Jalene Cruz is one of many Filipino athletes seen regularly on the sporting scene and like her compatriots, she is vying to reach her potential – and in her case it’s triathlon.
Tackling a triathlon involves immense mental as well as physical strength, sometimes taking decades to achieve. Yet only a couple of years ago Cruz was barely involved in any sporting activity and a regular smoker.
She mostly competes in road runs and cycle races with the ambition of eventually competing in an Ironman, one of the most challenging events in any sport.
Cruz started running casually at the George Hicks track in December 2013. Her first time on the track, she could not even complete a lap without stopping to gasp for air.
With perseverance, she built up her endurance and then entered running events the following year. The Stride Against Cancer was her first.
Then it was the Cross Island Relay (6-mile leg), Off The Beaten Track (as part of a relay team) and Mud Run.
Cruz decided to turn her life around and focus on health and fitness, going cold turkey and quitting smoking.
“I participated in my first endurance race at the 30k East End solo run and used that as part of my marathon training,” she said.
“I dedicated a lot of time training for my first marathon, the Cayman Islands Marathon. … All of my hard work and early morning runs certainly did pay off as I crossed the finish line.”
Total couch potato to marathon runner in searing heat in exactly a year is pretty impressive. She gives some credit to her marathon training buddy, Cesar Rico Aparil. “He was the one [who] convinced me to run the full 50k Off The Beaten Track.”
So far this year Cruz has limited herself to mostly running events. “My favorite one is the 50k Off The Beaten Track ultra-marathon. All of my friends thought I was crazy for tackling the full 50k.
“Well, they were right. What in the world was I thinking? But I’m glad I did it. It was very challenging, but I had a lot of fun and I will do it again next year.”
The Off The Beaten Track is 6 miles longer than a standard 26.2-mile marathon and competitors have to negotiate the six stages through rough and bushy terrain by reading a map. It’s much harder than just mindlessly running in a straight line.
Truly bitten by the running bug, Cruz is now a member of the Wednesday Night Running Club.
“Running has become a part of me now,” she said. “I enjoy being out on the road and seeing fellow runners wave and smile back at you. The most satisfying of all is hearing my friends say that I have come a long way and that I am an inspiration.
“In fact, I do not even think that about myself. I put on my running shoes, go out on the road and do my own thing. It’s amazing how running can change people’s lives. It surely changed mine.”
She claims to be proud to be a WNRC member. It’s not just the runs, but the banter before and after the sessions.
“The members are great motivators and you learn a lot from them. I was nervous when I first joined the group as I knew they were fast runners but they were very friendly and welcoming.”
She encourages anyone interested, whatever fitness level, beginner or not, to join the group “as it is a lot of fun and the members are a great support system to have.”
Cycling has become a recent passion as well. “I get chills each time I get on my bike.”
For the past three years Cruz has entered the annual Kiwani bike-a-thon fundraiser. She also completed the 100-mile Feed our Future Century Ride this year.
Her most recent achievement was at the Genesis Trust Duathlon in June, a demanding combination of two 2-mile runs with a 12-mile bike ride sandwiched between.
“This was my first cycling race and I was in disbelief when I came third overall female.”
Cruz has also just started to take swimming seriously, just in time for the first Stroke and Stride event last week.
“I had always wanted to participate in swimming events but was too nervous of the open water. I am so happy I finally had the courage to do it.”
Her goal is to eventually participate in triathlons. Running is definitely her forte, and swimming now needs some focus. “I am a terrible swimmer. I wish there were swimming clubs just like WNRC.”
Her uncle in the Philippines has completed several half-Ironman events and has challenged his niece often to try his sport. A half-Ironman is a 1.2-mile open water swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile half marathon. Pretty daunting for an accomplished athlete and potentially terrifying for a novice. Yet Cruz remains confident.
“I believe I am not too far away from achieving this,” she said. “I don’t want to be too ambitious and say that I will sign up for the 2016 Mercuryman triathlon, but it is certainly playing in my thoughts.”
Although a relative newcomer to serious sport, Cruz has the genes to excel if she puts her mind to do so.
“My father is a cyclist and has been one of my biggest support system[s], alongside my mother, of course.
“Also, my brother Jay Breen Cruz – he was my inspiration for running my first marathon. He ran his first marathon in the 2013 Cayman Islands marathon and finished in the top 10. He also placed first in his age division. He’s what got me into running and I haven’t looked back since.”
The 28-year-old tax accountant at Deloitte has a birthday next week, and vows she will not revert back to her old social habits.
The busy sporting calendar helps keep temptation at bay. “It is nice for such a small community to have various sporting events taking place almost every weekend,” she said. “There are so many events throughout the year that you pretty much are always training and looking forward to something.”
She enjoyed the Pirates Week Mud Runs so much that she wishes there were more obstacle running events like that and Tough Mudder. She would like to see an Ironman here too “but the island is too small for that.”
The New York City Marathon on Nov. 1 is her next big challenge. “I am a little bummed that it’s on the exact day as the Cayman Islands Triathlon,” she said.
If Cruz could be a world or Olympic champion in one event, her choice is clear.
“Easy, Ironman! That is my ultimate goal, to be able to complete a full Ironman.”