This rakista is braving Ironman with just one good arm 2
Rock musician turned triathlon coach Reujen Lista. Photo courtesy of Lista

This Pinoy rock figure is braving the Ironman World Championship with just one good arm

After fighting his own demons, Reujen Lista finds himself on a mission—helping other people become the best version of themselves thru sports.
RHIA GRANA | Oct 02 2022

Reujen Lista’s mood is the total opposite of the gloomy atmosphere outside his BGC wine lounge Your Wine Experience this Thursday afternoon. The rock musician turned triathlon coach looks more than ready to conquer the Ironman World Championship happening in a few days—October 6 to 8–in Kona, Hawaii. He’s thrilled at the idea that he and 59 other Filipino triathletes are joining. “It’s going to be epic kasi the Philippines will be one of the biggest contingents,” Reujen offers. It’s a first that this number of Filipinos would be joining the event, he adds, and at Kona no less, the “Mecca for triathletes.” 

With his sunny, go-for-gold energy, you wouldn’t think the guy just recovered from two unfortunate events that happened in the last two months. First, last August 19, he accidentally shot himself on the foot with a 9mm pistol while attending a shooting event at a firing range in Lipa. A shooting enthusiast for as long as he can remember, the accident left him dumbfounded.

“When you're preparing for Kona, you want to be the best. So seven weeks ago, I was at my best,” says the 53-year-old triathlete. “I'm older now but I'm at my fastest. I'm at my fittest. Talagang ang yabang ko.” He was swimming at a minute and 15 seconds per 100 meters, running at 3 minutes and 15 seconds per kilometer. He was also doing impressively in biking.

At the shooting event, however, as he put the gun back into the holster, he forgot he only put the weapon on safety mode. He accidentally pulled the trigger and shattered a portion of his right foot. “I didn’t feel it pa at first, but I heard the bang,” he recalls. And then he heard his best friend, the singer Arnel Pineda, tell him, “Bro, may sumisirit na dugo.” That’s when Reujen realized he shot himself.

Reujen Lista with friend Arnel Pineda
Reujen with friend Arnel Pineda, who was with him when he accidentally shot his right foot.

After being given first aid at a hospital in Lipa, he was brought to Makati Medical Center where he was operated on to remove the bullet fragments. Three days later, he underwent another operation where a long screw was inserted to replace a bone near his pinky toe.

Any other guy would be crushed by the situation, especially that a major triathlon event was upcoming. But not Reujen. “God showed me the fastest and strongest that I can be,” Reujen says, “But [he also said] ‘Wait, I’ll give you a challenge.’” He felt a little down, yes, but he was soon determined to “heal like Wolverine.”

Reujen Lista
A long screw was inserted to replace a bone near his pinky toe.

For Reujen, the accident was just one of life’s funny twists and turns. About three weeks ago, while walking on a rainy day, his crutches slid on a wet marble flooring, resulting in a torn tendon on his left shoulder. But, hey, what’s another injury? Life goes on and this guy is determined to compete in Kona—even if he has to run with a screw on his left foot and swim with one arm. “Walang mahirap sa mayabang,” he says laughing. 

It’s this rockstar attitude that’s actually got him through his adventure-filled journey. That, he says, and passion. Reujen is never one to do things half-heartedly. “Everything that I do in life is all about passion,” he tells ANCX, whether it’s his music, sports, or business. When it comes to this last one, his philosophy is: “At least kung hindi ka kumita, nagawa mo pa din ang gusto mo. You're still happy doing it. If you earn along the way, eh di bonus.”

Reujen Lista
Reujen in his high school years

Reujen was only 12 when he formed the underground 80s band Advent Call. At 16, he and his bandmates left their parents’ homes to strike it out on their own. “Nag-istokwa kami,” he recalls. “We lived in an apartment and we lived the life.” He was the frontman/vocalist of Advent Call but he also played different instruments—drums, keyboards, guitar, flute. The group had two big concerts, and were playing the major kolehiyala spots: St. Paul’s and Assumption College. They were kind of a big deal.

And then Reujen got his friend Karl Roy to become the new Advent Call vocalist, a move that only brought the band’s status to greater heights. Meanwhile, Reujen was also playing in other bands like K O Jones, Juan de la Cruz, and even became the vocalist of ZOO, after Arnel Pineda left the group to become the frontman of Journey in 2007. Joining ZOO was one of the highlights of Reujen’s music career. He got to tour the world and stage sold-out shows in the US, Guam, and Malaysia. 

The rockstar life was well and good, and of course came with its accompanying temptations—drugs, sex and alcohol. He started taking drugs at 16 which continued until his adult years. After realizing he was putting his life to waste, he decided to sober up in 2005. “Nagsawa na lang,” he says when asked how he got rid of the addiction. “Kasi you see people dying. You see people going into the mental institution. Three places lang naman ang maaari mong uwian eh—jail, mental institution or morgue.” He opted to change his ways by signing up for Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

Reujen Lista
“Everything that I do in life is all about passion,” Reujen tells ANCX, whether it’s his music, sports, or business.

The journey to recovery was not without its roadblocks. When he quit the drugs, he gained so much weight. “I weighed 225 pounds and had a 42-inch waistline,” says Reujen, who stands 5 feet 71/2 inches. The biggest turning point was when he suffered a heart attack. “The doctor told me I could die if I don’t diet and exercise or take maintenance medications for the rest of my life.”

From then on, he decided to change his lifestyle and in a year’s time lost a total of 80 pounds. When he discovered Ironman in 2008, that ignited a determination to become healthier, better, stronger. He missed the Ironman registrations in 2009 and 2010, but in 2011, was finally able to join his first Half Ironman (1.9-km swim, 90-km bike and 21-km run) in Camarines Sur. He did his first full Ironman (3.8-km swim, 180-km bike, and 42-km run) in 2014 in Malaysia. To date, he has finished 17 Full and 34 Half Ironman races, and about a hundred marathons.

After conquering his own demons, Reujen now finds himself on a mission—to help people become the best version of themselves thru sports. With the Triathlon Association of the Philippines and Philippine Sports Commission, he had the opportunity to become a triathlon coach.

“I get a high when I help people,” he says. “I always believe that’s the best job.” He talks about his students who were also former addicts, and those who had never exercised their entire life. “There’s this 37-year-old guy who came up to me. He was 114 kilos. His sugar was up. So I taught him proper diet and exercise. After six months, he’s now 80 kilos.”

Reujen Lista
Reujen says the secret to being good at anything is really a change in mindset.

He also had a couple of triathlon students who signed up for training last July 15. The guys told him their longest run was 5K. The challenge they put upon themselves was to register for the 42K Berlin marathon, giving themselves a two-month training time. “You know what? They did the Berlin marathon last Sunday,” says Reujen, beaming with pride. “They finished it in four hours. And they were so happy.” 

Reujen says the secret is really a change in mindset. “Anybody could just go to YouTube and learn anything, including sports. But without a change in attitude and mindset, it will be hard to be good in them.” 

He encourages his students to have their own mantra. From Ironman, he learned that “Anything is possible.” One of his favorite Journey songs taught him to never stop believing. And when something seems insurmountable, he goes back to his favorite quote: “Walang mahirap sa mayabang.”

“It's funny because you have to have a certain kind of grit to do this. You got to have passion and you really have to love what you do,” he says. Take it from someone who has conquered drug addiction, helped change many people’s lives, and who’s racing in the Ironman World Championships with just one good arm.

Photos courtesy of Reujen Lista