Joy Rojas: The Defiant Runner

Running across the Philippines just wasn't enough. This Fun Fearless Female Awardee ran across North America. She tells Cosmo all about her love for her sport.
With reports from Samantha Echavez and Trixie Reyna

This feisty lady was the first Filipina and Southeast Asian woman to run across the United States of America, and the first Pinay to run from Mindanao to Luzon. Pain and injuries couldn't keep her from gunning for her goals: raising funds for the Philippine Heart Center and Inner Wheel Club of Quezon City for her program Takbong Pangarap and just flat-out proving that the Filipina can.

She talks to Cosmo about her love for running and the many amazing things it's brought into her life.

What's it like to be a woman in a male-dominated sport?

Well, I always feel that I have to prove myself. I don't really have to prove myself naman, pero parang that's the feeling I get. Before [running across] the Philippines, siyempre we'd done long runs before that, Manila to Baguio, Manila to Tagaytay, and when you say "I'm going to run across the Philippines," parang they're like, "Ha?" Question mark talaga.

Even when we were running across the Philippines, [we asked] our support vehicle driver, when we were in Pagudpod, "O ano, kuya, may doubt ka ba na kaya niyang tapusin?" "Oo!" "Bakit?" "Babae siya e." And I'm like, "My gosh!" Ito, crew ko na 'to ha! So even if you've done the Philippines, when they hear you're going to run across America, parang question mark pa rin.

I don't mean to compare, but when we were in the States, they would go, "Oh, what are you doing?" we'd go, "We're from the Philippines and we're running across America." "Fantastic! Amazing!" Gan'on! They never said, "But you're a girl!" Never, never.

What tips can you give women who want to get into running?

Like I always tell friends, you have to know why you're doing it, because I know running's a really hot sport now; something we never foresaw, having started way, way back. Although masaya to see it! You know why you're getting into it. A lot of people get into it because it's a hot sport, but 'yun nga e, I've had friends who've run from zero [practice] and then the next day, [when] they're so beat up, they go, "Ayoko na, hindi ko na type." Siyempre it took years before I got the endurance and the patience to see it through, and it's only because I like physically bringing myself from one point to another. Maybe that's why I stayed. It's still very, very enjoyable to me.

Do it for whatever reason: If it's for weight loss, if it's good for stress relief or for reflection, if you want to race, that's fine, but know why you're doing it.

Of course, get the right equipment. Thankfully, there are a lot of shoe brands out there on the market and a lot of people say [you must] get your shoe size [so that your shoe is right for you], but for me, it's a shoe fit. In regular shoes, I'm a 7 1/2, but for running shoes, I'm 9 1/2 men's. That's also because of the nature of our running, we run very long distances every day, for several days, so the feet swell. Your foot has to feel comfortable in a pair of shoes that allow you space. And that's why I prefer men's shoes, because they're wider than women's shoes. And the colors are nicer (laughs)!

How can you encourage Pinays to run more?

Well, first of all, they have to like it. But assuming that they do, it's really a fun sport. It's very simple, you can do it anywhere, and it's a good thing right now that there are a lot of races so you can challenge yourself with the distances and make a lot of friends.

But for me, my love for running is also a time to de-stress from work. Sometimes nga, in a week of hard work na parang people push you around and deadlines are really stressful, I say to myself, "Okay lang 'yan, I'm running on the weekend!" For me, that's something to look forward to. "Sige lang, I'm going to run on the weekend, bahala kayo diyan!" That's it. I made a lot of good friends because of this sport, and it's taken me to so many places, made me do things I never thought I'd do or even see in my lifetime. It's been very rewarding.

The sport entails a lot of discipline. What are the things you have to restrict or control as part of your conditioning?

Definitely you have to sleep early, because for one thing, races start early here, and another thing, with the kind of running that we do, we really start early so that we can finish early. And the distance is very long. Another thing, this is not the time to diet. You need carbohydrates in a sport like this because carbohydrates are the fuel of running.

[You need] discipline. Kasi people say, "Buti ka pa, you can run, you have the time!" Actually, no, I don't have the time. I make the time for it. You really try to find time and prioritize it.

When we were training for the US run, what I would do is, because I had to work during the day, 'di ba usually in magazines the activity's in the afternoon, 'di ba, after lunch? What I'd do is, I'd run from 10 in the morning to 12 noon, which is really not the time for running if you think about it, pero wala. That's the only time I can fit to do running, so I'll do it. You squeeze it in any time in the day if you really wanna do it. You make time for it.

How did you get into the sport and what made you decide to pursue it?

I was stressed out at work, I was looking for something to de-stress, and so I wanted to do the opposite of sitting and thinking, that's why I started to run. There was just something about it that I really enjoyed. Early on, there was something about it that I liked, and what made me stay on, apart from the physical benefits and the health benefits of it, is purely to bring myself from one place to another. That's never been lost and I never get tired of that, just physically bringing myself from one place to another. That's my runner's high.

What was the best part about running across the Philippines, and then running across the United States?

The best part is that, well, first of all, to be able to see the project through. Seven years in your mind and in your heart and then suddenly it materializes, na parang it became concrete. You think to yourself, "Oh, I actually put something together!" Number one, that.

Number two, seeing the beauty of the Philippines. I'd only been to some parts of the country, but because of that I was able to see how beautiful the country is and I become proud of the country and proud to be a Filipino. With the United States, it's the same thing. It's a humongous undertaking and sometimes, [when] I think about it, I go, "Oh my God, look at all the people I brought in and all the lives that I affected because of my decision to run across America." So many lives were affected. Just putting it together is, for me, a feat in itself, and running across 16 states, it's quite overwhelming to think about it.

Sometimes when people say, "First Southeast Asian," or "First Filipina," I'm not yet at that part. For me, it was the day to day experiences that we went through that I'm still focused on. Not pa rin the big picture. And for both, finishing both, that you were able to see a project or a dream through, you never said never, that's it. Just starting and finishing it, for me, those were the big things there.

Click through to the Gallery below to see more behind-the-scenes photos.
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