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Ironman 70.3 Davao: An Interview with the Fastest Filipina and 2nd Overall Female Age Grouper, Rhia Stawicki

AsiaTRI: Thank you for this exclusive opportunity to sit down with you on this interview.   First things off, you own the title, fastest Filipina in Ironman 70.3 Davao and have placed 2nd female age grouper overall, have you ever thought you will be in this prestigious situation, pre-pandemic?

RS:  Not in my wildest dreams!  I was working as a dentist full time, after work would be taking care of the twins. So that was my life pre-pandemic.   I kept shape doing you-tube workout videos, but if you asked me if I were to be in this position, we would all laugh and it would be nuts.

AT:  The process was quite quick; you started joining the pandemic sessions of TriClark April of 2021, then at December of that year, you competed in the National Duathlon Trials.  Can you describe what led you to join the pandemic training sessions?

RS:  Like everybody else, I was bored to death staying indoors.  I have always been sporty, and during the pandemic, when biking and running was allowed, I immediately pounced on the chance to join the TriClark sessions, with the prodding of my good friend, John Villanueva, who was President of TriClark at that time.  I picked up the sessions well, and after two weeks, I immediately told Coach Kap Abe that I wanted to be coached.   After he came back from the United States, I was one of Kap’s students.   That started our coach-athlete relationship, that was June of 2021.

AT:  This is a question for Coach Abe Tayag, how did you know that Rhia has that “elite” feel as an athlete?

Kap Abe Tayag:  Rhia already has an athletic background, being a tennis and a football player in her teens.  So it was just picking up from that background, and teaching the technique needed to translate into multisport.  I noticed that she immediately got the technique, especially in swimming.  She started with basic swimming lessons under Coach Dax Halili, after two months of swimming, Rhia was already passing me in the pool haha.  Sa bike, she was already joining the TriClark budol rides.  And she was keeping pace with the trangko boys of TriClark like Geron and Lan who, likes to push the pace. The weakest and last one to develop was the run part.  Through consistency, the endurance part was naturally developed.  I just had to guide her sa pacing and technique.

AT:  Tell me about the infamous 2021 National Duathlon Trials where you led the women’s race until about the last 2.5km of the 5k run where you were passed by National athlete Kim Mangrobang.  At the last 200m of the race, you were about to finish 2nd, the wheels fell off and you bonked.  Can you tell me about it and how did you handle the scrutiny after it?

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RS:  The 2021 National Duathlon Trials was my first multisport race, although at TriClark, we were already doing some DIY stuff to keep us on our toes..  In the duathlon trials race, it was nutrition that kept me from standing up.   I did not ingest anything in the bike portion, I only sipped water.  I was so focused on keeping my pace, I did not taken in my gel.  By the time I was into T2, ang putla ko na (was already pale).   I just fell down.  Chuck it off as a rookie mistake.

AT:  And then the run course mistakes at NAGT and TriFactor Duathlon.

RS:  Yes!   You know at TriClark, there were lots of jests and jokes about my mistakes in those races.   But being friends with them made it easy for me in terms of the scrutiny that came with it.  There is a genuine culture of cohesiveness in the team that everybody wants everyone to succeed in their goals.  Kap Abe, for his part, gave me space after those mistakes, saying they are part of the process.  My competitive fire sometimes led me be out of focus.  So Kap told me to just run my own race, be in the moment.  

Kap:   It is very easy for any coach to just tell your student to be “focused”.   Mistakes are easy to come by, specially when you are just new to the sport.  It will happen to all of us.  For Rhia, I told her to be patient and just enjoy the process.   No pressure to always come in first.   Coming in first means you have to beat yourself first.   When she did that, the wins came in.   Rhia was first age grouper in Subit, and was first overall in TriFactor Vietnam, Clark Triathlon Classic and Titan 77.7.

AT:  Being a mom of twins and also a full-time dentist, and now a full-pledged elite age grouper, how do you handle the time management?

Rhia:  I always believed that in time management, if your priorities are set in the right order, anything can be done.  Family, work, training balance is real for all of us.   I usually get-up 4:30 am everyday on training day, and train for about two hours, and longer on weekends.  Pre-pandemic, I usually have some time-off like drinking sessions, but now I do that random.  It was one of those things that came off, coz well, I have to sleep early.

AT: How was your race in Davao?

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Rhia:  The current is real!  I think I timed 40 minutes and with the tough conditions and  I felt I did well on that part.  Pre-race, I was told by Kap to just be patient in the bike leg and don’t be agitated by someone passing me or something.  So I stayed confident on my own pace.  The run leg was really hot, but I already experienced running on those conditions in TriFactor Vietnam.  The nutrition part I handled well so I am terribly proud to have finished the race as the fastest Filipina age grouper.  Had the swim times stayed on, I would have done a sub-5 finish on my 70.3 debut. So yeah, I am proud of the accomplishment on the race.

AT:  What would be next for you?

Rhia:   I am competitive and still have higher goals.  With multisport, you always have to test the upper limit on what your mind and body can do.  So Coach Abe and I are already talking on what needs to be done.   We haven’t formally talked about it coz we are still under the post-race recovery process, but I am excited to take on the going to another level part.   For races, I will be in Clark Triathlon Classic, Subit and New Clark City Duathlon in that order.  I am grateful for GoClark events as they have been hugely beneficial in my development as an athlete.

Kap:  Rhia is nearing just two years as a multisport athlete.   There’s still a lot to be developed as she is just turning 30 this year, so her peak as an athlete is just beginning.  Races are back, so we just have to pick the right ones that will be beneficial to her growth.  Let’s see.

AT:  Race announcer Chiqui Reyes coined the nickname for you, Lady Beast, and then you also coined the term KAKANA.  What gives?

Rhia:  Thank you sir Chiqui for coining the nickname, hopefully, lovely lady beast, idagdag nya haha.  KAKANA means excellence, doing well and accomplishments.   Coach KAP has been one of the Philippines’ pioneer age grouper and his accomplishments speaks for themselves.  So I am following his lead..KAKANA!

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