Running for dear life-A A +A
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
BOTHERED by his curiosity, Mendel Lopez, University of Southern Philippines—Foundation’s top contender for athletics, had long been wanting to meet Lorhiz Echavez, one of the most celebrated female swimmers from the University of San Carlos.
The star swimmer that she was, Zih, as referred to by friends, had been known to be among the best local swimmers who ended up in newspapers and posters for her swimming achievements.
“Pirmi man gud ko makakita sa iyang pangan inig sulod nako sa Abellana mao na niana ko na kinsa man gud ni siya,” shared Mendel.
From 2004-2007, they had been part of the contingent that represented Cebu in the Private Schools Athletic Association National Meet, Mendel for athletics and Zih for swimming.
But they never had the chance to meet, not even close, in the three years they had been joining the same competition.
It was during the Arafura Games in Australia in May 2007 when fate intervened.
While she and her sister, fellow top swimmer Loren Dale, took time off and visited the night market of Mindil Beach, they were delighted by the sight of some men whom they identified as their team mates wearing the official uniform of the Philippine team.
That time, Mendel was with his athletics partner who was also strolling along the beach when they came across the sisters.
“He was dark!” said Zih who wasn’t romantically interested at first in Mendel, who was in a relationship that time.
In fact, when Mendel asked for Zih’s number from her former suitor, his first text message that read, “Hi, kumusta naman imong mama?” was not really intended for her.
They met again in the University of San Carlos Power Run where Mendel won the 10k men’s open and Zih placed second in her first 10k run.
Eventually, when Zih decided to expand her sports to include triathlon, she asked Mendel to help her with training.
In exchange, Mendel asked for her assistance in swimming, which is the discipline he finds most challenging in the tri-sport event.
Their first triathlon competition together was the Sogod King 2007 where Mendel joined in the swim and run relay, while Zih did a full triathlon.
Since July, they had been training together and started to develop feelings for each other until they made it official on Oct. 30, which was the same date of Zih’s graduation in college.
They can’t remember having gone through courtship, but they were certain they were enjoying each other’s company and was treating each other special.
Their favorite game was thumb wrestling. “It was my chance to hold his hand,” Zih said.
They revealed that among the advantages of being in a relationship with a fellow athlete is the chance to train together and motivate each other to do better.
“It is mostly positive because we go to races together. It becomes double purpose because aside from being able to go to different places together, we also get to compete and win at the same time,” said Zih.
When asked if she gets jealous of some fans of Mendel, she said no. In his defense he quickly replied, “Wa oi, buotan baya ko.”
But, as an exchange, she has to bear with Mendel’s out of town and international competitions that require him to be away for days.
Just recently, Mendel had to stay in Baguio for almost a month of training.
Communication problem is mostly the reason for their fights, but they manage to fix it right away.
She calls him Carling after he mistook it for Zih’s father’s name and in return, he started calling her Marling.
Had it not been for sports that brought them together, they could just be individuals with opposite personalities.
He is a fan of Tagalog movies, while she enjoys watching English movies. He is a man of few words, while she can last through an entire conversation not having to run out words. He is the doer, while she is the thinker.
“But he is a funny guy and he makes me happy,” Zih said.
“She is very strong-willed and very decisive,” Mendel said.
After almost four years of being together, they decided to end their relationship as boyfriend and girlfriend and start anew as husband and wife.
They exchanged their “I do’s” in a marriage ceremony last Oct. 15. It has been two months already but the couple still find themselves amazed now that they are living a married life.
They are expecting for their first child in March next year.
The baby boy will be Mendel’s inspiration as he competes in the Offroad Xterra Philippines full triathlon and even if Zih may not be able to defend her title in the women’s elite, she sure will be Mendel’s number one supporter.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on December 27, 2011.