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Open water swim held once again at Caramoan through the Swimjunkie Challenge 2022

By Kris Valeen B. Saberon

The first Swimjunkie Challenge started with 3km and 7km distance categories on the beautiful pristine island of Caramoan in 2015. The Swimjunkie Challenge Inc. founded by the now official coach of the new Philippine National Open Water Swimming Team, Betsy Kiunisala Medalla, noticed that more swimmers who are being honed continuously improve over time and decided to start the 10km route on the same island. Along with the growing number of participants in the race every year, the Swimjunkie Challenge has expanded to Batangas and Palawan, and each year a new location is added. Swimjunkie’s open water swim challenges have been held at Caramoan since 2015.

After a two-year break due to the pandemic, the SwimJunkie Challenge Inc., in partnership with the Provincial Government of Camarines Sur, once more held the Swimjunkie Challenge 2022 in the islands of Caramoan, Camarines Sur with the tagline, “Four beaches. Three coral fields. One Amazing Swim.” The Swimjunkie Challenge 2022 featured a 5km and 10km distance route of open water swim starting from the Gota Village Beach Resort, going to the islands of Lahos, Matukad, Minalahos, Hunongan and back to the Gota Village Resort. Over 159 swimmers from all over the world joined the event, wherein 121 participated in the 5km category and 38 participants in the 10km.

The SwimJunkie Challenge is a series of open water swims for athletes and swimming enthusiasts, which has been an avenue for the open water swimmers to gather and train whilst promoting and experiencing the nature’s beauty and tourism in the Philippines.

SWIMJUNKIE22 More than 150 swimmers tackled the Swimjunkie Challenge 2022 in the azure waters of Caramoan Peninsula in Camarines Sur. The Swimjunkie Challenge Inc., in partnership with the Provincial Government of Camarines Sur featured a 5km and 10km open water swim starting from the Gota Village Beach Resort, going to the islands of Lahos, Matukad, Minalahos, Hunongan and back to Gota. multimedia10192022/rbmjr with photos&info from fb_ProvinceofCamarinesSur

Among the swimmers were siblings who ranked first for the over-all 10km in the men’s category and the over-all 5km in the women’s category. Ron Jairus Villamor, the 20-year-old college student, a Philippine National Open Water Swimmer, was the first to reach the island of Lahos during the race, whilst her 17-year-old sister in senior high school, Jana Villamor, was the first woman to reach the said island.

Apparently, Jana had an injury prior to the event, which made her train less to recover and also added to the challenge of her swim. But her developed skills over time, determination to finish the race safely, enthusiasm to make her parents proud, and the assurance of her safety that she felt through the responders and rescuers, made her overcome the challenges during the race and finished it with the pure thrill and appreciation of nature’s beauty and finished it on top among others.

“I want to thank Coach Betsy because apart from being a nice swimmer and coach, she made the Swimjunkie [challenge] really nice—well-organized and they were really able to give us what we need like water, sports beverage, and food. Also thank you to the quick response of the kuyas [responders and rescuers] pointing us where to go, kasi pag pagod na pagod ka na ‘di mo na talaga makikita kung saan ka papunta. It was really nice of them na meron silang good organization and attentiveness throughout the whole swim,” Jana said.

Ron, who is on his third time joining the Swimjunkie Challenge in Caramoan, felt the significant change for this year’s race because of his faster time count during the last race (2019) due to the less strong waves, yet he is really happy that he joined. Having Coach Betsy as the same coach as his younger sister, their preparations prior to the open water swim were almost the same, yet he had stricter training because of his longer distance route of 10 km.

Aside from his perseverance to do well in the race as part of his training for his upcoming competitions, Ron was able to enjoy the challenge because of the breathtaking and well-preserved corals and different kinds of fishes while being less worried of his safety during the swim because of the safety measures and protection of the rescuers and responders’ reliable service.

Another participant who is a 17-year-old senior high school student from Manila is Hannah Drelyn Sanchez. It was her first-time joining the challenge as well as visiting the Caramoan. Despite her unfamiliarity with the location and the strong current creating big waves during her swim, she remained determined to finish the race while strengthening her faith in God for strength and protection.

With great relief and pride, she said, “Iyong lahat ng pagod nawala kasi yung lahat ng pinaghirapan namin is worth it. May satisfaction.” Sanchez bagged the first place for the overall 10km women’s category.

Sanchez gratefully added, “Thank you kay Coach Betsy sa binigay na opportunity sa’kin to try something new. And gusto ko din pong magpasalamat sa responders and rescuer teams ng government kasi kung hindi dahil sa kanila, baka nagkaligaw-ligaw na kami. And sila din yung nagrerescue kapag may napulikat and malaking bagay yun kasi once na napulikat ka, mags-struggle ka, so sila super attentive talaga. And for me, hindi ako kinabahan habang lumalangoy kasi alam kong andiyan sila and hindi kami papabayaan.”

Meanwhile, being greatly impressed by how the number of rescuers and responders is larger than the participants to keep everyone’s safety due to the longest non-stop swim route in the Philippines, Coach Medalla delightfully said, “We’re so relieved to be back here [because] we love Caramoan. We love coming here because of the people; it’s so easy to work with them. When we say that we need help for Timers or safety crew, the way the LGUs respond and mobilize, all of the assistance from different agencies, and even volunteers who lived here locally, it cannot be matched to anywhere else. Also to the Provincial Government, especially to Governor Luigi and all of his team, thank you so, so much. We’re so happy to be back. We’re so grateful to be working with you again. And we hope to see you again next year.”

To ensure the safety and security of the swimmers, organizers, guests and the general public, the CamSur Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC) activated an Incident Management Team (IMT) comprising of rescue groups and communication groups from different member-agencies and organizations, namely the Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine National Police, Bureau of Fire and Protection, Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction Management Offices, Kabalikat, Philippine Red Cross, and Provincial Health Office.

One of the things that sets Caramoan apart from other locations are its coastline shape, which makes a single 5km loop of island-to-island swimming without the repetition of sections possible. In addition, the swimmers get to swim in a well-protected sections and areas with the collaborative efforts of the Provincial Government together with the various member-agencies and organizations and the local volunteers.


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