“You shouldn’t limit yourself with what you’re currently doing,” Cheryl shares. “Explore—do something different, do something new.”

A New Adventure

In 2000, Cheryl was 27 years old, working her 9-to-6 job in Makati, leading what she thought was a normal life. “For seven years, it was just work and family. That was part of my routine since I started working at age 20.” Being a human resources practitioner, Cheryl meets a lot of people when she conducts trainings and seminars for different companies. It was during an out-of-town business trip where Cheryl realized how at home she was outside. “My former colleague and mentor saw how much I liked the outdoors. She encouraged me to go out and pushed me to try mountain climbing.”

Cheryl joined a mountaineering group that year—and from there, there was no going back.

“It was a total shift,” Cheryl says of her early days in mountaineering. “I wasn’t really sporty. I spent my first 16 years in Siquijor, then I moved to Manila for my college years and decided to just stay here for work. I thought that it was just supposed to be ‘school-home’ then ‘work-home.’ But I got hooked on mountain climbing.” Cheryl would go on to become a full-fledged member of her mountaineering group, and in 2001, proceeded to spend her weekends on the mountains.

“I learned to love nature more, and at the same time, I realized that there is more to life than just work,” Cheryl reflects. As Cheryl climbed mountains all over the country, she realized that even dreams can reach higher peaks. These dreams turned into reality for Cheryl, when ascended Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa in 2008, and the South American counterpart, Mt. Aconcagua, in 2011.

Hindi ko inakala na I’ll be doing what I’m doing now. Before, I thought na never in my wildest dreams na magagawa ko ‘yon,” Cheryl says about her ascent of two of the world’s Seven Summits.

For all those with similar dreams, Cheryl stresses the importance of having a support group: “In mountaineering, you need a support group to plan with you. I’m really blessed to have the right people to support me. In my case, I have friends who have the same passion na nagyaya. When we’re planning, we’re in it together no matter what.”

But, ultimately, Cheryl says, the decision in itself is already an adventure. “Hindi siya biro. Kailangan mo talaga siyang pag-ipunan. Kung nagawa ng iba, bakit hindi ko kaya gawin? Pwede naman, kung kaya ipasok sa budget. It’s really about prioritizing what you want.”

Photo by Charisma Lico, Edge of Light; Make-up by April Feliciano; Hair by Jannet Saberon. Clothes by Running Skirts and Alii Sport, Shoes by Saucony, Shoelaces by EZLaces, and Performance Visor by Headsweats – all from www.atletaako.com.

Photo by Charisma Lico, Edge of Light; Make-up by April Feliciano; Hair by Jannet Saberon. Clothes by Running Skirts and Alii Sport, Shoes by Saucony, Shoelaces by EZLaces, and Performance Visor by Headsweats – all from www.atletaako.com.

A Different Path

Cheryl dreams about climbing the five remaining Summits.

But as Cheryl continued to go up mountains and prepare for her next out-of-the-country adventure, she realized that there was a new challenge she wanted to take on. “Part of training in mountaineering is being able to run 15 kilometers in two hours,” Cheryl remembers from her Basic Mountaineering course. To meet this requirement, Cheryl started with 3K runs, eventually progressing to 5K and 10K runs.

While running was never on top of Cheryl’s to-do list, she managed 21K runs to help build her strength and endurance for long climbs. But in 2011, Cheryl, living by her belief to explore and do more, decided to run her first full marathon.

“I didn’t think I had the legs of a runner. When I was in school, I was never able to qualify for a team in running,” Cheryl recalls. “But I always believe that everything can be learned—I was inspired by my running friends. I am not a fast runner at all! I may not have the speed, but I have the endurance to run longer distances. And that was the start of it all.”

Two months after her first marathon, Cheryl signed up for her first 100-kilometer mountain trail race. With love for mountaineering and the outdoors, coupled with newfound success in long-distance running, “there was no turning back. I was having fun.”

A Higher Purpose

15 years of climbing Philippine mountains, 2 of the world’s highest peaks, almost 50 long-distance runs later—what’s left for Cheryl to do?

“Right now, I’m focused on running. I still have that dream to do the big mountains, and I have big races coming up. But there are a lot of factors—there’s the financial aspect, physical training, finding the right opportunities.”

Despite her successes on the mountains and trails, Cheryl faces typical days just like everyone else. “I wake up at 5:00 AM, do my exercises, speed training, or yoga. I go to the office and work the whole day, train some more after work, then I go home.” While she maintains a training routine comprised of different exercises, “I remember this is all in between work and chores that need to be done at work,” Cheryl says.

It’s all a matter of striking a balance: “No matter how stressed you are with work and your obligations, you need to have some time for yourself for what you really want to do—iba rin yung effect sa’yo. You have to be doing something for yourself also.”

It is this unwavering commitment that has brought Cheryl to where she is now. “I know that being active is the only way to keep myself healthy—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Mountain climbing has become a part of my life. I find so much peace and serenity when I am up on the mountain, being one with nature. I find it as my meditation and worship, away from the busy life in the city.”

Cheryl was initially hesitant to tell her story to a wider audience, but found the encouragement from her friends to start her own blog. She also shares her experiences with children and other women. “Right now, I’m coaching children in Tondo in running. I have a friend who runs a foundation in Tondo, and they got me to teach kids ages 6 to 16. I also teach classes held by different companies, to those who want to learn about trail running.”

She hopes that in her own way, she can inspire and influence other people, especially women, to feel the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, and feel empowered in their lives. “Life can be more exciting than what you’re used to. I was okay na, eh. Content na. But then I tried something new. My tough experiences were fulfilling. But even more now, I get to share it with children, the less fortunate.”

Cheryl believes the universe will conspire to make things happen for you—only if you know what you want, and you go for it. “I am grateful. I may have started late at 27. I’m not rich. But I am so blessed because God sent me the right people and the right opportunities, just when I was ready to accept it.”

“For as long as I can move my feet forward, and my body is still strong, and I still have the time, I will finish any race. I will never give up the fight. Same thing with life: all bad circumstances will definitely pass—just hang on and do something about it. After chaos will be peace.”

Photo by Charisma Lico, Edge of Light; Make-up by April Feliciano; Hair by Jannet Saberon. Clothes by Running Skirts and Alii Sport, Shoes by Saucony, Shoelaces by EZLaces, and Performance Visor by Headsweats – all from www.atletaako.com.

Cheryl’s Journey

Photos from Cheryl Bihag

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