“Being committed to sports makes me feel better and healthier. It’s not because I want to be the fastest athlete or fastest finisher in every race. I am committed because I love what I do, and it makes me feel good about myself. Inspiring other people to do the same is a great achievement,” says Rain Manongdo, a member of the Maharlika Drakon Dragon Boat Racers.

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, and Shoelaces by EZLaces – all from AtletaAko.com.

A woman’s everyday struggle

In 2007, Rain was 27 years old and a bank officer. As each day passed facing the bank’s patrons, Rain began to realize how uncomfortable she was in her own skin. “The stress at work drove me to eat even more, and I was getting even bigger,” Rain recalls. “Sa bank, dapat presentable ka, pero I felt like I didn’t have the confidence to face the clients.”

When she was growing up, Rain says she was always the “chubby chick”: she had the fast food, the chocolates, and even that “extra rice” with her meals. She didn’t engage in any physical activity, and felt that she was fine the way she was.

But she began to feel more and more tired from work, and she was starting to see the effects of her lifestyle on her health. “Every time I looked at my pictures, I felt embarrassed that I’d let myself get that big. I knew I had to do something.”

Photo by Charisma Lico, Edge of Light; Make-up by April Feliciano; Hair by Jannet Saberon. Clothes by SOAS, Shoes by Saucony, and Shoelaces by EZLaces – all from AtletaAko.com.

A moment’s realization would spur a complete lifestyle overhaul for Rain. At 167 pounds, she made her decision. “I felt like I was a late bloomer to physical fitness,” she said. But she knew the challenge ahead, so she started to make changes a little at a time.

First, she joined her colleagues after work to play badminton, as her way of introducing exercise into her life. She saw some progress with her weight, and felt encouraged to search for other ways to improve her physical fitness. “One of my officemates invited me to run, and I felt that was where was journey really began.”

It was hard at first, Rain recalls. Working at a bank meant her days began and ended beyond normal operating hours. “I woke up at 4 every day so I could train for running for at least an hour or an hour and a half. Because it’s difficult when you run after work—sometimes I’d start my day at 7, but end at 8:30 at night. Syempre, by the time makauwi ka, pagod ka na. So I had to be disciplined – it had to be every morning before work.”

Despite all the running that she did, Rain saw that she wasn’t making any progress with her weight. “Naisip ko, ‘Bakit hindi ako pumapayat kahit tumatakbo ako?’” Rain recalls. She then realized that discipline shouldn’t just be present in exercising, but with maintaining a well-balanced diet as well. From here, Rain, the formerly “chubby chick” let go of the things she was so fond of—the chocolates, the fast food, and the “extra rice”—and made better food choices to complement her new active lifestyle.

From 2010, Rain found herself joining races with distances from 10 kilometers to a full marathon. She would also join the Tagaytay to Nasugbu 50-kilometer run. When a boxing gym opened near her workplace, she signed up for lessons to cross-train. Wanting to do more, Rain also tried multisport events, now joining three to four triathlon events per year.

Finally, Rain felt at ease with herself and had the confidence she committed to regaining in 2007.

Photo by Charisma Lico, Edge of Light; Make-up by April Feliciano; Hair by Jannet Saberon. Clothes by SOAS, Shoes by Saucony, and Shoelaces by EZLaces – all from AtletaAko.com.

Saying ‘yes’ to new adventures

One Saturday morning, Rain made her way to Manila Bay to try a sport she had been drawn to for a very long time. “Ever since I was in college, I wanted to try dragon boat paddling. I wanted to try something unusual. So when I was invited to try it out, I didn’t hesitate.”

Of her first session with dragon boat paddling, this is what Rain had to say: “Running was part of the training, so I felt na I fit right in. And after that first time, feeling ko, na kahit sobrang sakit ng buong katawan ko, ito talaga yung sport na para sa’kin.

Just like her progress with losing weight, Rain started slowly to make sure she had the best possible results. “At first, saling-pusa lang talaga ako! Pero dahil nag-commit ako, talagang pumunta ako sa lahat ng training. I train three to four times a week, either in the morning or afternoon, every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday.”

Rain describes her training with the team: “In dragon boat, we have basic land training, which includes running, core workout, and calisthenics before we proceed to boat training. During boat training, we follow programs for endurance or strength training, where we paddle for almost 30 minutes nonstop with added weights on the boat to make it harder for us. Weigh training is also necessary to increase strength needed for this sport.”

Rain officially joined the Maharlika Drakon Dragon Boat Racers in 2012. The former saling-pusa would eventually become the team pacer in both the mixed and the all-female boats. “Pag team pacer ka, ikaw yung nasa unahan, so dapat malakas ka.

New lifestyle, new perspectives

Being a woman in a male-dominated sport gave Rain the strength to become a pacer. She credits this to the fact that in an all-female event, there are less people in the boat to paddle, as compared to a mixed or all-male race. “Dati kasi, hindi naman ganung karami yung sumasaling babae. Kaya hindi kami nakakabuo ng full boat with 10 pairs. Five pairs lang kami na nagpa-paddle pag all girls, pero it’s the same boat size, so mas mabigat siya. Kaya mas malakas usually yung babae. Pag all-female race, natatapos din kami in the same time halos ng mixed or all-male full boat.”

Dragon boat paddling also showed Rain a different perspective when it comes to sports. “If you want na manalo ka personally, mahirap sa dragon boat. Kasi team sport siya at hindi all the time, mananalo ka.” With her team, Rain faced the challenges of the sport—from its grueling physical aspect, to the lack of funding and resources. But despite this, her team participates in events all over the country, such as in Boracay and Bohol where dragon boat paddling receives local government support. Outside of the Philippines, Rain joined her team in Singapore in 2013 at the Sava Sprints International, where they proudly represented the country and won the gold medal in the mixed boat event. The team also joins the quarterly regatta in Manila Bay.

Ang view ko kasi is, kung gusto mo talaga, gagawin mo siya,” says Rain about her experiences dragon boat paddling and her active lifestyle. “You must love your sport, and you should be enjoying what you are doing. Because if you do, you can always find time for it no matter what kind of activities or lifestyle you have.”

Rain wants to tell other women that it’s never too late, and she believes she is an example of this. “I was fat since I was a kid, and I never even cared whether I was healthy or not. But now, I enjoy what I see in the mirror and I feel great inside and out. I am healthier and happier every day. So for those women who haven’t started living an active lifestyle yet, it’s never too late. Don’t be afraid to try to find the activities you could learn to love. Kailangan tandaaan ng lahat ng mga babae na ingatan nila ang mga sarlili nila, even if they’re married na or have kids. Importante pa rin na you make time for yourself, lalo na with exercise dahil isa ‘yon sa nagboboost ng confidence mo.

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, and Shoelaces by EZLaces – all from AtletaAko.com.

Rain’s Journey

Photos from Rain Manongdo

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