Sports Sports Feature

Take your marks: Ilustre dives into the SEA Games

Swimming is such a graceful yet grueling sport. Each precise and perfected stroke that propels swimmers through the water in smooth, sharp glides can only point to the hours they spend counting laps with pruning fingers. It takes sheer dedication for a swimmer to thrive in this highly competitive sport, and Green Tanker Sacho Ilustre is a true marker of success. 

After stellar performances in the UAAP, having been hailed as the Rookie of the Year and the Most Valuable Player in Season 81 and Season 82, respectively—along with an abounding number of other awards—Ilustre has proven that he is a force to be reckoned with in the water. Being brought up by a family of swimmers that pushed him to an early start in the sport, it is no wonder he swims with such passion and dedication. His lifetime devotion to swimming has bolstered him to major successes and grand opportunities, and this year, he has earned a coveted spot to represent the Philippines in the upcoming Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.

Into a wider horizon

Ilustre made waves in the international scene when he debuted as a national athlete in the 38th Southeast Asian Age Group Swimming Championship in January 2015, wherein he garnered two bronze medals for the country—one in the 200m freestyle event and another in the 200m butterfly. With the greater exposure, the then 15-year-old swimmer earned himself greater recognition in the Philippines as he reset the 200m butterfly secondary record in the 2015 Palarong Pambansa.

Sobrang nag-open ng eyes sa’kin ‘yung experience na ‘yon. Doon ko [rin] na-realize that I can change to [reach] the international stage. I started to see the possibility of getting a whole lot better in my game,” Ilustre delightedly shares. 

(That experience really opened my eyes. That’s when I realized I can get [to] the international stage.)

At his young age, opportunities opened up for him, leading him to further amass medals in different swimming competitions locally and internationally. This ultimately brought him to the Green Tankers, where he continues to build on his successes in the sport, having recently garnered seven gold medals during the UAAP Season 82 swim meet.

Entering a new phase

Persistent in his passion, Ilustre participated in the qualifying competition for the upcoming SEA Games. He almost booked a spot during the second day of the four-day qualifying competition—if only he had been 0.4 seconds faster. This disheartened him as he considered his remaining chances to compete in the international biennial event. “I thought to myself, if I don’t get in today, I might just start focusing on studying na lang,” he confesses.

However, trained and tested in international tournaments, he gathered his confidence and conquered his jitters until the very last event. On the final day of the qualifications, Ilustre seized a ticket to vie against the best in Southeast Asia in front of his home crowd. 

With the green light on, he began a more intensive training regimen to sharpen his technique and build endurance with speed. Although the early routines and the afternoon training sessions of the Green Tankers pushed him to reach this level—which he was grateful for—Ilustre points out that leveling up his training exercises was necessary in building a better physique as he will be facing tougher opponents. He also seeks training camps and programs to further refine his skills and give himself a better chance to earn a podium finish, as he shares, “I told myself if I was [going to] get into preparation for this, I need to commit; I need to give it my all.” 

Despite the pressure of being relatively inexperienced compared with his competition, the prospect of swimming with and against the best in the region excites him for the tournament ahead. In fact, training together with them is an added motivation for him. “Swimming wasn’t just a competition; it was meant to be enjoyed. The process was meant to be enjoyed, with swimmers like me who have the same goals,”
he discusses.

Chasing victory 

Although achieving a spot to represent his country in the SEA Games is a feat on its own, Ilustre recognizes that there are numerous hurdles that still lay ahead. 

Upon his arrival at his training camp in Australia, he shares that his coach immediately reminded him that the mentor’s role was simply teaching—but the work and progress would have to come from Ilustre himself. Agreeing with his coach’s philosophy, the Lasallian considers himself as his biggest challenge in his preparations leading up to the competition. 

Ako, sarili ko talaga ang kalaban,” Ilustre expresses. 

(I really am my own competition.)

As the clock winds down to the 30th edition of the SEA Games, the Green Tanker continues his vigorous training with the awareness that it will take a great amount of strength, both physically and mentally, to compete in three demanding events—200m freestyle, 4x100m freestyle relay, and 4x200m freestyle relay.

Ilustre is looking to give his best and achieve success not just for himself, but also for his family and the local swimming community as a whole. “Swimming has done a lot of things for my family,” he reflects. “Its community has given me so much that I want to give back, and I think [giving back will] be in the form of performing really well for the country.” This perfectly captures the support system that will be rooting for Ilustre’s every stroke and empowering him throughout the entirety of the upcoming competition.

In his pursuit of victory, he finds his motivation in the bigger picture of it all—in the people he will be proudly representing. 

“Imagine swimming and looking at the bleachers, punong puno ng kababayan natin!” he exclaims. “It’ll be an honor.”

(Imagine swimming and looking at the bleachers filled with our countrymen!)

Arvin Abaniel

By Arvin Abaniel

Annika Cañiza

By Annika Cañiza

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