When the starting gun was fired during the 2nd Rotary Run last Feb. 21, Joel Garganera followed his race start ritual—he grabbed his wife’s arm and gave her a quick kiss—only to find he had kissed a shocked stranger.
Joel never recovered from the faux pas as he was separated by the mass of runners from his wife, Audrey, who stood shocked a few paces away. He darted off for his 15K run shaking his head and mumbling to himself “buanga (crazy).”
Humor defines Joel Garganera. Whether talking about his reaction upon seeing the grades of his son Federico (pronounced with an Italian diction, nickname—Dodong) or the ecstasy he feels during his regular run or the accomplishment of having finished six marathons in about a year, there’s never a dull moment with him.
When running with Joel, you’re likely to end up with a side stitch—not because the pace is punishing, but because he tells such funny stories in such a humorous way. Joel is one of those runners you want in your long runs because they make the kilometers fly by effortlessly.
Running defines Joel Garganera. Public service may be his vocation—he became, at 21 years old, the youngest person to be elected a barangay captain in Cebu City—but running is his avocation.
But he wasn’t always a runner. He used to play basketball all the time at the Capitol Parish gym, lawyer Ramsey Quijano told me.
“We named (our group) Thursday Club. He then organized a group of players from his barangay to join us. The group became large enough that it branched into another group, the Tuesday Club. At some point, he started to miss our games and conspicuously abandoned our beer sessions…he gave the usual excuse that he sprained his knee but I suspected that it was at this time that he started running and intentionally avoided basketball fearing that he might get injured and couldn’t run,” Quijano said.
“Months passed, and the next time I saw him he was as thin as a stick. He then told me that he was preparing for the Hong Kong Marathon, his first marathon,” he continued.
Listening to Joel speak about running is listening to a changed man, close friends say. Sun.Star Cebu executive editor Michelle So keeps teasing Joel that she no longer recognizes him, that he has become a “saint.”
Garganera said that after he started running, waking up early to run became a habit. He said he used to be heavy but got fit by keeping on hitting the road, sometimes with a weekly mileage of up to 50 kilometers.
“I personally do not know what stoked the fire of running in him. I didn’t ask. But like most runners, the motivation is personal and we wear it in our hearts. I used to tease him that he had mid-life crisis and probably running was a way out of it. He just laughed it off. I continued playing ball while Joel worked extremely long hours running. Two years later, he accompanied me on my first 5K fun run, which he forced me to do. And we have been on the road since,” Quijano said.
Garganera’s passion for running is infectious. Not only does he encourage people to run, he forces them into the sport. He gives away shoes—once he wears a pair for a marathon, he never wears it again and gives it away—and race singlets to encourage relatives and friends.
Although he is able to hit the road less frequently now because he is running for Cebu City councilor in the May election, Garganera tries to sneak in a run even while visiting far-flung barangays. Every Friday night, he joins the weekly 10 p.m. run from the Sun.Star Cebu office to the IT park, serving as So’s pacer and the group’s joker.
Garganera’s passion for running is matched by only his enthusiasm in government policies. He wants to set up a commission that will regulate the holding of running events in the city. Right now, no one oversees the scheduling of events and there are Sundays when you have two different fun runs that converge on certain roads in the city. Garganera wants the commission to regulate the schedule.
He also wants the commission to set minimum standards for fun runs, taking in primary consideration the safety of runners. He wants the City Traffic Operations Management to come up with a fixed race fee that organizers have to pay to assure safety on the road. He also raised the need to educate drivers to respect runners and take their safety into primary consideration.
He also raises the need to look into the city’s sidewalks. “Never mind us runners, think about the school children. They need sidewalks so that they can be safe in walking to school. Our streets are not child-friendly,” Joel said.
You get the full measure of a man by running with him. Joel is someone you want with you, whether you’re struggling to finish 10K or crawling to the finish line of an ultra-marathon.