Michelline comes full circle

When Michelline Suarez took on the challenge of running in her very first marathon, she was bent on chasing something worth more than just a personal milestone.

A 42-year-old mother, homemaker and entrepreneur, Michelline has had her fair share of personal and career accomplishments. Blessed with a wonderful husband and five kids, aged 24 to 2, she also co-owns and manages two businesses.

Michelline was born with a cleft palate, commonly referred to as “harelip” or “bingot” in the vernacular. For years, she had been thinking of ways to help children who were born with the same condition, but whose families were too poor to pay for corrective surgery.

Looking back, she feels extremely blessed for having parents who recognized the urgency and could well afford surgery. But it also bothered her knowing how many more less-fortunate children with cleft palate would have to bear a life of hardship, humiliation and discrimination without the benefit of a surgical operation.

“I have been thinking about finding a way to help other cleft palate babies for some time now, for I know how much a very simple and affordable surgery can turn their lives around and open up so many possibilities for a better future,” she recounted.

Perhaps it was no coincidence that Michelline plunged into her maiden 42-kilometer run at the age of 42. Completing every kilometer of the long-distance course, it seemed, symbolized each year of a life-long dream to help less-fortunate kids with whom she shared something common as a child.

“The marathon became my inspiration to raise funds for surgery for children who were also born cleft palates through Gabriel’s Symphony Foundation,” she added, recalling how family members and friends positively responded to the idea of her running to benefit others.

The support was so overwhelming that by the time she reached the finish line of her very first long-distance run— at The Bull Runner “Dream Marathon” held in Nuvali, Sta. Rosa, Laguna last May 22—Michelline was able to raise more than P153,000 for Gabriel’s Symphony Foundation.

Surely, this was no small feat for this mother of five, who started running barely two years ago after giving birth to her youngest child.

“I wish to emphasize that it is the generosity of those who pledged, including my family and friends, that has made this donation possible. I just provided a conduit,” she humbly said of the experience.

Michelline first came to know Gabriel’s Symphony through the annual multi-sport event it holds at the Ayala Alabang Village in Muntinlupa every September. Established by health and sports advocate Senator Pia Cayetano, the foundation was named after the lawmaker’s youngest child, Gabriel Cayetano Sebastian, who died from complications of trisomy 13, a rare chromosomal disorder, in 2001.

In the last nine years, the foundation has been raising funds to finance cleft lip and palate operations, hearing aids and artificial eyes for differently-abled children, and surgical operations for very young children suffering from congenital malformations of the brain and spinal cord.

Michelline signed up for the multi-sport event in 2008 and soon became friends with Sen. Pia.

“I admire Pia, her family, and all the volunteers who have done so much to help these children,” related Michelline, who also credits her coach Patrick Joson for instilling in her the skills, techniques and proper approach to running, as well as her running group, the Speed Monkeys, whose members pledged support and cheered for her from start to finish.

Asked about the professional runners she looks up to, Michelline replied: “I love watching the pros for their form and admire their dedication to training, but truth to tell, I think those closer to the back of the pack, the ordinary people who find time to run despite the demands of a regular life, have the best stories.”

Indeed, the running world is filled with inspiring stories of life-defining first marathons. With her first marathon, Michelline not only fulfills a life-long dream; she is also forever changing the lives of others.

“What I wish these children and their families to know is that a cleft palate or lip is an easily correctible condition. With surgery and speech therapy, these kids will soon be well on their way to normal, productive lives,” she concluded with a smile.

Photo: Michelline Suarez (in blue, holding up medal at second row, fourth from right), with family members, coach and running friends after finishing her first marathon, The Bull Runner “Dream Marathon” held in Nuvali, Sta. Rosa, Laguna last May 22, 2010.

Maiqui Dayrit: ‘Ironman’ with a heart

Pinoy triathlete close to raising P1 million for children in need

The Ironman craze has officially taken over the country, thanks to numerous triathlon events, particularly the 2nd Ironman 70.3 Philippines held recently in Camarines Sur. People from all walks of life have now jumped into the triathlon bandwagon, and it is now commonplace to see runners, cyclists, and swimmers training.

But way before all of this, one man has been mounting his very own annual Ironman event for a very different purpose. No, his Ironman has no finisher’s medal, no qualifying slot, and no fanfare. He does not do it for himself.

In the last five years, Maiqui Dayrit has been doing this grueling distance on his own to help raise funds for children in need. His beneficiaries include cleft palate babies needing corrective surgery, as well as hearing- and visually-impaired children. On his sixth year, Dayrit is close to hitting the P1-million mark in donations which are coursed through the Gabriel’s Symphony Foundation of Sen. Pia Cayetano.

His real motivation? “The kids, of course,” said Dayrit, 39. “I’ve always had a soft spot for kids. Thanks to [fellow triathlete] Senator Pia, we are given a chance to put our training to good use and help change their lives. I’m really grateful that my friends and relatives have been supporting me the last five years.”

Dayrit recently competed at the 2nd Ironman 70.3 Philippines and wound up in the Top 50 of the physically punishing race, ranking 43rd in a field of 604 triathletes which included 172 foreign participants from 34 countries.

A full Ironman distance consists of a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bike and a marathon (26 miles 385 yards or 42.195 km) run. Maiqui’s Ironman has been the highlight the yearly 12-hour Multi–Sport Celebration held by Gabriel Symphony Foundation at the Alabang Country Club in Muntinlupa City.

“It would be great if [donors] would pledge the same amount for a shorter distance so I don’t have to suffer for 12 hours or so every year, but I doubt it,” he says, with a laugh. “But I guess I have to earn their donations the hard way. During each Ironman, there’s always a point where I ask myself: ‘Why?’ But one thought about the kids we help and I keep going.”

“Honestly, I see myself doing this for many more years as long as people continue to donate. After all, it’s the best way to celebrate my birthday [which also falls on September],” added Dayrit.

In his own way, Maiqui brings a social dimension to the spirit of the Ironman. Although most of us may not be physically able to do what he is doing, we can support his cause and be inspired by his story. #

Note: Join the 8th Gabriel Symphony Multi–Sport Celebration on September 4, Saturday, from 6am to 6pm at the Alabang Country Club in Muntinlupa City. To support Maiqui’s Ironman, contact 09178554489 or email [email protected] Visit www.gabrielsymphony.com for event details and online registration.

Maiqui to bring advocacy to the World Ironman Championships!

First the ‘sad’ news: Maiqui Dayrit will not be able to do his annual ‘Maiqui’s Ironman’ at the 9th Gabriel’s Symphony Foundation (GSF) multi-Sport Celebration to be held on September 3 at the Alabang Country Club in Muntinlupa.

But not to worry. The good news is that Maiqui has committed to bring his advocacy over to Kona, Hawaii where he will compete alongside the world’s best triathletes at the 2011 World Ironman Championships this coming October 8!

Dayrit, who has been doing an annual Ironman fundraiser since 2005 for the kids of GSF to celebrate his birthday, qualified for the World Championships when he placed third in his age-group at the 3rd Cobra Ironman 70.3 held in Camarines Sur last August 14.

Showing his finest form yet at the annual triathlon event, Maiqui finished the course with a time of five hours, three minutes and 47 seconds (5:03:47), earning him third place honors in the men’s 40-44 years age-group. Over 1,000 athletes from 28 countries participated in this year’s edition of the Cobra Ironman 70.3, which consisted of a tough course of a 1.9-km swim, 90-km bike and 21.1-km run.

“I’m turning 40 on September 11. Raising funds for the kids would be the perfect way to celebrate the big ‘Four-Zero’ but I unexpectedly qualified for Kona last Sunday August 14!” Dayrit shared in an interview.

He added: “Unfortunately, my aging body might not recover in time for Kona [if he does an Ironman at the GSF event on Sept.3] so I’ve decided to take the Gabriel’s Symphony with me to Kona this year!”

And a plea for his sponsors and friends: “I hope my loyal sponsors understand and still donate. I really can’t let the kids down!”

This means that Maiqui will swim 3.86 kms., bike 180.25 kms. and run 42.195 kms. in Kona not only to mark a personal milestone, but also to carry the Philippine colors and continue his advocacy to help differently abled children!

It should be recalled that on his fifth ‘Maiqui’s Ironman’ last year, Dayrit already surpassed the P1-million mark in terms of donations and pledges for the GSF. Reaching the finish line at past six in the evening, Maiqui was greeted and cheered by friends and some of the children he has helped over the years. Expressing their gratitude, the children presented him with a birthday cake, card and sang him a birthday song.

Every kilometer he has worked and sweated for has been worth it, swears Maiqui, even as he looks forward to carrying on his annual Ironman this October and for years to come.

Congratulations and more power to Maiqui in Kona!

For more information on ‘Maiqui’s Ironman’ and the 9th GSF Multi-Sport Celebration, email us at [email protected]