How DJ, TV host, and spinning instructor Katz Salao overcame her fears to complete her first aquathlon

By Romeo Moran | Photos courtesy of Katz Salao

Radio jock, TV host, and Ride Revolution instructor Katz Salao is up to a lot of things. Every time I go check my social media feeds, the bubbly millennial is always active and has something going on in her life whether she’s hosting an event, documenting the spin sessions she leads, or just chilling at home with her dogs. Sometimes it even feels like she’s never really at rest.

But one day, Salao started posting about running at the UP Diliman oval and swimming in a pool—actual swimming, not lounging around in the sun. She made it pretty clear then that she had just taken on a new challenge: competing in the recent Atleta Ako aquathlon at the PhilSports Arena.

It fascinated me because it seemed like she took it up all of a sudden, and it turned out I wasn’t far off the mark. Salao did actually intend to fast-track her training for her first aquathlon and it really helped that her lifestyle was already active to begin with. I spoke with her on the entire experience training and competing in something she never thought she’d be doing if you asked her a couple of months ago.

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How did you end up racing your first aquathlon?

I did it for Gameplan TV. Gameplan‘s motto this year is #JustStart and it’s inviting people, including us three hosts, to start new things or restart old ones. It was supposed to be a relay—I’ll run and someone else will swim, but I challenged myself instead. I asked triathlete and doctor Ian Banzon if it was possible for me to train in two weeks and she said yes, so I did!

I don’t run. I mean, I’ve done a 10K and a 21K, but I don’t run regularly. And in any sport, consistency is what makes you great. So having a goal, I know that would push me to train. And it did! I did an aquathlon because it was something I didn’t think I’d ever do. I put myself in that situation—to do something you didn’t think you could—so I could prove to myself that all I really have to do to get over fear or doubt is to face it. 

You live a pretty active lifestyle, especially as a Ride Revolution instructor. How different was the training you had to do for your first  aquathlon, and what were your thoughts when you saw what you had to do?

I was afraid to train! The thing about “living an active lifestyle” is the idea that just because you do one sport, all other sports will be easy. Not true. Different sports use different muscles, and the first thing you realize when you don’t perform as well in something you’re not used to is that you’re weak. Not true too. Our bodies are brilliant in a way that after one or two tries of something, it adapts and tries to get stronger. I think when you try any sport, no matter your fitness level, you need a balanced mindset: Day one could go either way—easy or difficult—but I can always get better.

The first time I swam 50 meters, I was so tired. And that wasn’t even half of what I had to do on race day, then I had to run! I was freaking out a little bit inside. My swim coaches Raisa Teano and Sabina Santiago were with me during the two weeks and they had to remind me constantly to “stop kicking the water.” I guess it was the movement I was used to—I was pedaling in the water! Once I had the focus though, it slowly started to feel smoother. It slowly started to feel doable. I clocked in around 10,000 meters total in two weeks, and that was enough for me to feel like I could really finish. I had to humble myself, that even if I was fit in other aspects, I was a beginner at this. And we’re all beginners at the beginning, nothing else to be but better.

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All smiles because we finished our first aquathlon! This is Peggy, she’s 13 years old and she’s crazy athletic. She’s on the autism spectrum, and her mom told me that means she’s prone to phobias. You know what she does to get over her fears? She faces it. No complaints, she just keeps going.

Did you have to make any new changes to your lifestyle?

Yes. I’m a freelancer of a lot of things, so my schedule is never consistent and almost always full. I learned something super crucial during the two weeks: I had to make time or else. So I had radio, hosting, Ride Revolution, and training. And surprisingly, I had even more time to do other things. It felt overwhelming at first, but once I changed my mindset and set my priorities straight, I was more relaxed than before. That’s one thing that completely changed me: changing the saying “when I have time” to “when I make time.” And no, eating habits still the same. I eat everything, but in moderation.

How was the race itself? How were you feeling before, during, after the race? Any good stories from the race?

So, I woke up late for the race. Well, I wanted to be there before sunrise but I woke up at sunrise. I couldn’t sleep! I was so excited. 

Before the race, I had the jitters, I couldn’t set myself straight. But when I got to Ultra and saw the other Atleta Ako racers, I felt at ease. It was like a community of old friends meeting and cheering each other on. Some women were triathletes, but most of us were first-timers.

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First time to swim in Ultra and I ended up sharing a lane with this guy, Manny. It was also my first time swimming in a tri suit so after a few laps when we met again at the starting point, he asked me if I was a triathlete. I told him no, and pointed to the poster of Atleta Ako

I took my time during the first 100 meters. I didn’t want to burn out and I knew I had to just get my rhythm going and I’d be fine. At first I was getting frustrated because every stroke seemed to be getting worse, but the thing about swimming is you’re alone in your head. You’re focusing on so many things, moving your body, using your hips, not drowning. But even with all of that chaos, it’s very calming to be in the water. I talked to and reminded myself that after every bad stroke, I can make up for it immediately with a good one. The bad strokes don’t matter as long as I keep trying for great ones. 

When I was on my final lap, I really did not want it to end. I felt like Dory—I could keep swimming! That gave me so much confidence because I knew that I had enough energy and motivation for the next half. I got out of the water and didn’t check the time, just because that wouldn’t matter. It was always about how I felt and, at that point, I felt amazing.

Is this the start of something more? Would you be open to doing, say, duathlons or an actual triathlon?

Yes. It’s funny because if you asked me a month ago, I would have said a triathlon or aquathlon? Not for me. But once you finish that race, once you put yourself through that and cross the finish line and realize it’s doable, you want more. It’s not to prove anything to anyone, either. It’s just because that feeling is amazing. It makes you believe that if you did this, this thing you thought you’d never do, then all the other things you thought you could never do suddenly becomes one step easier.

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Day 1 of swim training yesterday was tiring. First 50 meters made me almost believe I couldn’t possibly be strong enough to finish the 500 meters next weekend.

 

What do you have to say to people thinking of making the plunge and trying something new?

Fear and self-doubt will always be there. It’s easy to succumb to them, but please don’t. Accept the doubts and fears, and let them motivate you to change them into courage and success. Everyone started somewhere. No one was absolutely brilliant immediately or all the time. Even the GOATs of your favorite sports have bad days. Starting anything new and unfamiliar is already strength, even if the muscle pains and difficult time will make you feel like it’s not. And you’ll get stronger, just keep going.