I was doing the 10k and Joy was gunning for a top 5 placing in the women's open 5k. She told me she would have preferred doing the 10k, but her older brother Gilbert thought she would have a better chance in the 5k.
Joy said grabbing a share of the cash prize at stake would help ensure her enrolment for the second semester.
Joy and Gilbert are from a poor family in Kidapawan. Gilbert finished a technical course at the University of Southern Mindanao Kidapawan City Campus through a running scholarship. Joy hopes to do the same and earn for herself a Bachelor in Technology Education degree in the same school.
She has been promised a slot in the athletics varsity this coming semester. She has already represented the school in the USM intra-school games, running in the 800 and 5,000 meters. She will be running in the same events in the State Colleges and Universities Athletics Association (SCUAA) games in November.
Still, she said she had to be able to pay the registration fees for the 2nd semester. Only her tuition fees for the rest of the semester will be free.
At the starting area the next morning, Mary Joy was a picture of excitement. She had on a new pair of running shoes and equally new shorts and vest, all bought in a sale by a benefactor. For the first time, she wouldn't be running in an old pair of second-hand tennis shoes and cotton race t-shirt that would be all wet and heavy with sweat before she even finishes her race.
She warmed up, jogging with other runners whom she had known through her participation in road races. She has been a road race regular since her first Milo Marathon Regional Elimination Race 3k in Kidapawan when she was still an elementary grader. Joy literally stood tall amidst her peers. She was a tall young girl with long legs, assets she could use to her advantage.
She was standing three runners away on my left at the starting line, but was pretty soon gone from my sight after the gun fired. She was fast.
The next time I saw Joy again was on the road. I was approaching the 5k turnaround and she was on her way back. I counted her at number 7 from the leading female 5k runner. I noticed her pick up the pace, apparently trying to catch up with the leading runners.
I finished my 10k in 47:08.38 which was some 5 seconds better than my 47:14.45 Adidas KOTR 10k in 2007. I immediately tried to locate Joy, Gilbert and other fellow runners from Kidapawan after I cross the finish line. It took me about 15 minutes of moving around the crowd before I saw them.
Crowd at the finish of the Merco 63rd Anniversary Run
Top 5 finishers in the men's 10k
Gilbert made it to 4th place in the men's 10k. Joy, sadly, was not as lucky. She finished in 7th place in the women's 5k. Still, she wasn't sad. Disappointed maybe, but definitely not sad. She knows that more runs await her. The Davao Sunday Runners' Club Finishers' Marathon is just around the corner, and it has a 5k event. Already she is looking forward to it, thinking of tucking more quality training time in the elastic band of her running shorts.
Her brother is there to guide her, and so are her running buddies. So on fleet feet, Mary Joy dreams, and runs in chase of her dream.
Gilbert, Mary Joy and runner friends