“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives a prize? Run in such a way that you may win.”

I guess Regina and I can take credit for getting her into the sport, but Iva is one fierce competitor when it comes to running.

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I guess this is where Iva got her running genes.

Actually, Iva won her first marathon last year at her youchien (kindergarten) as nenshou, the youngest age group at three and four years. Well, she was first among the girls, but third overall, which put Iva in what she calls the “big awards” group. “Big,” since the youchien’s culture is to award poster-size certificates of commendation (or hyoushoujou) to the top three winners, and medium-size certificates to the fourth and fifth placers, and everyone gets a medal as participation. This year, as the youchien has decided to hold male and female categories for each year level, Iva is technically a defending champion.

I missed that race as I had trouble locating the place, i.e., “lost in translation.” This year, though, we have been blessed to have met a fellow Filipino whose son had joined at Iva’s youchien. A longtime resident of Japan and a lighthearted, welcoming kababayan, Elna and her family have been so accommodating to our many insecurities and stupidities of the Japanese language, culture and traditions. And for this event, she was my ticket to getting to the marathon venue and witnessing Iva’s run.

Cut to the chase, Iva found herself literally chasing after a classmate, Himari-chan, at second going into the first corner of their two-loop, 400-meter marathon. While I never doubted how quick she was, my concern was that Iva would lose steam chasing after her rival because, knowing her, she didn’t want anybody in front of her in a race. “Pace yourself, pace yourself,” I mouthed as I watched her remain in second after the first round. Interestingly, I felt that she somewhat held back a bit and composed herself while still maintaining her position as a close tail.

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Iva found herself trailing, and she did not like that.

“She can do this,” an equally excited Elna told me as the final lap ensued. She also got so fixed into the tight race that she sped towards the final turn, looking to put in a familiar “Ganbatte” (literally, “do your best”) to invigorate Iva at the final stretch.

And that’s exactly where she made her move. Iva was poetry in action, the kids’ version of the classic movie, Chariots of Fire. Moving at full steam, Iva closed the gap and finally dashed past her longtime and only forerunner, and left no room for a catch-up until she crossed past the finish.

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Iva was poetry in action, the kids’ version of the classic movie, Chariots of Fire.

Being a boxing fanatic, I was hearing Michael Buffer and his trademark voice in my head, declaring Iva the winner “and still the reigning, defending, undisputed champion,” as she was met with claps and joyous cheers from parents, teachers, and her fellow students. My proud dad moment would have been completed with a high air toss of my little victor, but seeing that no Japanese parent was coming close to even tap his or her kid on the back, I kept my distance, and just settled for an eye-to-eye daughter-dad wink as she was catching her breath. Anyway, that Iva knows that I shared her triumph and joy, and that I was doing my rather quiet and personal revelry out there at that instant was enough for me.

God only knows if she will still be champ when she becomes nenchou – senior – next year, which would mean a sweep of the three marathons for the girls in her batch. But Iva’s prayer before this year’s race gives me comfort that she has her heart in the right perspective, win or lose: “Daddy, I prayed that I’m okay if I didn’t win…but I wanted to win!”

Ganbatte, Iva. But win or lose, you will always be a champion to us.

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Alongside being fierce competitors, children in Japan are also taught to be fierce motivators down to the last participant.