Reasons and relationships may evolve, and one’s advocacy further deepens, all while getting fit
Photos courtesy of Joy Reyes
If there are two pieces of equipment I avoid in the gym, it’s the treadmill and stationary bike. When good vistas, fresh air, and a sense of flanerie exist in outdoor runs and rides, such gear seems more like penal punishments (which apparently, they historically were). And yes, I’d rather bike in the rain.
Every January, sports blogs and publications like to publish “best places to run in the metro” lists. What’s a common denominator that makes these places “runnable” to begin with?
Memes have proven to be effective communication tools. One such meme that’s been making the rounds is a diptych of the same city street, one with trees and the other without. The caption? Temperature readings in degrees Celsius, the difference between the two scenes as large as 15 degrees.
Despite these, trees and meadows continue to be felled and bulldozed for parking lots, skyscrapers, and wider roads, following skewed notions of progress and development, and our green spaces remain ever in need of vigilant, watchful citizens.
Many environmental advocates are also outdoor sports enthusiasts and it seems natural that such a connection would form, especially the more time one spends in nature, even in urban green spaces
The community in a Quezon City university is witnessing heated discussion over the uprooting of many old trees for another parking lot. Meanwhile, Marikina residents wonder whether the refurbishing done to their 20-kilometer river park will maintain the green spaces that defined its jogging and cycling trails, especially as many old trees forming picturesque, calming canopies were cut for the project.
But it’s not all bad news. Mandaluyong City, drawing from the success of nearby Makati, has begun to implement Car-Free Sundays in its Greenfield District, truly living up to the commercial area’s name.
What makes initiatives like this possible? Who keeps a watchful eye over the health of our green spaces? Many environmental advocates are also outdoor sports enthusiasts and it seems natural that such a connection would form, especially the more time one spends in nature, even in urban green spaces.
Many cyclists, runners, boaters, hikers, divers, and more I’ve befriended through the years seem to have hearts beating with the natural environment: Conversations revolve around conservation, many volunteer or work for green organizations, and often, these advocacies intersect with a web of causes like labor rights, gender equality, Indigenous peoples’ equity, and more.
I caught up with one such friend, Joy Reyes, an environmental lawyer with the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (Friends of the Earth Philippines) and Manila Observatory who is also a longtime member of the Loyola Mountaineers, a freediver with a Wave 1 Certification, and a yoga teacher.
She recently represented Friends of the Earth and the Observatory in the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference or COP28, noted for significant breakthroughs in emissions policies across nations.
Hiking acquaints you with local communities, Indigenous peoples, and nature conservation; cycling brings direct experience of the state of our roads; running is a very tactile exercise, smelling the fresh mountain air on a trail run versus the polluted air in most city runs, you feel the soil or asphalt’s nuances beneath your feet, you see things you would overlook or take for granted if on wheels.
She notes how “participating in sports that have a lot of outdoor components really make you realize how beautiful the world is, and how we owe it to ourselves and others to preserve it as far as practicable.”
Advocacy for her goes beyond online activity, emphasizing that “nothing inspires you to advocate for the environment more than being in its midst. Advocacy is about empathy, but it is also a lot of lived experience.”
Diving into detail, the attorney-advocate relates her experiences, observing how “hiking acquaints you with local communities, Indigenous peoples, and nature conservation; cycling brings direct experience of the state of our roads (which makes so many cyclists advocates for safe roads and active mobility); running is a very tactile exercise, smelling the fresh mountain air on a trail run versus the polluted air in most city runs, you feel the soil or asphalt’s nuances beneath your feet, you see things you would overlook or take for granted if on wheels.”
True to form, it was a visceral experience of green spaces that led Reyes to her current career-vocation and to the, well, joy she finds today amid her work’s challenges.
“In my third year of undergrad,” the environmental lawyer recalls, “I did my Junior Term Abroad at San Francisco, where my college-self, fully accustomed to the Qatar desert where I grew up, first fell in love with the outdoors. I hiked and ran a lot, and found myself—a desert-born tropical girl—most at home in the parks and forests within and surrounding San Francisco.”
Coming home, “I joined the Loyola Mountaineers. There the passion for nature grew in scope but also in breadth. I learned about Indigenous peoples and their struggles, the realities of climate change, the need for climate justice, and the ways I can potentially help in making the world just a little better for people.”
It’s difficult not to be an advocate for the environment if you love to do outdoor sports, Joy Reyes shares emphatically, because eventually the love for the sport spreads into love for the places in which you can do the sport
“It’s difficult not to be an advocate for the environment if you love to do outdoor sports,” Reyes shares emphatically, “because eventually the love for the sport spreads into love for the places in which you can do the sport.”
It really is circular, as Reyes spells it out: “The less taken care of the outside environment is, the less safe, sustainable, and accessible outdoor sports are.”
But even here, there’s still a notion of self-interest, of a separate self: “I” am “here,” and that “the environment” is “there,” something that is “separate from me.”
Building on this, Reyes drops her attorney lens, picking up her yoga glasses, and smiling, “there is no dichotomy between us and nature. We are nature.”
It’s been revealed that many of our Indigenous brothers and sisters don’t limit their sense of self to their body, but to the land which, come to think of it, is an extension of their body, both the origin and final destination of their life.
Given that every Filipino is technically a descendant of our Indigenous ancestors, a part of this consciousness lies dormant in each of us. The question remains whether we’ll water it to fruition.
Today, it seems that outdoor sport—and the resulting community of enthusiasts-turned-advocates—is one such fountain.
Expounding on how advocacies often intersect, Reyes shares, “Sport brings people together, and in that communion discussions can be had, agreements can be made, and lessons can be learned.”