Joy Rojas, Scholastican HS ' 83: First Filipina to run across the US
MANILA, Philippines—As a first impression, one would never expect that this seemingly delicate and handsomely tanned woman is actually a mean and determined machine built to run grueling long distances.
So tough is Joy Rojas and unheeding of severe runs that in 2005, she went on leave from a desk job in publishing, got a one-way ticket to Davao City courtesy of Cebu Pacific, and resolved to traverse the Philippines—by foot.
Calling her project and historic run “Hakbang Pangarap,” Rojas earned the distinction of being the first woman to run across the Philippines, from Davao City to Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte, in 46 days. She would mostly end up sleeping in local public schools for her pitstops while she, in turn, gave inspirational talks to high-school kids on the importance of setting a dream for themselves and pursuing it.
Three years later, she is at it again.
And this time, Rojas is going for the mother lode: to run across the United States. She explains, “Running across the Philippines was a good experience—a happy time—that I’d like to try to replicate. And if I were to choose a location, why not go all the way and do it in the US?”
Such a dream comes at a most appropriate time when the spirit and faith of Filipinos are deeply challenged by current national and political events. Through her run, Rojas aims to connect with Filipino communities in the US, affirming the strong cultural contributions of Pinoy immigrants to the world’s strongest state.
Of the several hundreds who have run across America, 11 are women and one is a Filipino: Cesar Guarin, owner of the sportswear company Botak, who negotiated New York to California on foot in the mid 1980s.
Rojas’ run across America, called “Takbong Pangarap,” will have her crossing 12 states: California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. She will be joined by Mateo Macabe, an active figure in the local running circuit who was also part of the Trans Philippines team.
Spanning an estimated 5,000 km, Takbong Pangarap will have Rojas covering an average of 50 km a day; rest days are included in the four-month-long project.
Coordinators will schedule visits to Filipino communities along the route, which the team will meet upon reaching their destination. In much the same way that Rojas spoke before schoolchildren in the Philippines after each day’s run, she is also open to sharing her experience at each end of the day.
She would like to encourage members of the communities to share their own dreams, an activity that gets people to think about their personal goals in life, and whether they’re serious and passionate enough to pursue it.
Lest one points out that it’s a crazy idea—in the same manner that three Filipinas last year climbed Mt. Everest—Rojas has been giving her dream some rigid preparations.
A magazine editor, Rojas is also an accomplished runner. She placed among the top 10 female finishers of such prestigious 42Ks as the PAL Marathon, Milo Marathon, and Pasig River Heritage Marathon when she was a regular of the local road racing circuit from 1995-2002.
Her participation in the 40-day, 1,196 km Visayas leg of Fr. Robert Reyes’ Trans-Philippines run, however, sparked her passion for long-distance, multi-day runs. With running partner Mat Macabe, Rojas ran from UP Diliman to UP Los Baños in three days, and Manila to Baguio in five days.
In 2005, her Hakbang Pangarap, a 2,000 stretch from south to north endorsed by the Department of Education under then Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad, proved both an empowering and humbling experience for the runner who stayed on the road despite extreme conditions.
“Rain, heat, good roads, bad
roads, no roads, hecklers, even a nasty cold or injury are no excuse
to stop you from getting to where you’re going, which is usually
about nine to 12 hours away, depending on your pace and what you
encountered during the day.”
In February 2007, she covered the rough but scenic route from Baguio to Banawe in three glorious days. She reveals, “For obvious reasons, the run across the Philippines remains a sentimental favorite. The thought of it makes me smile.”
Reserved but thorough
Joy has always been a very low-key person. Among people in the publishing business, she has always been known to be a reserved but thorough editor and writer.
How ironical for this woman to shy away from media interviews to talk about her feat. For Rojas, however, what moves her to run isn’t self-glory, but the chance to see the world through a simple and almost spiritual manner.
“Running for me,” she has said,
“is about meditation, reflection and prayer.”
To date, friends have been
helping her to closely inch her way to her dream by creating an
informal team to help raise the money for the plane tickets, food
and lodging. Every little help goes a long way.
Sen. Gregorio Honasan has offered his valuable assistance, and HSBC, Sen. Pia Cayetano (also a passionate runner) and various University of the Philippines alumni in the US have committed to giving pledges and hosting Rojas in their homes when she crosses their states. Publicist Joy Buensalido has volunteered to set up an informal desk for inquiries in her Makati office.
Rojas’ dogged determination has raised interest and inspiration to those who hear about her story. And with her every step across each state, with each Filipino family that she will get to meet, she will carry with her that history and great pride in the Filipino woman’s faith, fearlessness, and perpetually hopeful outlook.