Dubai: Despite flipping over in a bike crash and facing road mishaps, Filipino triathlete Romeo Puncia III conquered the Ultraman Florida — all 517.5km of it — on Sunday.
On his Facebook update after the race, Puncia, beaming with pride, said: “We finally made it! So officially I am an Ultraman Florida Finisher! We conquered the three stages!”
Ultraman Florida is one of the most gruelling races in the world with three stages covering a 10km-open water swim, a 423km bike ride, and an 84km-ultra-marathon run all in three days.
The Abu Dhabi emergency medical technician finished strong and clinched the 33rd spot, official race results show.
He completed the course in 33 hours and 50 seconds, a huge accomplishment for someone who only learnt how to swim, properly ride a bike and participate in triathlons in 2016.
“Glory to God!” Puncia told Gulf News in a phone interview from the US after the race, his voice jubilant.
“I’m ecstatic that I was able to race with professional athletes, many of them are the best in the world, champions in their age groups. They have been doing triathlon for five, 10 years or more. In my case, I only wanted to finish the race and to finish strong,” he added.
When crossing the third stage and final finish line, Puncia carried both the Philippine and the UAE flags, becoming the first Filipino male and UAE resident to finish the course. He dedicated his feat to his country and the UAE, and the people who support him.
“Thank you to the UAE and the Philippines. The moral support you gave is beyond overwhelming. It pushed me a lot and motivated me during the race,” he said.
“I am super happy that I finished the race without any major injuries. I had an accident on day one but I am grateful to God it wasn’t anything major. It is unfortunate that one of the racers broke a collar bone and two ribs and got a punctured lung.”
After cycling for 80km, Puncia was caught in a tight corner and it was a split-second decision between getting hit by a vehicle or crashing hard on the pavement. His hard landing left him with abrasions on his elbows, shins, and back. He had cuts on both wrists and left knee.
“I was really in pain. So during stage two when we had cycled for 275km, it was really hard because I couldn’t be in an aerodynamic position.”
It was during those long ride and run that his worst enemy came to battle with him. “I was battling with myself. It was mental torture. I was asking why I was putting myself through such punishment. But then I overcame that and focused on my family, people who believe in me, the tribal communities I was racing for, and the finish line.”
Puncia said he couldn’t have finished strong without his coach, Jeremy Howard, also a professional triathlete, and crew, Koss Du Plessis and Rich Reed.
Describing Puncia’s performance, Howard, from Way2Champ Endurance Coaching, told Gulf News: “Romeo raced exceptionally. He followed the plan, finished strong every day and proved that he has a big future in this sport. He is young and has a lot of ability to excel in these longer distances. Super proud of his result here and excited for the future.”
Philippine Consul-General Paul Raymund Cortes, who is also a strong supporter of Puncia, congratulated him for proving that the “Filipino athlete can be side by side with the rest of the world.”
“Physicality is only the beginning but his discipline and mental focus is what holds the key to his excellence. Thank you Romeo for teaching us your compatriots about this,” Cortes said.