Forty-three-year-old Vince Carter became the first NBA player to suit up in four different calendar decades, while Filipino southpaw Manny Pacquiao is still winning boxing world titles at the age of 41. Tennis superstar Roger Federer steadily sits at number 3 in the world rankings at 38, and football sensation Cristiano Ronaldo recently celebrated his 35th birthday and is currently enjoying a stellar run with Juventus FC.
Age has been a constant topic of conversation in the world of sports. Bodies and minds of most athletes wear out when they reach their 30s due to the strenuous nature of their chosen sport. However, these men defied the physical boundaries of their respective fields and proved that age is just a number.
For Dr. Jen Yalung, an orthodontist for 20 years, she discovered the peak of her athletic prime at an age where most are contentedly retired. The 51-year-old competes in the sport of CrossFit, which started as a fitness regimen developed by Greg Glassman in 1996 to improve endurance, strength, flexibility, speed, coordination, and balance.
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As both a physical exercise philosophy and a competitive fitness sport, CrossFit incorporates elements from high-intensity interval training, Olympic weightlifting, plyometrics, powerlifting, gymnastics, and calisthenics. It is practiced by members of over 13,000 affiliated gyms across the globe and by individuals who complete workouts of the day—otherwise known as "WODs."
Yalung, who embraced a more active lifestyle in 2005 to address issues with her weight, admitted that she has never seen anything like it in her life. It goes without saying that she was in awe of CrossFit’s multi-faceted characteristic.
“I’ve read about it. I’ve watched videos of foreign athletes compete in it. I just knew that it was something different. It is everything rolled into one. From boxing to a 50-kilometer marathon to yoga, I’ve done a lot of things. CrossFit is totally incomparable to other sports because of its variety,” she says.
While training at a boxing gym in Mandaluyong, she received an invitation to try CrossFit. It did not immediately draw her interest as she was met with a vigorous workout program, but it eventually grew into her.
“It was a struggle. The WOD is no joke and not for the fainthearted. Yes, it was a challenge. It’s always a challenge. I was just confident to get better at it. I can say it wasn’t love at first sight, but it was something you will fall in love with, and it ultimately became an adventurous love affair,” Yalung shares.
As Yalung spent countless hours doing different exercises in the gym, her peers began to notice the progress in her routine. She broke personal records after personal records. At that time, they pitched the idea of competing in the ages 45 to 49 bracket. With coaches Chris Yanguas and Joshua Nieva manning her training camp, she accepted the offer.
“It was about four years ago when a friend mentioned that I was strong for my age. She then asked if I wanted to try and compete. I said, ‘why not?’ That gave birth to my CrossFit career,” she shares.
Yalung joined her first competition in 2016, and describes the experience as her baptism of fire. “I was scared and intimidated. There were butterflies in my stomach,” she divulges. “But you know I’d tell myself, if the younger ones can do it, why can’t I?”
Though she went home empty-handed, Yalung knew that she was destined to continue to compete. She never looked back since, and participated in various tournaments throughout the country. By 2017, the dentist-turned-fitness enthusiast was ranked No. 1 in the masters division of the Philippines.
After a few bridesmaid finishes in competitions such as the Manila Throwdown 2018 and the Affiliate Alliance 2018, Yalung had her career-defining moment when she won first place in the Masters Women Scaled 45+ category of the Affiliate Alliance 2019.
Yalung did not mince words about the euphoria she felt on top of the podium, but to her, it is just the icing on the cake. She cherishes more on the affirmation that age is not an indicator of potential, performance, or skill.
“My fulfillment does not come from the thought that you have to defeat someone else and prove that you’re stronger. It’s the fulfillment of challenging yourself to do more than what you expect from yourself,” she says. “It’s carrying out something that you’ve worked hard for. And when you achieve it, it makes you feel ecstatic.”
Dentist by day, athlete by night
Yalung is now gearing up for the Masters League 2020, which will be held in Melbourne on May 2nd. But unlike a regular athlete whose daily agenda is to rigorously hone his or her craft, she has a day job to attend to.
She owns a clinic named “Jentle Dental” that has been operating in Mandaluyong since the early 2000s. “It has been a routine to schedule my patients promptly at their most convenient time. I go on by appointment basis. I focus on work and patient care in the morning until mid to late afternoon. I rest or take a nap. Then I do my training for an hour or two,” she says, sharing how she juggles between her work and her sport. “When I’m in my office, I am a dentist, a doctor who’s going to make sure that my patients get the utmost treatment, service and care that they need. When I work, I only think about work. Now when I train, I do the training program that my coaches prepare for me. That’s when I become an athlete. I do what an athlete is supposed to do,” Yalung explains further.
Although being a CrossFit athlete gives her a new sense of delight, Yalung stresses that her dental business remains as the top priority, emphasizing that her sport benefits the most from her profession.
“I love being a dentist. My profession is actually my first love. It’s my bread and butter. Being a dentist is the reason why I can afford to be a CrossFitter. Probably, I’d be a dentist for the rest of my life. I can’t be an athlete till I’m old and frail,” she acknowledges.
At this point, Yalung knows there is no certainty how far she can still go as an athlete. But as long as there is fuel in her gas tank, she intends to be a ray of inspiration to the young and to the young at heart.
“Nobody was ever born strong. Strength is built. Strength begins by being weak,” she says. “With the right amount of discipline, determination, desire, and a lot of prayers, anything is possible. Nothing will ever be too late. Believe me, I totally forget that I’m 51.”