No legs, no excuses: Palaro amputee shines in Cebu triathlon
MANILA, Philippines – Triathletes from around the world participated in the Cobra-Ironman 70.3 triathlon on Sunday, August 2. Thousands of spectators lined up the roads to cheer during the event as ironman athletes hailed Cebu as the “Disneyland of racing.”
There is one athlete, however, who inspired more people than others.
This is Jomar Maalam, an 18-year-old amputee who was born with no legs.
Maalam participated with a relay team during the event. He handled the swimming part of the swim-bike-run series.
“As he headed to the swim start, fellow triathletes and spectators were having pictures taken with him and wishing him well for the race. When he got out of the water, the cheering started,” Coach Vince Garcia of the ParaTriathlon Association of the Philippines (PTRAP) said.
After finishing his 1.9-kilometer swim, Maalam faced another obstacle – he had to run over a hundred meters to reach the relay tent.
“With just 2 stumps for legs, it would take a long time for him to get to the bike. He asked me in his dialect (if he can run) on all fours – hands and stumps. I said ‘yes, you can, but shout excuse me if you have people on your way,’” Garcia said.
Maalam started running on all 4 of his limbs, generating a loud roar from the spectators. The audience went wilder when Maalam reached the relay tent, prompting his biker counterpart, Bernard Lugod, to start.
Feeling exhausted, Maalam lost his smile, Garcia recalled. This was until he realized that he bested 2,600 other able-bodied swimmers, with 160 of them getting disqualified for not even making the cut-off time.
“Like last year, there were many onlookers (who) didn't know what to make out of him and what he can do. So he uses that as a challenge to prove himself,” Garcia added.
PTRAP’s relay teams finished in 4th and 9th places among the 66 local and international relay teams in the event. Maalam’s team finished 9th.
But Maalam has been overcoming challenges since the day he was born. Without limbs just below his knees, Maalam learned to swim and keep afloat using only his upper body.
He comes from a family of fishermen in Tabina, Zamboanga del Sur. He has 9 siblings and he helps his father in fishing as the swimmer who gathers the net in the water before it is hauled into the boat.
“Jomar, despite what seems like the universe throwing everything against him, still manages to keep his smile in place every time. That alone is a character achievement I don't see in other athletes who instead bicker and complain about things,” Garcia said.
It was during the Palarong Pambansa, the largest grassroots sporting event in the Philippines that aims to develop the potentials of the youth to become responsible and globally competitive citizens, that Maalam got his break.
He started proving people wrong when he first competed in the high school men’s swimming events during the 2013 Palarong Pambansa. Maalam was the first-ever amputee swimmer to represent the region.
Bright future ahead
It was also in 2013 where Garcia first encountered Maalam and recruited him to be part of the PTRAP’s development team.
Garcia started training Maalam for triathlon, while Coach Danilo Camado of Tabina, Zamboanga del Sur trains him for swimming.
“He is a very hard worker and he never complains. So I see him levelling up big time soon once he transfers to Manila and joins our regular training with the national paratriathlon team,” Garcia said of Maalam.
In swimming races, Maalam has his own pool lane to swim in. In triathlon, however, the swimming event starts with all the athletes jumping in the water. This was the first adjustment Garcia had to teach Maalam.
“In an open water swim race, it's a different story. He knows that aside from swimming in a pack, he will have to contend with accidental slaps, elbows and kicks. I had him try a triathlon race where the organizers used a swimming pool with also a mass start for the swim,” Garcia said.
Maalam’s dream is to represent the Philippines in the Paratriathlon World Championships, and Garcia said he’s getting there.
“Hopefully, we can train him to race as an individual soon. For now, he'll be part of our team that joins relay races in triathlon,” Garcia said.
He added: “He is aspiring to be one of those we will send to global caliber races in the future and that doesn't seem far-fetched.”
With his heart and mind set on becoming a world-class athlete, Maalam’s future burns bright in paralympic sports. His example proves that there are no excuses in achieving one’s dreams. - Rappler.com
The ParaTriathlon Association of the Philippines lacks equipment for paralympic triathletes like Jomar Maalam. Other athletes need handcycles and sports prosthesis so they can compete in international triathlon events. You can send donations to the organization through its BDO Savings Account (001510207595).
To learn more about other avenues to support our paralympic athletes, visit PTRAP's Facebook page.