The Alaska Tri Aspire team and its head Fred Uytengsu are fired up for the first-ever Ironman 70.3 Asia Pacific Championship in the Philippines.
Dreams do come true. The most-awaited triathlon event in the country is set to take place on August 7, as Cebu plays host to the first Ironman 70.3 regional championship to be held outside of Australia or New Zealand, the Cobra Ironman 70.3 Asia Pacific Championship presented by Ford. “I can’t tell you how excited we are,” said Fred Uytengsu, president of Sunrise Events, Inc., which has successfully staged Ironman-branded races such as the Ironman 70.3 and the 5150 in the Philippines. Speaking at a press conference a month before the race, he recalled what he described as their “little Woodstock event”— the first Ironman 70.3 in the Philippines in Camarines Sur in August 2009. But the zeal of Uytengsu—himself a long-time, avid triathlete and two-time Ironman Kona finisher—to host a grand event has paid off for the tri community and the Philippines. “Never in my wild imagination would we be here eight years later.”
“I had to remind our friends in Ironman that Asia Pacific is not just Oceania,” he said, referring to Australia and New Zealand. “We are truly privileged and also pressured, as this is a chance for the Philippines to shine, to show what we can do,” he added.
He noted the changes in the triathlon landscape. “In the long time that I have been associated with the sport, what impresses me most is its growth,” said Fred Uytengsu, captain of the country’s longest established triathlon team, Polo Tri. “What used to be a hundred people whom you get to know, today, I recognize very few faces at the starting line. I ask them how long they have been doing triathlon and they answer that it is their first race.”
These newbies are people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, “men and women who wake up at 5 a.m. to start training for a 2-kilometer swim, 90-kilometer bike, and a 21-kilometer run,” he said. It’s not the 20-somethings, as they are only getting home at 5 a.m., he quipped. “It’s the smart guys who get up at 5 a.m. to train.”
As a triathlete who podiums occasionally in his age group and as chief executive officer of leading milk brand, Alaska Milk Corp., Uytengsu is all too well aware of triathlon’s appeal. “You will adapt to this healthy lifestyle once you taste those endorphins, and you experience crossing that finish line,” he said. The difficulty of the sport is a metaphor for how you take on life and its challenges.
“Nothing in life comes easy. Once you cross the finish line, after you have been in a dark place during your run or your bike, you come across a tremendous sense of accomplishment. You walk out of there two inches taller, your chest is out a little more. You were able to test your physical limits, you are able to test your mental limits.”
In 2012, Uytengsu, already a champion of sports development through his support of the Alaska Aces team in the Philippine Basketball Association, Alaska Ironkids, and various football camps, took his mission to further promote a healthy lifestyle among Filipinos by creating the Alaska Tri Aspire Team. The team is composed of the some of the world’s and the Philippines’s leading professional, elite, and upcoming triathletes. They’re a formidable team that has collectively chalked up numerous championship titles in both Ironman and Ironman 70.3 races all over the world. But for Alaska, they take on the role of ambassadors mentoring and inspiring the next generation about living the healthy active lifestyle.
Here’s what some of the members of the Alaska Tri Aspire team have to say;
BELINDA GRANGER, retired professional triathlete: “It has been amazing to watch the young Filipino athletes continually improve over the years I have been coming over. I love the ideology behind Team Alaska—having some of the best professional athletes in the world as mentors to the young, up-and-coming Filipino athlete—it is a perfect combination.”
TIM REED, professional triathlete, defending champion Cobra Ironman 70.3: “Being a part of the Alaska team gives me the wonderful opportunity to keep coming back to the Philippines and racing some of the best races that are available globally while also representing a brand that contributes in a very real and positive way to the Philippines. Nearly half the Philippines population is under 18 years of age and the various milk products that Alaska Milk makes available is integral to keeping millions of children healthy. I’m really proud to represent a company that contributes not only to the nutritional health of its nation but also play a huge role in promoting fitness through community sports events and programs.”
TIM VAN BERKEL, professional triathlete: “The value that Alaska places on younger people is remarkable…having the Sports Development program and the motto of proper nutrition, an active lifestyle, and the importance of character-building…. It’s great to be part of a team that’s motivated past the finish line.”
DIMITY-LEE DUKE, professional triathlete: “I look forward to promoting not only their [Alaska] products, but encouraging a healthy and active lifestyle which the company endorses through participation in sports.”
SAM BETTEN, professional triathlete: “It’s great to have the opportunity to give back to the sport and help inspire others to participate in sport such as triathlon. When I am in the Philippines, I really love to support the Alaska IronKids and be a positive role model to them.”
Other Alaska athletes who will be seeing action in Cebu are August Benedicto, who is racing in the Filipino Elite Category, and super siblings Samantha, Tara, and Franchezka Borlain in the Alaska Ironkids.
MEET THE AMBASSADORS OF THE ALASKA TRI ASPIRE TEAM
Caroline Steffen (SUI)
Age (as of July 30, 2016): 37
Professional triathlete since: 2010
No. of years with Alaska Triathlon Team: 5
Personal Best: 1st Ironman Asia Pacific Championship Melbourne, 2012; 8:34:51
No. of times raced in the Philippines: 7
“I love the Ironman 70.3 in Cebu. The support we get from the locals and all the school kids is just unbelievable. There is no other race with so many spectators on the racecourse. The 70.3 Asia-Pacific championship this year in Cebu is one of my A-races in 2016. I will be 100 percent prepared and rested for this year’s race. Focus in training will be on my run as I think that’s where the race will be made this year. I’d like to defend my title and win the race for the fifth time in a row.
“Triathlon is such a lonely sport sometimes when it comes to training. To have a team such as Alaska in my background on race day is always great to have. I love to share my passion with friends and teammates. Our sport is way more than just swim, bike, run. We all are very privileged and lucky to have Fred Uytengsu from Alaska as our support.”
Age (as of July 30, 2016): 45
Professional triathlete since 1997 (retired November 2015)
No. of years with Alaska Triathlon Team: 5
Personal Best: Challenge Roth, 2005, 8:58:00. I have won 15 Ironman-distance races throughout my career.
No. of times raced in the Philippines: 14. “I won 70.3 in Camarines Sur in 2011, and then Cebu 70.3 the first time it was held there (2012).”
“Racing in the Philippines, the emphasis is always about fun and friends. I love the way the Filipinos have embraced the sport of triathlon:They just love it and it shows. It is not until you race elsewhere that you realize how spoilt you are racing in the Philippines. I retired from professional racing at the end of last year in Bohol 5150. I will be in Cebu of course to support my Alaska teammates and to help Princess (Galura) and her amazing Sunrise team deliver the best race ever.
“My advice, particularly for age-groupers, is: ‘Everything in moderation.’ It’s an oldie but a goodie. I truly believe we can apply this to every facet of our lives, from exercise to diet to work to play. The most important thing is to have balance in our lives so that we are able to enjoy a little bit of everything.”
Age (as of July 30, 2016): 32
Professional triathlete since: 2006
No. of years with Alaska Team: 1
Personal Best: Ironman Western Australia, 2008,8:07:06, 1st place (second youngest Ironman champion); Ironman 70.3 Mandurah, Western Australia, 2012 3:39:59, 1st place
No. of times raced in the Philippines: 2
“It [the race experience] starts with the team that runs the event. The time and passion that they place on these events is first rate. Above all, as professional triathletes, they have always treated us exceptionally well. The locals get behind the events which makes for racing just so special.
“I’m coming off a very small break from just winning the Ironman Asia-Pacific title in Cairns (Australia) a few weeks ago [June 12, 2016; Van Berkel finished in 8:15:02]. I headed back to my training base in Boulder, Colorado to start preparing at altitude with similar plans to last year, which should have me in great shape.
“It’s great to be part of a team that’s motivated past the finish line. Given that triathlon is a non-team based sport, it’s great to have a common thread that binds us teammates together.”
Age (as of July 30, 2016): 32
Professional triathlete since: 2014
No. of months with Alaska Team: 6
Personal Best: Hard to answer in one race, but my highlight race would have to be Ironman Western Australia in 2014, where I finished with a personal best time of 9hr 12min.
No. of times raced in the Philippines: 9 times (“It could be more but I know there are many more to come.”)
“What I love about racing in the Philippines is the pure enthusiasm for the sport. It is not always about the race, but the people you meet, the destinations you go and simply every participant out there having a go! The country is still developing in the sport of triathlon but every time I race there I get goosebumps and so much adrenaline to perform in front of the crowd. I have had a number of unforgettable races in the Philippines, whether it was finishing on the podium (3rd place) in Xterra Philippines in 2015, to racing the Ironman 70.3 Cebu. Each race I have attended has been full of fun and laughter and I will cherish the memories for the rest of my life.
“This year I will be coming off racing an Ironman four weeks prior, so for me it will be a matter of recovering and then focusing on speed in all three disciplines. I will be also using it as a benchmark in the leadup to the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Australia in September.
“I am very fortunate to be selected as part of the Alaska Triathlon Team this year and would like to thank Fred Uytengsu and his team for the opportunity… I am also excited to be part of a like-minded team who strives for success and excellence in, not only sport, but life in general.”
Age (as of July 30, 2016): 31
Professional triathlete since: 2010
No. of years with Alaska Team: first year as an Alaska Milk ambassador
Personal Best: Ironman 70.3 Mandurah, Western Australia, 2014, 3:38:42
No. of times raced in the Philippines: 3
“My overall racing experience in the Philippines is 10/10. I know that the memories I’ll take out of my time racing in the Philippines will stay with me long after I retire from racing. The tough conditions, the beautiful scenery, the incredible atmosphere, and the great battles I’ve had with other athletes all add up to some very epic racing.
‘I’ll be heading to Hawaii right before this race, partly to spend more time learning the course for the Ironman World Championship [October 14, 2017], but predominantly to get some great training done in the heat before arriving in Cebu so I’m acclimatized and ready to roll.”
Age (as of July 30, 2016): 28
Professional Triathlete since: 2005
No. of years with Alaska: since January 2016
Personal best:- Regent 5150, 2016, 1st place 2:06:55; 2nd place, Cobra Ironman 70.3 Cebu, 2015, 4:01:23; 9th overall ITU Long Distance World Championships, 2015, 5:03:33
No. of times raced in the Philippines: 6
“The best race has to be Ironman 70.3 Cebu due to the event location and the amazing support from the crowd for the competitors while racing. The heat is a huge factor in the Philippines so I will be doing a lot of heat training in preparation. It’s winter in Australia at the moment so this means some indoor riding and running with the heaters turned up.
“Being a part of the Alaska Tri-Aspire team is a huge honor and I feel very privileged to have this opportunity. The team is so supportive and has an amazingly talented group of athletes involved.”