Crossroads (Toward Philippine economic and social progress)
Philippine Star, 28 December 2016


To my readers: I hope you had a happy Christmas and that your new year is one of fulsome expectations!

I go off-topic from my main concerns this time of year. The connection of exercise to aging is a subject dear to me. Let me then relate my life experience on the subject.

Four score and more years ago… I am today a doddering senior with aching joints, weak knees and lots of maintenance medicines.

Though I can move well laterally and forward, going up and down steps is my biggest physical struggle. I do not need a cane yet. I can still swing with a tennis racket or a golf club.

When we are young we take exercise for granted. We postpone that call for the easy way out in favor of work, work, work, and partying and less demanding leisure.

For years till the age of early 30s, I was focused on my budding professional career. At the UP, I kept pace with the demands of my profession: teaching, research papers, meetings and other duties. In focusing on work, I neglected to attend to my health.

Awakening to life of exercise. My own self-discovery was a shocker when it happened. Participating in a game of basketball in a match involving Economics faculty, staff and students, I discovered how unfit I was.

After running three full lengths of the court with the full game on, I gasped for breath, was completely exhausted, and opted out. Yet, some older men in the game, especially Dr. John Power, a visiting Economics professor who was at least 10 years my senior, joyously dribbled, passed the ball or scored in that match. That impressed me a lot.

I resolved to do something. I sought out a UP physical education instructor and found Hadji Ilagan, a swimming champion and a badminton/tennis instructor, to teach me a sport and to build my endurance.

Hadji and I worked at six in the morning in the UP pool until I learned how to swim decently again. As my form improved, Hadji joined me in the water to give me company, pace and confidence. Eventually, I was swimming on my own as far and as long as I could, though slowly and not elegantly.

By the time I was in the government, I was swimming laps for long minutes. In those days I could last an hour swimming in one lane of the pool. (During my early days at NEC and NEDA, I swam mainly at least twice a week at lunchtime at the Army and Navy Club in the Luneta, whenever I could be free of duties.)

But my eyes almost always became bloodshot when in contact with pool water, and I had to learn something new.

Hadji discovered I liked tennis, and he taught me the rudiments of the game. My tennis coach later in the UP was Col. Lopez, a retired military man who used to teach tennis to learners in Malacañang when tennis was a popular sport there, I believe, during the time of Pres. Macapagal.

I became a fixture at the UP tennis courts during the early 1970s, a morning player. I was then working in the government and simultaneously serving as a regent at the UP.

Running takes over. In the mid-’70s, my interest in sports shifted almost entirely to running. I was inspired by two books: Dr. Kenneth Cooper’s Aerobics and James F. Fixx’s book, Running.

Both books extolled the beneficial effects of running and aerobic exercise on health and being. I found jogging – the milder form of running – more economical in time use and much more intense.

This led me into long distance running. I became a fixture in the local running scene, participating and helping to inspire others. In this effort, I participated in 5K runs, then 10Ks, then the longer runs, including the full marathon.

Running as exercise fitted travel when work took me abroad. I learned to run the streets and parks and river walks and bridges of foreign cities of major continents –Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia.

I ran the Honolulu marathon once in 1980. When I left NEDA after 1981, I again ran the Honolulu marathon and then the New York City marathon. (I finished in mid-pack on those occasions. My best time being three hours and 45 minutes at the second Honolulu marathon in 1982.)

In 1985, I moved to Washington DC where I worked for the World Bank. There I found exercise to be much more conducive to work since the bank encouraged its employees by providing exercise facilities. Washington’s parks and open spaces afforded me the joy of running during the lunch break.

But my running efforts declined due to injuries. Had I taken the precaution that athletes knew how to do – warmup before and warmdown after runs – the injuries that I incurred could have been avoided.

Back to tennis. In due time, I had to stop running due to pain. I revised my exercise routine. I rediscovered tennis. In tennis, the running is controlled, shorter and less demanding.

When I returned home in 1997, I brought golf clubs with me. I was hoping I would gently move into golf from tennis.

I learned golf which is as difficult to learn as tennis. Golf is a game against one’s self and the elements. Tennis is a game against an opponent. To win, one has to beat the opponent. I veered more toward tennis.

Of four hours devoted to sports per week nowadays, all of it is devoted to tennis. The routine is practice plus game.

Two hours of my first day is to train intently and to practice stroke consistency with spin and power, plus simulate rallies. For this, Jonel my trainer gives me baskets of balls.

The second two hours of the week is an enjoyable game of singles (and once in two months, doubles), but now with different trainers who try hard not to lose even as they allow you more ball hitting.

In the club where I work, trainers can help to play good games against players of any skill-level. The more capable the player, the better he can enjoy a game of earnest tennis.

Working this way with a group of different trainers, I am able to enjoy quite a lot of interesting matches in the course of a year.