The making of the next ‘Ate Joy’
With a Cebuana marathoner’s recent historic Olympic stint, every aspiring and professional runner is now often asked: are you eyeing to be the next Mary Joy Tabal?
That very same question was repeatedly thrown at Ruffa Sorongon by reporters last Sunday after she won the women’s 21-kilometer race of the 40th National Milo Marathon-Cebu Leg for the second straight year.
Still trying to absorb her unexpected victory, the 25-year-old laughingly waved off the Olympic dream queries, saying she’s often too lazy to train.
The week prior to the race had her indisposed for days after a week-long fever, leaving her with only one last day to train before Sunday’s footrace.
Even then, the Sultan Kudarat native came out with guns blazing, clocking in a personal best time of 1:26:17.
Asked if her Milo stints are training ground for the loftier goal of someday joining that elite circle called Olympians, Sorongon insisted she’s focusing on the task at hand— that is, to hurdle the National Milo Marathon Finals come Dec. 4 in Iloilo City.
She’s working on winning that one first. Whatever door opens up after that, she’ll deal with it then. For now, her eyes are on the Milo prize.
Sorongon may not be seriously considering embarking on more daunting tasks just yet, but the moment she feels ready, she won’t have to search far for inspiration.
Sorongon has been good friends with Tabal, even before the road queen earned the enviable lifetime label of “first Filipina marathon Olympian.”
“I met her through a friend in 2012. They came to Cebu to compete in a marathon and we were introduced to each other,” said Tabal.
Sorongon still vividly remembers how she was warmly welcomed by Tabal when she moved to Cebu to pursue running.
“She even lent us P2,500 so we could rent a boarding house,” said Sorongon of Tabal, who was not only willing to extend financial help but was likewise generous in dishing out running advice.
“She shares some of her training techniques. But what I admire her the most is that she’s always there to inspire me. Ate Joy always tells me to dream big and to work hard always,” shared Sorongon.
Unlike her “Ate Joy,” Sorongon’s name may not ring a bell yet to some, but slowly but surely, she’s starting to get the attention.
Last Sunday’s win was Sorongon’s 15th title for this year alone and at the rate she’s going, it appears she’s in a right track in her dream of following in the footsteps of Tabal.
While she has already amassed numerous titles, Sorongon knows she still has a long way to go to match or even come close to what Tabal has achieved.
“Ate Joy is in a different level. She is in a league of her own,” said Sorongon, who is two years younger than Tabal.
What the two runners share in common is that they are both products of Milo Marathon.
Sorongon had her first taste of Milo race in 2008 when she competed and won the five-kilometer race in Davao City.
Tabal, for her part, got her of baptism of fire in the Milo race in 2009, where she too competed in the five-kilometer race and, like Sorongon, won the contest.
Sorongon took a break after her first Milo race and returned to competitive running in 2012—the year the two runners met.
In 2010, Tabal won her first 21-kilometer race in the Cebu City leg of the Milo Marathon. Sorongon’s first 21-kilometer title came in 2014 when she topped the Bohol edition of the Milo race.
Also in 2014, Tabal was crowned champion in the Butuan leg.
In 2015, Sorongon competed in the Cebu City leg but the two runners didn’t cross paths as Tabal opted to join in the General Santos City. The two ruled their respective categories.
“I was scheduled to run in a 42-kilometer race then and the Cebu City leg was too early. The General Santos City leg fit my training schedule so I decided to join there,” recalled Tabal.
Tabal was in attendance and saw how Sorongon easily topped last Sunday’s race. Sorongon’s closest pursuer was Cresabel Cadion, who timed 1:32:14.
“I’m happy with her achievements. I just want her to continue what she’s started, continue to chase her dreams even though there will be some obstacles along the way. Stay humble,” said Tabal.
Tabal said having people like Sorongon looking up to her gives her a sense of fulfillment.
“The more people who idolize me, the more I will work hard. I think that’s my purpose, to provide an inspiration, to make people happy through sports. Seeing them happy while idolizing someone and achieving something at same time is also an achievement on my part,” Tabal said.
The two runners will be up against each other in this year’s 42K National Finals—a race that Tabal has dominated in the past three years.
While they will be sharing the same stage in the National Finals, Sorongon insisted there will be no competition between her and Tabal.
“If I have my way, I won’t run in the same race with Ate Joy. I won’t stand a chance,” said Sorongon, chuckling.
For Tabal, it should not be her versus Sorongon.
“I really appreciate that she’s taking me as a standard in this kind of event. I won’t encourage her to compete against me but I would rather encourage her to compete against herself, against her self limitations,” Tabal said.
Clearly, Sorongon has the makings of a great runner but she knows there is still more work to do. She, however, is not complaining. After all, champions like her Ate Joy, are not made overnight.
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