JOHN Philip Duenas ran 21 kilometers in the 40th Milo Marathon Leg last Sunday for the 13th straight time. He needed only 1 hour and 30 to finish the course, but his mind traveled far more as he recalled his journey in the event that saw him transform from being an awkward teen to champion and now to a coach of champions.
“When I ran (last Sunday) it was a mix of emotions for me. Every time I passed by significant parts, memories of the past flashed back and I recalled the hard work, sacrifices and struggles of every runner,” Dueñas, 29, said in Cebuano in an interview.
Dueñas is one of the Cebuano runners who have humble beginnings. His first taste of the Milo Marathon was in 2003. He joined the 5K and finished at 11th place after stumbling and getting bruises at the starting line. In the next two years, he joined the 21K but failed twice. It was only in 2006 when he placed third and qualified to the national finals.
After the national finals, he finished his degree in Business Management Major in Management at the Northeastern Cebu College in Danao. But instead of looking for a job, he wanted to take a shot at running and pursue an athletic scholarship in Cebu.
“My parents wanted me to find a job because I’m the eldest of four siblings. I continued running and got no support from them, I came to Cebu City with only P100 in my pocket,” said Dueñas, who first saw a road race in 2002 when his teacher brought him to Cebu City to watch the Milo Marathon.
It was all downhill when Dueñas arrived in Cebu City. Although he was able to secure an athletic scholarship at Southwestern University (SWU), there was no allowance for him. He could barely afford his meals and was forced to leave his boarding house.
Fortunately, the Cebu City Sports Center (CCSC) was open to accommodate to budding athletes.
“When we didn’t have money to buy food, me and my co-athletes would go to the eatery. We stayed there and waited for someone who would leave with some food left on the table; we usually select the clean ones. We get the viand and bought some rice for our meal,” said Dueñas, who said he’s not shy to tell this experience because he wants to inspire the other athletes to keep on moving.
Dueñas also recalled that he sold bottled water during the Sinulog Festival just to have an extra income. He said that he loved running so much that when he was still in Danao City, he would wake up early to do a road run while his parents were still asleep. He would go back to bed and pretend to sleep for them not to discover what he did.
“I really felt that time that running is my sport. I have so much interest in running. I chased my dream even if it was against the odds. It was all worth it,” he said.
Dueñas prayers were answered in 2008 when he won the men’s 21K title in the Milo Marathon Bohol Leg and pocketed then his biggest purse of P10,000. He immediately opened a bank account to save the money for his needs.
“I was really happy at that time I told myself that I can finally eat well for the rest of the year,” said Dueñas.
Lady luck smiled at Dueñas anew as he won back-to-back in 2009 and he followed it with another 21K title in the 2013 Cebu Leg. In 2009, Dueñas accidentally got into coaching.
“A friend who was into coaching was going to Manila and he told me to continue coaching his students, who were 60 years old and above. I made a program for them and that was the start until the number of my students grew. Mary Joy (Tabal) came in June of 2009,” he said.
As they say the rest is history. Dueñas is now bemedalled runner, champion triathlete and a coach of the first Filipina Olympian marathoner Tabal. Last Sunday he ran with 17,000 runners and finished the 21K course in 1 hour and 30 minutes, but winning was not the top priority that day as he shifted focus to coaching. He guided about 50 grassroots kids who joined the 5K and 3K categories.
Milo Marathon was the reason why I started running. I really looked up with the event since the first time I saw it in 2002. Before that, I did not know that there’s a road race like this,” said Dueñas, who’s teaching the grassroots kids for free as a way to give back to the community. “Milo Marathon has changed my life, and I want to introduce the run to the kids for them to start dreaming.”
Dueñas said that he can relate to the kids, when he was young he had interest in running but was not aware of any road race.
“When I was a kid, I wanted to join running events but I did not know where to go and who would teach me. This time, I want to make sure that these kids will be coached properly,” he said.
“I have a big plans for the grassroots kids, I want them to achieve what Joy (Tabal) did. I hope one of them can make it to the 2019 Southeast Asian Games. Everything starts with a baby steps,” said Dueñas, who revealed that he still keeps the very first branded shoes he used in the national finals which was given to him by the owners of NCC.
With a reputation he has built in Cebu’s running community; Dueñas was able to achieve the things he never thought he would have. He graduated in Southwestern University (SWU) with a degree of Bachelor of Science in Physical Education, completed a Diploma in Special Education and finished a Masters Degree in Public Administration.
Dueñas has also launched his personal brand of coaching--JPD Coaching, which caters to new and veteran runners and triathletes.
With the income he earns in running and coaching, he was able to provide his needs, help his family and support the education of his siblings. Two of his younger siblings have finished college, while the youngest is still studying.
Dueñas ended the interview reminding that there is no key to success; you just have to work hard and if you achieve something just keep your feet on the ground.
“Accept your failures and work hard to improve your weaknesses,” he said with a smile.