He’s got supportive family and friends even though he’s had the leg deformity since berth. He didn’t let it affect how he treats life and make himself learn riding the bike, and later learning it. And then he competed, winning a silver medal in an Asian tilt.
“I got used to it and didn’t let it bother me, I went on with living life,” said the 33-year-old Taberna, who hails from Bagabag, Nueva Vizcaya.
And finally, Vildosola, the oldest of the three at 36 years old. He’s got some share of painful experiences too after losing a right arm when he was still at a very young age of 11 years old back in his hometown in Koronadal, South Cotabato. It led to drop out from school because of difficulty coping up with school requirements. After practically leaking his wounds, he decided to try some sports. But it was in running that he found his quantum of solace.
Basketball, volleyball and some other sporting disciplines he tried, and on all occasions, opted to give it up. Running is really his thing. His first big moment came after ruling the a 21-kilometer race in General Santos City where he earned a big spot as the banner story of almost all the newspapers in town. After that, he served the national team, and just like Aba, piled gold medal after gold medal in the Southeast Para-Asian Games. His journey for glory does not end in Cebu. He is scheduled to fly out to London this month to compete in the Paralympics Games.
“I tried volleyball, basketball and even taekwondo but I failed in all of it and then I found running where I’ve excelled. It’s as difficult but I found ways to compensate for the lack of one arm,” said Vildosola.
Vince Garcia, their manager at Wetshop, bared his plans of gathering funds for Aba, Taberna and Vildosola. “They specialize in their own discipline. My long-term goal is to really raise funds to get them prosthetics so that they can compete individually not just as a team. That’s my vision for them,” said Garcia.
But it looks like the three may stay together for a while.
“This is a special team, I guess we’re inseparable now because of the times we spent together,” said Aba.
Vildosola said their first concern right now is to get another sponsor aside from Wetshop to fund their nutritional needs. “We hope some generous companies out there will provide us sponsorship because we’re not eating properly,” he said.
But with the way they’re inspiring people, they will get the support they want for sure. – By JOEY VILLAR