MANILA, Philippines – When Rogel Anajao crossed the finish line in the Subic International Marathon last November 13, it marked the culmination of a year-long journey that saw him recover from a gruesome broken leg to return to the sport he has loved since childhood.
The 25-year-old Anajao, a native of San Juan, Zambales, showed promise as a runner even as a child, and has regularly competed in marathons since he was 15. His favorite event was the "ultra-marathon," an 80-kilometer race that tested an athlete's endurance.
In 2014, Anajao won the UP to UP Ultramarathon, an 80-kilometer run from the UP Los Baños campus to UP Diliman, with a time of 8:22:59.0. He finished a full 25 minutes ahead of his closest pursuer.
"Ang tawag nila sa akin, 'Ultra Man' dahil nga po tumatakbo ako ng ultramarathon. Ultra Man na daw," Anajao said.
His promising running career came to a crash, literally, when he was defending his title in the 2015 UP 2 UP Ultramarathon last July 12, 2015.
Anajao led the pace from UP Diliman, steadily gaining distance from his competitors. At the C5 Flyover, he separated from his guide, who was not allowed on the flyover. Anajao and his guide agreed to meet at the end of the flyover, but once there, he did not see the man.
"Noong wala na po 'yung guide, mga ilang minute na po, dumeretso na po akong tumakbo," said Anajao, who was reluctant to stop as other runners may be catching up to him.
"Mga ilang segundo na po, nasagasaan na po ako," he said.
Upon regaining consciousness, Anajao was determined to finish the race, only to see that he had broken his right foot.
In an interview in January 2016, Anajao said it was a hit-and-run. He never saw the person who crashed into him and no suspect has ever been charged.
The process of recovery was brutal. Anajao underwent two operations, and spent the better part of the year regaining strength. He found a home in the Zambales Sports Complex, where every day he lifted weights and swam, and watched as other runners pounded along the track that he once ruled.
"Iniisip ko, makakatakbo pa kaya ako?" admitted Anajao, whose right knee now bears a long scar. "Pag nag-iisa ako, naiiyak na lang ako kasi dati, nakakatakbo ako. Ngayon, pinapanood ko na lang 'yung mga tao na tumatakbo."
"Dati po, ako 'yung hinahabol ng mga kasamahan ko sa training. Ngayon, nasa tabi na lang ako na nanonood. Kahit papaano po, may naririnig ako, sinasabi nila: 'Ayan 'yung dating malakas tumakbo, ngayon pilay na, wala na'," he said.
"Dine-dedma ko na lang po, kahit masakit. Mas iniisip ko na lang po na ipapakita ko sa kanila na makakabangon din ako."
He took the biggest step in his recovery in November, when he participated in the Subic International Marathon. It wasn't a full marathon, or even a half marathon. Instead, Anajao instead took part in the 5k race.
"Ang goal ko lang ay matapos 'yung race ng safe sa dulo," he admitted.
Anajao did more than finish the race safely. He showed he still can keep up with other participants, even though his leg did hurt around a kilometer in.
"Akala ko magtutuloy-tuloy, pero di naman po. Nabigla lang po siguro," he said.
Even as it was his first race back since his injury, the competitor in Anajao would not allow him to finish in the middle of the pack. He finished the race in third place, boosting his confidence anew and erasing the doubts that had lingered in his mind.
"Iba ang lakas pag may kalaban na eh," he said. "May hinahabol na po ako. Hinahabol ko na sila sa karera."
"Mas lalong lumalakas ang loob ko na bumalik ulit. Ang challenge ko sa sarili ko ay makabalik sa ultramarathon," he added.
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