In Person:

Making It Count

BY: Interview by Sana Panjwani
An Emergency Medical Technician, a humanitarian, and a serious triathlete – Romeo Puncia is living his best life. Oasis Living met the impressive Filipino from Al Ain to hear about his latest challenge
Tell us a bit about yourself...

I am Romeo III Tumayao Puncia, aged 31. I was born in Quezon City, Philippines, and I'm the eldest of five children. From a young age, since the separation of my parents, I've been aware of my responsibility to people and was even the breadwinner of my family when I started working.

I've been living in Al Ain for the past two years with my wife, Ria Dae Marie Ceballos, and work as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) in Abu Dhabi. I hold a Bachelors in nursing, but I've also studied life and fitness coaching, sports nutrition and basic life support courses – all so I can help people to the best of my ability by counselling, encouraging, and empowering them.

I'm also a triathlete and I enjoy flyboarding and surfing in my free time. My heart is committed to helping people though, so I do my best to organise a tribal mission trip or two back home and participate in other charity events.

How do you strike a balance between all your pursuits?

Honestly, I thank God that I have nice, comfortable and convenient working hours. I work for four days and then have four days off. Since I know my monthly schedule and have a specific every two-week training plan, I know exactly what I need to accomplish daily.

What prompted your interest in endurance sports?

It was April 2016 when my friend Rodruf Sollestre invited me to meet his ONEndurance Triathlon Team just to observe. They were having a swim session at that time and asked me to join but I was scared as I didn’t know how to swim, but I still tried it. I also didn't know the proper techniques for cycling and running but I was curious to know what pushed this team to learn all these skills.

So, I decided to learn. I watched a lot of YouTube videos and asked some of the members to teach and guide me.

When was your first triathlon?

My first triathlon race was when I did the sprint portion in October 2016 in the Roy Nasir Memorial Triathlon in Dubai. It was really fun and awesome, I felt so strong and wanted more. After that race, I fell in love with endurance sports and became unstoppable. To this day, I've completed more than 40 races already in the UAE, Philippines, Bahrain, Turkey, South Africa. These include 10km runs, half marathons, marathons, open water races, sprint and Olympic Triathlon Races, Ironman 70.3s, Ironman 140.6s and many more. Most recently, I was invited to participate in the Ultraman Florida Race 2019. I am very excited – I will be the only UAE-based athlete there in fact.

How do you feel about that?

I am really happy but, honestly, I feel the pressure and nerves as I know it will not be easy. The Ultraman will be my longest cumulative distance. I must finish and conquer a 10km swim, a 423km bike ride and then an 84km run. Still, I am honoured and proud to be able to represent two countries – the Philippines and the UAE.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced over the years?

Every race is tough and challenging, especially the Ironman 70.3 and 140.6. In Ironman 70.3 you have to swim 1.9km, cycle 90km and run 21.1km, and the cut-off time is 8hrs and 30mins. For the Ironman 140.6, you have to double the 70.3 distances.

There are three specific races which were the most challenging for me. One was the Ironman 70.3 last August. I'd been in a bicycle accident that had me in recovery for three weeks and then left me one week for training. I wanted to cancel on the day because not only was I feeling anxious, but I had also been up for over 24 hours. My parents were there to watch me for the first time though, so I pushed through.

The second was the full Ironman in South African in April of this year. I was very emotional and crying on my way to the finish line because it is not really easy to finish a 3.8km swim, a 180km bike and then a 42.2 km run. I suffered some hamstring stiffness for ten minutes after the 150km in the bike race but I still finished strong.

And lastly, the one I did in June 2018 – the Ironman 70.3 Subic in the Philippines. I hadn't trained for a month and a half prior as I was caught up with my vacation, my tribal mission, and I was recovering from a leg operation. Two weeks before the race, I was planning on cancelling but I had paid for everything and couldn't get a refund, so I decided to attend the race and ended up landing a slot for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship which is in the first two days of September.

How do your races tie into your charity work?

I made a promise to myself donate some portion of my salary for every race I participate in, to help the tribal communities in Palawan, especially the youth. And even if I'm in a race, I, along with friends and family, visit orphanages, homes, and do charity work in the Philippines. We source food, clothes, even educational supplies. I've also started teaching the kids the basics of swimming and running.

My next mission trip is in mid-September where we'll be organising a big sports event in Palawan for the youth.

Why is charity work so important to you?

People need help. Whether it's a small or big thing, each action has an impact and can change someone's life. God has blessed each of us with skills and talents and we should share it. I want to do what I can so that I can see the kids I'm helping today move on to learn and work and help others too.

When did you start helping the tribal communities?

April 2005 when I was 18. I was invited by a few friends to join them on their tribal mission and it was eye-opening. I had no idea there were people living in the mountains, a place far from civilisation – you have to cross a lot of rivers just to reach it. There was no electricity there, but life is simple.

We've improved the living conditions there through a lot of volunteer work and missions, and have set up connections with schools, help centres, churches, libraries and even a regular food and health supply. Most recently, we bought land in one of the communities which will hopefully become the site of schools and training centres as well as other community venues and even homes for those who can't afford one.

Top tips from a triathlete

  • Focus on your short-term and long-term goals for your training and races
  • Eat healthy
  • Don’t neglect your training and nutrition
  • Set time for rest as recovery is important
  • Don’t do things in your race that you did not do during your training
  • Always aim for improvement – you can download some training programmes online, you can hire a coach, or join a group who can help you improve your skills

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