Sports Sports Feature

Athlete Revisited: Johansen Aguilar’s breakthroughs beyond the pool

“Nothing’s planned.”

These were the words former Green Tanker Johansen Aguilar shared with The LaSallian after a talk show where he shared his outlook on “finding your own style” in the Verdure at the Henry Sy Sr. Hall, last Thursday, July 4.

Having graduated in 2014, Aguilar might not be a familiar face except for those who remember his UAAP swimming career. But his journey to find himself post-graduation bears insights that can resonate with us all; the transition from student athlete to the entrepreneur he is today has been arduous—yet gratifying.

Pool and school

From the get-go, Aguilar sought to break the stereotypes surrounding student athletes, who are often perceived as lax in their academics due to the heavy demands of training for the University’s different varsity sports teams. This goal became the “driving force” that “kept [him] going” as he pursued a double degree in Applied Economics and Applied Corporate Management alongside competing in UAAP tournaments during his stay in the University. He reasons, “I can’t [quit] because I’d be letting everyone [down]; sayang yung opportunity to encourage and inspire these kids to follow the trail and be good examples to the younger generation.”

Indeed, the persistence paid off.

By the end of his collegiate stint, Aguilar had amassed three Most Valuable Player (MVP) distinctions as well as having graduated Magna Cum Laude in his program.

But his rise to the top and the excellence he exhibited both inside and outside the pool did not come without sacrifice, “I’ll be sacrificing certain things in my life that I wouldn’t really want [to give up], but…I’d have to do this to get to this certain level of results that I want.” Having achieved the feat himself, Aguilar remains hopeful that more student athletes would strive for excellence both in academics and in their respective sports. Though it might be hard to juggle the responsibilities and demands of being a student and an athlete, it is people like Aguilar who show us that it is possible.

Photo by: Drew Acierto

Finding your style

The three-time UAAP MVP doesn’t see himself swimming competitively in the near future. Aguilar cites that the lack of swimming leagues as a huge factor in his decision to let his love of swimming remain a hobby after his stint in the UAAP. “Reality nalang…when you’re a swimmer [after college], [the option open for you is] basically the national team. [There] are not so [many] competitions rin the whole year that keep you busy…keep you stable financially.” Aguilar further acknowledges that only a “select few make it” to the professional scene in any sport, “so all of the rest have to really find where they are in society”.

In a moment of honesty, Aguilar bares how difficult it was for him, as a student athlete, to adjust to life after college. He explains that after years of following the strict schedule of school and training, removing himself from that structure was something new to him. The world was a very different place from what he knew, “You’re inside a bubble kasi when you’re a student athlete, especially when you’re a star athlete for La Salle. Kumbaga you get all [this] attention, you feel as if the world revolves around you. But when you get out of school, you just realize all of a sudden, no one really cares honestly.” But in this he found freedom—the freedom to explore who he is outside his identity as a student athlete.

A whole new world

With competitive swimming out of his life, Aguilar shifted his focus to making headway in the world of business and entrepreneurship. “You have to come to the realization na you have to reinvent yourself after college. It’s probably one of the hardest things you have to realize din; it’s not [going to] last forever, and you really have to prepare yourself din for that shift,” he expresses.

He does not sugarcoat his experiences: it was, and still is, difficult to make it in the real world. “Wag lang malaki yung ulo,” he cautions against getting used to the limelight. “Even if you’ve succeeded so much in school, it doesn’t mean that you’re gonna get a shortcut [in] life.”

(Do not be arrogant.)

Aguilar himself had to power through the tireless job hunting applications, internships, and interviews—essentially building his “career from the ground up”. He emphasizes the importance of developing a strong “work ethic”, which he developed during his athletic career and was able to carry over to his current profession.

Throughout this process, he found that being a more well-rounded individual also had merit beyond breaking the student athlete stereotype. Aguilar notes the significance of engaging in activities beyond his chosen sport. “I really want student athletes to be magaling din talaga sa school and…extra-curricular stuff, because it helps after college,” he explains. “Sometimes you get enclosed lang in that bubble, but you’re missing out on so [many] other opportunities.”

(I really want student athletes to do good in school.)

“I wasn’t so reliant on so much on just sport; so when you’re multifaceted…you have the ammunition to reinvent yourself,” Aguilar reiterates.

And reinvent himself he did, enabling the former Green Tanker to greet the Lasallian community, and the rest of the world, with an identity no longer solely grounded on being an acclaimed swimmer. An identity that is further solidified by an entrepreneurial career—and becoming a budding style icon.

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