On Sunday, Migo participated in his first-ever mountain bike trail race. It was the Filinvest Bike Fest 2013, which served as the inaugural event for the brand-new Team EXO-built MTB trails at Filinvest City. It was a going to be a really tough course for him, of course, but he had a great time. We had ridden the basic trail on the second lot just a few times before (but not up through the dangerous trail up near the treeline, and we’d never gone all the way up on the water tank hill) but never after a rain. This was not only his first-ever race, but also his first time to ride with anywhere this many people.
He was completely psyched-up for the race. When I casually mentioned it to him a few weeks ago, he was so excited at the idea of racing that he would ask me EVERY SINGLE DAY if we could either ride our bikes out to Tropical Palace (which is an 8K out-and-back ride) or to return to the Filinvest Trails to “train.” Yeah, he was excited. I finally got to sign us up for the race the day before, at the Makati branch of Gran Trail. I asked the girl if he could race as I was worried there wouldn’t be a trail easy enough for him to ride quickly. I was also worried because the youngest category listed riders welcome “17 and below”; I wasn’t sure if that included Kindergarteners. But the girl called someone up and confirmed that it was okay, and that there were even 4 and 5 year olds who signed up. Great! So I signed him up and when I got home and told him the good news he got so excited that he wanted to go right out and ride that very second! Instead, I told him to get his clothes ready. He hurriedly ran to his room and we picked out the jersey, shorts, socks, and even shoes that he wanted to wear for the race. We grabbed his helmet and gloves, then laid the whole lot out on the couch to dress up into quickly when we woke up. We then premixed our Gatorade and packed our Honey Stinger Waffles and Gu and cookies and Skyflakes. We slept early.
At 5am, I woke him (and the rest of our family) up and he jumped up, excited to get started! We all dressed quickly and were out of the house and on our way to the trails! When we got there, we lined up to claim our race kits and goodie bags. After we got them we started surveying the “competition” as we attached the number plates to our bikes and jerseys. My wife and I found it a bit unusual that we hadn’t seen anyone even remotely near Migo’s age or size. But it was still early. Plenty of time for the rest of the division to arrive. But as the morning wore on, we started to get the sinking feeling that there was going to be no other rider below 13 – let alone around 6. I asked the registration counter and our fears were verified: there were a few other kids around 5-7 years old who were registered, but they did not show up to claim their kits. But that didn’t seem to faze him. He was enjoying a pre-race Oreo and Gatorade, when Meg asked him how he was doing. He replied, “Good. I’m going to eat this cookie, and then I’m going to WIN THIS RACE” all while staring off into the distance with a fire in his eyes.
And when the Kids division lined up at the starting gate, the truth was evident: Migo was by far the smallest and the youngest rider at the line. We told him constantly to just enjoy himself, have fun and to be safe but he would not be swayed from his goal of victory: “Eh, I’m okay.” Then, while sizing up the riders around him, “I think I’m going to win this race.” Okaaaay. The race director, Don So, came up to me and offered to allow me to ride with him for the parts of the race that may be too difficult or technical. In particular, we were talking about the nasty water tower climb. I agreed and thanked him, as the last thing we wanted was for him to get injured. We agreed that I would join him toward the end of the first trail, and then all throughout the second trail.
The countdown began, and once the host shouted out “Go!” he was out like a shot. He kept up with the pack for the first hundred meters or so, and he was pedalling his heart out. By the time they hit the first trail he was already at the back of the pack but still wearing his game face. My wife, Marco and I shouted encouragement to him from the sidelines as we watched him take the first few curves and switchbacks. He was doing okay until the first major obstacle: a curve with a 6-inch deep “pond” right in the middle of it. He plowed through it as best as he could but lost some of his balance. But the worst part was that as his tires left the puddle, they took sizeable chunks of mud along with them. As he hit puddle after puddle, he gradually lost his ability to control the bike and at the fourth one, he eventually fell over. His bike dropped to one side as he fell into the murky water. Undeterred, he picked himself up each time and got back on the bike to pedal hard. Toward the last third of the first trail, I hopped onto my bike and crossed the field to him. We hit a few more puddles where he fell over, but as he got back up, all the riders passing him and the marshals standing by for assistance kept shouting out to him: “Go baby! Go!! You can do it! Don’t give up!!” We finished the tough and fast descents and climbs (after some tight switchbacks!) and finally made it safely out onto the long, flat stretch toward the end of the first trail and the beginning of the next. And this is where things would get hard.
The start of the second trail was a long double track that was also three inches of mud deep. He lost traction pretty quickly and his balance followed soon after. We pulled his sinking bike from the bog and used a stick to scrape off the thickest bits of mud, so as to lighten it and make it a bit easier to manoeuvre. And then, the moment we feared all day came to pass: The Water Tower Climb. We hit the bottom hard, but it was too steep. I abandoned my bike quickly and helped him push his up the long slow incline. Riders were passing us left and right. Calling out, “bike, bike, bike!!” they mostly slowed down to give us time to get out of their way. At the top, I asked him if he wanted to ride the descent – warning him that if he did, he had to hold on to his brakes and take it slowly. He hopped on his bike and rode down about 15 feet, then came to a stop: “Um… nope. It’s too scary. Let’s just walk it, dad.” So we walked it down. But by the last thirty feet or so, the descent flattened out enough for him to take, so he got on and pedalled down, making his way to the next section of track. I ran to get my bike and followed him.
At this point he was pedalling really hard, probably trying to gain back the time he lost walking. The next section was a large number of climbs, fast descents and tight switchbacks. He had to walk the first few climbs as they were really too steep for him and we rode the descents down. At one point, he screamed out loud, “This trail is soooo TERRIFYING!!!!” We were doing okay, until about the last stretch. This was about the highest and fastest descent of the section but he opted to ride it. Everything was going well until… until his front tire hit a baseball-sized rock in the middle of the final six feet. Time slowed down and I watched in horror as his bike abruptly stopped and he flew off it, endo-ing and landing on his side. I was so glad I taught him how to fall just a few weeks ago. He got up with no injuries save a few scratches from the rocks. But in the end, he’s still a six year old who suffered a pretty huge fall. He was crying, tears rapidly flowing from his eyes as he shouted out to me, “I didn’t WANT to ride that last downhill!! I wanted to walk it! Dad, I was so scared!” My heart broke and I asked him: “Alright, you did very well today – you rode with a lot of really good bikers! Do you want to stop now? It’s perfectly okay. You already did a great job.”
“No, dad,” he said, as he narrowed his eyes into a glare and wiped the tears away with his glove. “LET’S FINISH THIS.” He declared it with such conviction that I lost all will to stop him. We got back on our bikes, got back on the trail. As we got back up, we could hear the spectators on the road cheering him on! “You can do it!” “Finish strong!” “Ang galing mo, baby!!” As we picked up speed on the last turn, I saw him blush as a smile flashed across his face. As we dropped onto the road and toward the finisher’s chute, I pulled back to let him cross the finish line on his own. I shouted after him, “Go Migo! You can do it! Give it your best and go as fast as you can! There’s the finish line!”
He picked up speed as I could see him switching up into his highest gear – he wanted to blast into that finish line. At this point, the Start/Finish Arc was crowded with all the racers from the next category: the elite and veteran group. The MC announced on air: “Alright everybody, make way for our FINAL RACER!!” Everyone looked back at Migo and all hands went up: they started cheering, clapping and whooping! They all parted and stood aside as they let Migo pass into the finisher’s chute and across the line! As he passed, each one would shout out, “Congratulations!” “Ang galing mo!” “Good job, baby!” “CONGRATULATIONS!!!” and “Ang ganda ng bike mo!” I started tearing up at that. As he crossed the line, the crowd erupted into cheers and wild applause. There was never a prouder moment for us. Meg was choking up and crying as she saw her baby coming down the road.
As he came to a stop, he asked his mom: “Can I have some Gatorade?” He took the bottle from her hand and chugged the rest of it down. My race was going to be delayed until after lunch, so we asked Migo: “Where do you want to eat for lunch? To celebrate?” And he replied with, “JOLLIBEE!!!!” Marco cheered on as well: “Jollibeeeee!!! I want toys!” In the end, he’s still a kid.
After lunch, we returned to the trails for my race. It was gruelling and certainly a lot harder than I could have expected but I finished strong and without injury. While I was out on the trail, apparently Migo had picked up a nickname. The pros and the crew had taken to calling him, “Power Kid.” And the nickname spread fast. As he was riding up and down, people started calling out to him, “Power Kid! Can I have a picture with you?” And he loved it. When I came around after the trail, people were asking me if I was the dad of “Power Kid.” Sheesh.
But the real reason I wanted to finish the race was for the awarding. I had heard, before lining up at the starting gate, that the Race Director Don So was planning on giving out a special award to Migo. As I crossed the finish
line, I went straight to the car to look for them for us to head to the awarding area. The raffled off a few of the prizes first before the awarding. Finally, the MC announced that they were going to award the winners of the Kids division. But before that, he said, they wanted to give out a special award! They were looking for number 117, Migo Arcilla! Migo was so excited! He ran straight up as the MC was speaking, “Anton Miguel Arcilla was our youngest racer today, at seven years old…” but Migo interrupted him: “I’m six! I’m six, not seven!” The gathered crowd erupted in applause and cheers and shook his hand as he passed!
“Six years old! Wow! Definitely our youngest racer! He may have had the hardest time but he never gave up!”
The race director shook his hand and awarded him a special swag bag and then – much to Migo’s surprise and delight – lifted him up onto the number one spot on the podium! He was so happy! The RD then gave him a new set of sunglasses as part of his award and stood aside for pictures. When he finally jumped off, he ran to me grinning: “It’s so cool! I can’t believe I got a special award!!! I love it!!!”
As we walked toward the car, Migo was going through his swag bag of prizes and he pulled out a box of kids’ vitamin supplements syrup. Marco exclaimed, excitedly: “I want it! I want it!! Kuya, I want it!!!” Migo gamely gave it to him. Bear in mind that it’s a painful struggle to give Marco his vitamins nearly every day. He hates it, and we practically have to chase him around the room or the house to get him to take them. So… Marco was skipping with glee as he held the vitamins in his hands. I asked him: “Are you happy? Do you like what you have there?” “Ya!” he said. “Really? You really want those… VITAMINS?”
“NOOOO!!!!! I don’t want it! I don’t want it! Kuya – here! I don’t want it!”
Let it never be said that he is anything BUT consistent.
It’s now nearly two days later and he still can’t stop talking about the race. He’s looking forward to the next one and has asked me no less than twenty times: “When can we go back to the Filinvest trails?” “Can we go riding today?” “Can we ride this afternoon?” “Can we go night riding?” And even, “Dad, if I sleep early tonight, can we ride the Filinvest trails early tomorrow morning?”
It was great to hear these stories of encouragement and determination from the various marshals as we passed them on the way back. Meg and I could not see him for quite a bit of the first leg, and only found out afterwards how bravely he soldiered on in spite of each setback. And to all the riders and spectators, the crew and the organizers who cheered him on, encouraged him, applauded for him, even asked him for pictures (I still can’t get over that!) To every single one of you: thank you very much. You have no idea how much your encouragement helped my son get through the hardest parts of the day, and encouraged him to enjoy the sport even more and I owe you our deepest gratitude for helping to make this what he called one of his “best day(s) ever!!” I don’t think he would have enjoyed himself half as much if it weren’t for all of you and the incredible energy you brought with you. Thank you.
Finally, I would really really appreciate it if any of you have photos of him or with him: could you please tag Meg and I in them? I would love to have copies of them to help us remember this incredibly magical and special day. Thanks so much!