By Jerome Lagunzad

FILIPINO triathlete Romeo Puncia III made the Philippines, his home
country, and United Arab Emirates, his second home, proud on Sunday
(Monday, Dubai time) when he conquered the Ultraman Florida on his
first attempt in what could be another bold step in his fast-rising
career.

Puncia,32, a veteran of Ironman African Championship, overcame a bike
crash in the opening stage and endured nagging pains on the final day
to become one of only 40 finishers in the three-day race, which covers
a total distance of 321.6 miles (517.6k) around central Florida.

Puncia amassed a total clocking of 33 hours and 50 seconds to finish
34th overall in a banner field of 46 hopefuls, including some of the
world’s finest triathletes and marathoners from US, South America and
Europe.

American Chris McDonald, 41, ruled the gruelling race in dominant
fashion, clocking a total of 21 hours, 32 minutes and 54 seconds.
Steven Keller finished a distant bridesmaidwith 22:28:40 aggregate
time.

Ultraman Florida photo

Puncia, however, still has nothing to be ashamed of as he became the
first Filipino male participant to finish UMFL in a single attempt and
also the first athlete to represent two countries—the Philippines and
the UAE.

“Despite the Bike Crash in Stage 1 and Pain till Day 3,” Puncia posted
on his personal Facebook account. “(I’m) Happy to finish strong (in)
this memorable and epic race (My first Ultraman and Ultras attempt).”

Before the three-day race, Puncia, an emergency medical technician
based in Abu Dhabi, shared that “I am racing (in) this event so it can
help the tribal communities of Palawan, Philippines, to have their
very first and historical Tribal SportsFestival.”

On Day 1, which offered 6.2m swim and 92m bike challenges, Puncia had
a jittery start as he finished it in six hours, four minutes and nine
seconds. However, he did better on the second day as he negotiated the
171m bike route in 11 hours and 33 seconds.

Ultraman Florida

On the third and final day, which was a 52.4m run challenge, Puncia
clocked 11 hours,18 minutes and 54 seconds, even hoisting up the
Philippine flag as he crossed the finished line to the delight of the
sizeable crowd.

Philippine Consul General Paul Raymund Cortes expressed his elation over Puncia’s marvelous performance. “He proves that the Filipino athlete can be side by side with the rest of the world,” he said in an SMS message to Kabayan Weekly.

ConGen Cortes said: “Physicality is only the beginning but his discipline and mental focus are what holds the key to his excellence. Thank you, Romeo, for teaching us Kabayans about these. Mabuhay ka!”

“Thank you guys for this beautiful Ultraman journey! We made it! This
is for all of you,” Puncia beamed on a personal video.

“’WE’ because even my crew, supporters, friends, family, sponsors, and
mission partners invested time, money, and effort for this Ultraman
Journey. It is not about me but is all about us, this charity race is
a beautiful description of sportsmanship, family, and challenge.
Everyone in the Ultraman family understands this,” he added.