The sun is setting, the clouds turning from blue to gray and the rock-strewn earth pierce through a pair of tattered rubber outsoles. Arlan Estobo Arbois Jr. is running home from school. His schoolbag swaying, his shirt drenched in sweat.
For Arlan, this was just another ordinary day.
Each day from elementary to high school, this farmer’s son wakes up at the break of dawn, runs a total of eight kilometers to attend school in Miasong Elementary School and later at Jose D. Escobillo National High School. He runs the same stretch of footpath late in the afternoon t be home before sunset.
This is life in Barangay Miasong in Tupi, South Cotabato.
Few have heard of this remote village which sits at the foot of Mt. Matutum. Without cellular sites and decent roads up to this day, Miasong is connected to the nearest ‘bagsakan‘ (trading center) through dilapidated road.
Arlan’s father is one of the vegetable farmers of the village that is considered as South Cotabato’s “vegetable bowl.” Most of its 4,244 population survive by vegetable farming and those who finish high school eventually find livelihood with the rich soil. Without enough income to go to college, most of Miasong’s children never get to run away from poverty.
Arlan’s eldest brother went to college but eventually dropped out as the family cannot put up with the cost of education.
Arlan confessed, his greatest fear then was suffering the same fate as his brother. Each day that Arlan spent running on Miasong’s hills, his resolve to run away from poverty became stronger and stronger.
“Nakita nako nga pigado kaayo mi nga dili ko kaya pa skwelahon sa akung ginikanan ug college. Mao tung naningkamot jud kug maayo na mo kusog kay para daghan mag apas nga skwelahan para ma scholarship ko (I saw that we are really poor and my parents cannot afford to send me to college. That is why I strived hard to get better in running so that I can attract scholarships),” Arlan told this writer.
Miasong is 4,375.3 feet above mean sea level. Legends have been told of people coming down from their mountain homes to perform superhuman feats of strength and athleticism. Athletes who acclimate to high altitude acquire more red blood cells which allows their blood to carry more oxygen. When they compete at lower altitudes, they get a natural boost to the muscles when additional oxygen is available.
Arlan did not know this until he began winning in school competitions in South Cotabato.
Oh, he was a natural.
Running became Arlan’s ticket away from the farms and into the tracks.
In 2012, Arlan won the gold medal in the 5,000 meter run in the Socsksargen Regional Athletic Association (SRAA) meet. He repeated the following year and earned a ticket to the Palarong Pambansa where he eventually placed 8th. He may not have won a medal but he caught the eyes of coach Charlie Hifarva of the Rizal Memorial Colleges in Davao City.
In 2018, Arlan finally ‘arrived’ in the long distance running landscape after winning the gold medal in the Private Schools Athletic Association (PRISAA) National Championships.
Last Sunday, Arlan’s biggest moment came at the 2019 Milo National Marathon Davao leg, the country’s most revered footrace that has served as the factory mill of champions. Arlan’s long cherished dream was to be in the same list of runners who have been crowned as a Milo champion. He had achieved this last year after winning the General Santos City leg of the 2018 edition.
He did not do all too well in his first shot at the full marathon distance as he logged 2 hours and 44 minutes and was nowhere in the top 10.
Thus, his mindset was to set the best qualifying time this year to test himself if he is ready for the challenge.
He laced on his green Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next Percent shoes. The dawn is breaking, a sea of green has filled the vast SM Lanang Premier grounds. The gun barked. He was out of the gate like a jaguar. Running along his buddy Elmer Bartolo who provided him the pace, Arlan shot in front of the field until he was practically out of reach. His only rival was time. He wanted to break 1 hour and 12 minutes over the 21-kilometer distance.
When he crossed the arc, he looked up to the digital clock which read: 1:11:52. He had broken his personal record and submitted the second best qualifying time by far this year.
Now used to winning. This was just another day.
Arlan has made a living out of running. It has been his ticket to a college scholarship and his source of income to cover the cost of his boarding house, food and clothing. It has also been his ticket away from poverty. From being locked in the soil that produce South Cotabato’s corn and vegetables.
“Naka tabang sa akoa, Sir, kay tungod naa nakoy pang allowance ug pang bayad sa akung boarding house every month ug wala nako ga pangayo sa akung ginikanan ug pang bayad ug pang allowance nako (It has helped me a lot because I now have my own allowance for my boarding house every month. I no longer ask from my parents for my allowance and for paying my expenses),” he said.
This boy from the village of Miasong can only look back.
The sun is setting, the clouds turning from blue to gray and the rock-strewn earth pierce through a pair of tattered rubber outsoles. Arlan Estobo Arbois Jr. is running home. His schoolbag swaying, his shirt drenched in sweat.
For Arlan, that was the day he started running away from poverty.