It was a classic case of “build it and they will come.”
FIT PH, the giant “group of triathletes and aspiring triathletes,” has been democratizing triathlon in the Philippines since 2016, when Ronald Molit—one of the instigators of Filipino International Triathletes (FIT) Dubai and founder of FIT PH—came home to the Philippines.
By 2019, FIT PH already boasts more than 240 registered members, an unbelievable feat for a triathlon team barely three years old and a dizzying number even for an already established one.
“Maganda na lahat makapag-triathlon,” said Ronald. “Sumali ka kahit wala ka’ng interes. Over time, magkakaroon ka ng interes sa sports. Very positive.”
Way before Ronald moved back to the Philippines for good, he already had a vision. He witnessed first hand the ideology and practice that allowed athletes in Dubai, more than the running and triathlon teams, to thrive. There, anyone can join any team to train with, even teams different from what they represent in competitions. The only thing that mattered was the athlete’s progress.
Ronald wanted the same for Filipinos in his home country. And so, with the iron support of his wife, Kay, he made triathlon more accessible to the general public through FIT PH. With their help, triathlon has become a sport no longer just for elite athletes and well-to-do enthusiasts.
To be a member, you don’t need to have previous races under your belt. You aren’t obligated to join any race during your membership. You just pay for the affordable membership fee for the year, which automatically accords you freebies, discounts, and access to training sessions and, more importantly, training buddies. Participation in activities is optional and according to your own pace.
“’Di ba ang mahal ng coaching dito? Ang mga tao na hindi makabayad ng coaching, puwede sila mag-join,” Ronald said.
The point really was to give access to those who can’t afford to pay for a coach, hadn’t achieved enough in the sport to be scouted for a tri-team, or dreamed of becoming a triathlete but didn’t know where to begin.
Ronald was almost describing how he started as a triathlete. His rise in triathlon, just like FIT PH’s, is a story impressive in its simplicity and steep trajectory.
It was in 2010 when Ronald joined his first ever triathlon race, the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon (ADIT). He was then working in Dubai as a property consultant.
The unhealthy and sedentary lifestyle of an OFW, comprising mostly of instant noodles and weekend drinking, saw him gain weight. That’s when he joined Filipino Runners UAE, an all-Filipino running community in the gulf. And upon learning about ADIT three months before the race, he enrolled in a gym where he joined spinning classes and trained on a treadmill.
But Ronald didn’t start from scratch as an athlete. Coming from a family of swimmers, he began competing in grade 4. His experience as a competitive swimmer made him think that if others can succeed in triathlon, he can, too.
He was right. Ronald only got his triathlon bike 15 days before ADIT. Knowing he had much road to cover, he made sure to ride 200 kilometers every weekend.
Despite limited resources and limited access to proper training, Ronald’s determination and diligence brought him to the finish line of the Olympic distance race composed of 1.5km swim, 40km bike, and 10km run.
With Kay already back in the Philippines by 2011, Ronald threw himself to the sport to fill the lull. After ADIT, he joined even small races in the off season and, in wanting to become stronger, paid for memberships to the Abras Running Club and Dubai Creek Striders, which offered track sessions and group rides all year round.
The Filipino triathlon community in Dubai also started growing. About 10 Filipinos, including Ronald, talked among themselves to put up a tri-team for Filipinos, which became FIT Dubai. The core members themselves became officers and, naturally, designated swim, bike, and run masters.
Ronald, for his part, taught swimming to beginners, mostly Filipino runners who wanted to expand their skill set for triathlon. He later obtained a certification from the American Swimming Coaches Association in Dubai as the government required.
Offering his swim sessions non-stop enticed runners to join the team and become triathletes. This helped FIT Dubai grow in number, to 100 in the following year and then to about 250 Filipinos. Charging only an annual membership fee, FIT Dubai offered free group coaching sessions to members throughout the year.
As FIT spread like wildfire, penetrating Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrain, Ronald continued joining and winning races. He inevitably caught the attention of the media in the Middle East, making it to a list of Most Influential Filipinos in the Gulf in 2015.
They called him “The Ironman” and highlighted his 2014 achievements of winning the Open men category of the Pearl-Qatar Triathlon, which was composed of 750 meters swim, 20km bike, and 5km run, and placing second in the Olympic category of Flying Start Triathlon in Kuwait, where FIT K (Kuwait) also saw media mileage.
But when Ronald joined IRONMAN Langkawi in 2015, he was still a virtual unknown in this part of the world. Ronald, who at the time already had plans of coming home to his family in the Philippines, made his mark by being the first Filipino to cross the finish line.
At first, he was worried about returning to his homeland. He knew that he would have to start all over again, both in his professional career and in the sport. He had no idea who to turn to in the triathlon community in the Philippines or how the scene was being run, except that it was booming and that the system was different from Dubai.
To train and compete in the Philippines, a triathlete would do well to be part of a tri-team, which wasn’t what Ronald was exposed to in the gulf. Even through years of joining races in the Philippines whenever he was on vacation, Ronald still competed under the radar.
“Alam ko na ’yung paano. Naka-plan na ’yun eh. Pero ’di pa ako kilala,” he said. “Paano ako magsisimula?”
Things fell into place before he got on the flight home. With the buzz that his Langkawi performance made, an offer from Herbalife Tri Team came, which also allowed Ronald to still establish FIT PH.
From his arrival, Ronald focused on competing. Laying the groundwork for FIT PH was getting in the way of his training. The outsider wanted to first prove himself here as a triathlete.
But FIT PH’s social media accounts and hashtags had always been there. As Ronald became more known in the community, so did FIT PH. After giving himself a year “off” from expanding FIT PH, Ronald funnelled more time into his advocacy.
Word spread fast and social media played a big role. FIT PH’s first members came from Ronald’s paid masters squad in swimming who kept posting about FIT PH. Next batches were composed mostly of beginner marathoners who needed to hone their swimming skills to get into triathlon.
More people followed. Ronald kept posting about his own swim training programs and FIT PH’s run sessions. People kept enlisting. Students kept drafting others. Like bees to a honeypot, curious bystanders kept getting lured offline and online. And the hive grew on its own.
With the members’ own initiative to share about FIT PH online and invite kindred spirits into the fold, Ronald and Kay didn’t need to recruit anymore. Members and inquiries came to them even from outside of Metro Manila.
And There was Light
Ronald is undoubtedly the athlete and visionary that fronts FIT PH. The triathlon team he dreamed of for his home country was crystal clear. But without a doer beside him, this visionary would have only continued to dream.
Kay has always been there to support Ronald and implement his ideas. In the beginning, Kay was understanding of how lonely and challenging it was to be an OFW living away from family and a returning OFW who had to start life anew. Triathlon made a positive change in Ronald’s life, giving him a better purpose away from an unhealthy lifestyle. And it helped that Kay saw what a strong triathlete Ronald was becoming.
When it was time for Ronald to come home, Kay believed in FIT PH as much as she believed in her husband. She wanted him to live his dream, thrive, and be recognized as the strong athlete and coach that he was, so much so that she committed to juggle co-managing FIT PH and looking after her family’s business.
Kay’s concern for Ronald’s success in triathlon extended to FIT PH’s members’, even right down to their jerseys and triathlon suits. In the races that Ronald joined before he was part of a tri-team in the Philippines, he wore a tri-suit without logos. Ronald finished strong in those competitions but Kay saw how wearing a generic tri-suit made Ronald look like he simply didn’t belong. It meant that he wasn’t part of any tri-team. He was an outsider.
That’s why Kay felt the same sympathy for Ronald’s students who were about to join a triathlon race in Cebu in 2016 without a tri-suit and didn’t have the time or money to enlist leading sportswear makers. She wasn’t going to let that happen to them.
“Naghanap ako ng mga pipitsugin lang,” said Kay, wanting to ensure that these athletes will have a FIT PH-branded tri-suit in less than a month.
Ronald didn’t agree and kept telling Kay, “Hindi maganda ’yan.” But Kay persisted.
“True enough, pangit,” she admitted. But their students had a tri-suit to wear to the race.
That was neither the first nor the last time that the couple disagreed on FIT PH matters. However, despite not seeing eye to eye every now and then in FIT PH, Ronald and Kay, as in life, continue to be a team.
“Kung ano’ng sabihin niya na gawin ko, ginagawa ko” was how Kay described it.
If Ronald wants a poster, Kay makes a poster. If Ronald wants a year-end party, Kay organizes a year-end party. If Ronald wants quality tri-suits, Kay knows now to acquiesce.
But Kay also has a dream of her own: for FIT PH to be self-sustaining. This way, she can let go of her other obligations and fully devote her time and effort to managing FIT PH and implementing Ronald’s vision.
FIT PH’s members see how Ronald and Kay give to the team more than they need to. They keep coaxing Ronald to charge a fee and Kay to slow down.
“Ayaw ko,” Ronald said about getting paid for FIT PH track sessions he oversees. “’Andun ako para mag-training din.”
You’d think that as they give so much, they’d be protective of their members at the very least. But they don’t impose exclusivity. In fact, they even refer students to coaches outside of FIT PH.
They also aren’t cliquish at all. Everybody is welcome.
“Walang bawal sa team,” Ronald said, except for one thing: issues.
According to him, “Masaya ’yung team. Number one na iniiwasan namin ay ang isyu ng pera. Pangalawa, lagi ko pinapa-alala sa team na bawal ang isyu dito.”
And if anyone outside of FIT PH tries to stir things up, members already know that the couple won’t add fire to it.
“Si Ronald, kilala na nila kaagad na anti-issue,” Kay added.
All these things earn Ronald and Kay love, loyalty, and respect, making members want to give back to the couple and the team whenever they can. The best part of it is how the two remain grounded despite the expansive reach they have built. It helps that they strongly believe in the vision that they live and breathe.
With so much love to give, they extend the blessings outside of FIT PH. The team, with the help of member volunteers and industry partners, started organizing in 2018 the annual FIT PH Bandana Run, which helps Project: Brave Kids foundation for the benefit of children with cancer.
Ronald also started giving out training programs 2-3 months prior to major triathlon races such as the ones in Albay and Cebu. Other coaches who are members of FIT PH also helped out in putting together a training program. By next year, Ronald is set to offer online coaching to FIT PH as well.
And It Was So
This is the new world that the Molits have made. They didn’t come for the purpose of disrupting the status quo. They came for the purpose of offering something new and something missing that turned out to be, arguably and inadvertently, something better.
With the charm and passion of Ronald, the equal dedication and resolve of Kay, and the intense fervor of happy and satisfied FIT PH members, the powerhouse team that breaks down barriers could be here to stay for long.
When will they stop?
“Kapag wala na’ng support,” said the doer. “Kapag wala na’ng gustong maging part ng FIT PH.”
But for the dreamer?
“Kapag wala na’ng triathlon.”