Puerto Princesa City’s hosting of a prestigious international athletic event, the Ironman 70.3, was such a huge success that the next one is likely to be held here again. 

Of the over 1,200 triathletes from 26 countries competing in the event, one was a local teacher at Palawan State University (PSU).

Jila Dela Rosa Antonio is a teacher at PSU who studied for a Bachelor of Secondary Education with a Major in Technology and Livelihood Education at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) in Manila. She is affectionately known as “Ma’am Jila” by her students [I’m one of them] and coworkers. She is also a very athletic individual, participating in local cycling and running events as well as ones throughout the Philippines.

She comes from a very athletic family. At the age of 5, she started practicing taekwondo under the influence of her father and older sister. “When I was 8, I was the youngest black belter in Palawan,” she said. “I also started competing in MIMAROPA and Palarong Pambansa.”

Jogging was part of her training in taekwondo, and she excelled at it. “Nakitaan ako ng potential ng mga coaches ng athletic and pinag tryout ako sa track and field,” she said. That was where her running career began. She joined marathons and eventually got into UST varsity. When she was in Palawan during the school breaks, she would get into cycling. Eventually, she’d join the Tour of Palawan and finish on the podium. 

She and her brother, Joelskie, registered to join Ironman back in March 2022. The Ironman registration is not cheap. The price of registration at the time was $900 per person. Ma’am Jila would not have competed if her parents had not paid for her two siblings.

“They told us that it was an opportunity because we had so much potential,” she added. “Yung nag support talaga sa akin ay family ko, yung asawa ko, parents ko, siblings ko at in-laws ko,” she says. “They supported me all through out, magmula sa food supplements, sa pag alaga sa mga babies ko and all.”

Throughout their training period, kind individuals and local bike shops reached out to them and supported them through financial aid or by lending them fast bikes to keep up with the bikes of the seasoned triathletes in the competition.

However, due to commitments at PSU and the duties of being an educator, the effort to train for the event was not 100% present. When asked how she trains, she says that she usually trains at night because she has a class in the mornings at 7:40 AM. “Sometimes nakakapag morning session ako kapag weekend,” she says. Despite this, she still offers adequate education to her students. “Ok naman,” says Ralph Cartagena, one of her students at PSU. “She’s good at teaching, and she’s a bit quiet.”

Since she was already proficient in cycling and running, she mainly trained to be as good at swimming as her previous sports. “I started in the pool, did distance swimming, then drills,” she said. She also added that she started doing open water swims when her endurance built up. Due to the fact that she trained at night and because of the chlorine, she contracted sinusitis. “In the last month hindi ako naka follow sa training programs ko kasi may clogged nose ako,” she added.

Ironman 70.3 included a 90-kilometer bike ride, a 1.9-kilometer open-water swim, and a 21-kilometer run. At 6:00 AM, the athletes were preparing for the swim, which was the day’s first event. When asked what she was feeling at the time, Ma’am Jila replied, “I was more excited than nervous. The other triathletes seemed so chill.”

The 28-year-old educator was one of three female representatives for the city of Puerto Princesa in the individual race, with Ma’am Jila competing in the 25-29 female category. According to her, only two of them finished the race because one of them had a health problem and was not permitted by the doctors to continue.

When asked about her initial expectations for the race, she stated that it was much different from what she expected. “Lalo na yung swim part. Hindi ko alam na may sipaan at pisikalan [kicking, pulling, bumping, etc.] palang magaganap,” she says. She also added that all in all, the event was very professionally organized, really proving its prestige.

According to her, the hardest part of the race was the run. “Although runner ako, nararamdaman ko na yung pahiwatig ng leg cramps ng mga last 8 to 5km,” she added. All the hard work and training paid off, however. Ma’am Jila got 4th place in her category, 22nd in her gender division, and 197th out of more than 800 completers. Despite having commitments at school and at home, she did her best to train for her event and completed it with good results. The teacher became an Ironman.

Ma’am Jila is now preparing for another race, the National Duathlon Championship, taking place in New Clark City, Pampanga, this coming December 4, 2022. “It will be a sprint duathlon competition (5k run, 20k bike and 2.5run),” she states. “Big time tong event na to since tryout ito for seagames 2023, nandito lahat ng malalakas sa buong Pilipinas and may mga dayo din from Singapore and Malaysia.”

“She has always been hard-working and persistent,” states former Dean of the College of Education at PSU, Eunice T. Viray, “The College of Teacher Education, particularly the Laboratory Junior High School, is very proud of Ma’am Jila Antonio. She has proven that teachers can face and hurdle different challenges – whether in the classroom or in other environments.”

One of Ma’am Jila’s colleagues and faculty at PSU-LJHS, Miss Hannah Teves, has this to say about her: “Determined po siya palagi kapag may goal po siya. Napaka-optimistic po sa lahat ng bagay kahit napapagod po siya di po niya pinapahalata.”

As a message to her students and the youth inspired by her, this is what Ma’am Jila had to say: “I would like to quote the saying that I always hear from my coach at UST, coach Manny Calipes. Sabi niya ‘if it is to be, it’s up to me.’ Ikaw yung gumagawa ng mga actions and decisions mo in life, ikaw ang may control ng buhay mo, so whatever the outcome is, ikaw may gawa niyan. You’ll get influenced by others but the final say is still from you. If you want it then work for it, there are no shortcuts in life. God is there to help and hear our prayers but Ika nga nila, nasa Dios and away nasa tao ang gawa. 

So, kids, dream big, do big, and achieve big.