A revealing interview with 27-year-old doctor, water polo player, and triathlete Ian Banzon

By Romeo Moran| Photos by Johann Bona | Makeup by Carmel Villongco

What’s your biggest achievement so far?

In triathlon, I guess consistent podium finishes. I don’t compete in the bigger races like Ironman 70.3 because I can’t with my schedule in the hospital. But I try to stay as fit as I can so I can compete in local races and some international races that are within the distance I can compete in.

How did you get into triathlon?

When I was in high school, siguro mga 13 years old. I was a swimmer and my school wala kasing swimming varsity, so I used to train outside school. Then in the swimming community, biglang nag-start ‘yung iba kong friends na mag-triathlon for kids. Mga 2002, 2003. It was just for kids, for fun.

And then I stopped when I got injured in 2004. Tumigil din eh, ‘yung series na ‘yun. Tapos hindi na ko nakabalik. In college, I had no time and I didn’t have a bike. I used to borrow my tita’s mountain bike. After college, I worked before going to med school and my friend na teammate ko before asked me to do triathlon with her. That was 2010.

People will just say, ‘Ah, gayot, mga macho,’ ganyan. Meron pa akong isang friend, [who calls me] Batista. Ako naman, sige, bahala kayo. Ganun talaga eh. You just have to accept it

I joined a sprint triathlon in Subic with my friend and her family. I did a sprint and stopped until three years later. Kinukulit ako ng friend ko because I won second in that sprint triathlon. ‘Compete, sayang naman,’ they said. ‘Tito, I don’t have a bike!’ Eh sila, nagtuluy-tuloy sila after that. That time, I did an aquathlon lang. ‘Sakto, [her friend] magkakaroon ng bagong bike, you can use her old bike.’ So I used her old bike, tapos ‘yun na. I used to borrow bikes, and at the end of the year, my team now signed me. That’s where it all started.

What kind of exercises do you do in the gym?

Because I have a shoulder injury and I got operated on both knees in the ACL, I do a lot of strengthening for that. I do shoulder strengthening as well, because apart from my injury, there’s a lot of stress on my shoulders already. If I don’t strengthen it, bumibigay siya.

I have a program at our gym. Sometimes I have sprints and then I have jumps, weights, dumbbells, barbells; I do squats, snatches, almost everything. But mostly centered on what my weaknesses are and what I need for the sports that I do.

How do you maintain that body?

Okay, I think the issue would be how much you really wanna do it. Like if you want to exercise, you would exercise. I believe that kung gusto mo talaga, gagawan mo ng paraan. So kahit 30 minutes lang yan or an hour—‘yung nanood ka na lang ng TV, pwedeng nag-exercise ka na lang. By nature, gusto ko talaga. I really like to exercise and be active. Not just for fitness. I like sports more than just fitness, so I like training for a goal as well. So that keeps me motivated: there’s a race, I need to train.

Diet is also a big part, especially for aesthetics. Being strong is different from having a nice body. It depends on what you can do with that moment, what’s feasible for you, what you would be committed to in terms of nutrition.

Do you follow a strict diet right now?

At this moment, I’m on a low-carb, high-protein diet. And I found out that if you want to get leaner, if you want to look thinner but not starve yourself, high-protein talaga. It shows good results. Before I used to have a high-carb diet, which works for triathletes.

Do you do any other fitness activities?

Like yoga, maybe? I did yoga before. I just tried it. I do a lot of sports. I do basketball. I play for our med school. But I wasn’t varsity or whatever in high school. And I have a lot of basketball friends. I’m in a group of girls who play basketball as well, and we have a team. I play golf but not recently. I was varsity in high school and college. Badminton, I used to play as well, I was varsity in high school.

And your goal is still to get fit, not just to look good. How you look plays a part, but it’s not the most important thing for me

Let’s talk about triathlon a bit. It caters to all kinds of body types, as you’ve noticed. Do you think that’s a good influence on young people who are kind of intimidated to try because of what they think they should look like or perform like? 

Yeah, as a sport, of course. If you see different types of people doing the races, you’d fit in one of those. You’d think that ‘if he can do it, I can do it too.’ In that aspect, it’s good motivation to get them started on the sport as well.

Have you ever felt self-conscious about your body?

I think everyone goes through that. I did, especially since I’m naturally muscular. But then, you get used to it. I realized that I liked doing sports, and that’s the consequence. There’s nothing wrong with that. People will just say, ‘Ah, gayot, mga macho,’ ganyan. Meron pa akong isang friend, [who calls me] Batista. Ako naman, sige, bahala kayo. Ganun talaga eh. You just have to accept it. At least now, since the fitness industry is getting more popular, it’s a little more acceptable for people to see a fit girl.

I read about how fitness models would feel bad because they exercise too much and not eat enough just to look a certain way. People would say I exercise too much. I would rather fill my day with exercise.

There’s a belief that getting into sports, getting into athletics is a form of vanity. But for you, it seems that looking good is not your idea of vanity, but performing well. Is that safe to say? 

Yeah, of course looking good has its role, but you wouldn’t want to look sloppy or disorganized din naman. You want to be presentable, at the very least. And then performance comes next. I know some people want to do it just to be fit. That’s good. But you get the benefits of competing. And your goal is still to get fit, not just to look good. How you look plays a part, but it’s not the most important thing for me.