Why this athlete is taking on the ultimate test for charity

As the only UAE-based triathlete participating in Ultraman Florida 2019, Romeo Puncia is determined to make his mark in the three-day endurance event that sees athletes cover over 500km of terrain.

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In addition to completing the course, the emergency medical technician will dedicate his effort to raising awareness of indigenous communities in the Philippines. Features writer Ferdinand Godinez chats with the 31-year-old to find out more about his motivations and preparing for the race.

Q – How did you get involved in triathlons?

I was 29 when a good friend invited me to join him and his friends in their training. It was scary for me at first because I’m not a skilled swimmer and didn’t know how to cycle or even run properly.

To learn more about the sport, I watched a lot of YouTube channels. I trained regularly with the help of friends at Al Bateen and Corniche Beach, Yas Marina Circuit and Al Wathba Cycling Track.

My first race was on 15th October 2016 at the Roy Nasr Memorial Triathlon in Dubai. I fell in love with the sport and I’ve been racing ever since.

Q – What has been your toughest race so far?

I would have to say the Half Ironman that I did in August 2017 in the Philippines. I had a bicycle accident a month before the race and had just three weeks to recover and one week to get back into training. I was so anxious on the day of the race that I was considering withdrawing from the event. But the thought of my parents watching me compete for the first time motivated me to finish.

My first full Ironman in South Africa in April this year was also tough. The punishing toll of swimming, biking and running such long distances caught up with me, and I was crying on my way to the finish line. But it was all worth it.

Q – You’re the only UAE-based athlete chosen to participate in the Ultraman Florida next February. How are you preparing?

My trainer Jeremy Howard from Way2Champ Endurance Coaching makes sure that I have a specific programme to follow that improves my conditioning, both mentally and physically.

I also joined a cycling community in Al Ain to further strengthen my endurance. Aside from watching my diet, I also purchased some sports equipment and converted an empty room in my home into my personal training space.

Q – Triathlons are also a philanthropic endeavour for you. How are you helping tribal communities in the Philippines through your races?

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I made a commitment that every time I raced, I would donate a portion of my salary from my day job to the tribal communities in Palawan.

My exposure to these communities started when I joined a trip to the mountains when I was 18 years old. Before then, I never knew people lived up there or that you had to cross a lot of rivers just to reach them.

Now I donate things that the communities need like clothes, food and medicine. I also go there and teach them basic swimming and running lessons.

Recently, some of my friends in the UAE donated all their triathlon gear like shirts, shoes, goggles and swim caps, and we have another trip coming up in September where we’ll do similar.

There are so many talented people living in the tribal communities who love sport and interacting with others. In the future, I’d love to see their kids go to college and get good jobs. That is why we are doing this: to teach, support, encourage and educate them.

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