It was the night before the much-anticipated Megaworld Ironman 70.3 — the first time the sporting event was being held in two years — and the excitement was palpable around its venue in Mactan Newton, Cebu. Add to that the full-swing festivities at Mactan Alfresco, the township's hub of authentic local delicacies, as the Cebu Lechon Festival also returned for the first time since the pandemic hit.
It was such a festive and merry weekend that kicked off August here in Cebu, which made it difficult to believe the Megaworld township and its surrounding areas in Mactan were recovering not only from the effects of the pandemic but more so from the devastating catastrophe Super Typhoon Odette left behind in December 2021.
"When you consider what happened to this area after Odette, and you consider where we are, it's quite an amazing story how we were able to recover," Graham Coates, head of Megaworld Lifestyle Malls told the lifestyle media who visited the township earlier this month.
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He further described how he saw the property right after the typhoon devastated the Visayas, "The place was really destroyed, trees were uprooted, glass panels were broken, no electricity, no water. For the first weeks after Odette, people were really having a hard time. Thankfully things are back to normal now."
And what better proof of the township's rise from the proverbial ashes than holding the two simultaneous events.
Megaworld Ironman 70.3 alone attracted more than 2,000 participants (their families and non-participating teammates and coaches still not counted) from 46 countries. Add to that the locals who joined the lechon festival that featured 10 Cebuano lechoneros.
"We're not just recovering from Odette, we're recovering also from pandemic so this gives us a lot of inspiration. Having two major events, is an accomplishment," Coates declared.
Road to Ironman
It wasn't an easy task to hold the first Ironamn 70.3 in two years. After all, the respected sporting event has its high standards to ensure the quality of the race and the comfort and safety of all participants.
Add to the challenge was the short notice given to the then-recovering Mactan Newtown.
"We only had three-months notice. In fact, they [Ironman] weren't sure if we would take it because we were still doing the repairs but we saw that as a challenge and took it. It was a real big effort from both sides," Coates revealed.
He also emphasized that besides the two parties, the cooperation of the local government was also instrumental in successful staging Ironman.
"So it's really a story of recovery and resiliency not just for us [Megaworld] as a group but all the resilience of the Cebuanos and how they embraced what we're doing. This is the biggest event on record."
From the perspective of a participant, former "Pinoy Big Brother" housemate and Cebuano-based businessman Paul Jake Castillo seemed to agree.
Castillo would join Ironman races year after year, and have not missed a single race in Cebu since 2014, until pandemic forced him to.
For this edition, he was meant to swim, bike and run just like the rest of the participants but a month ago, he caught Covid-19 and was forced to abandon his original plan. Still, he wouldn't miss the event and instead settled to finish the 90-kilometer bike trail.
"This year is not about winning or finishing, it's about getting everything back to normal," Castillo said in a separate interview.
To be sure, the road to recovery did not end when the last participant crossed the finish line of Ironman race.
"Because we've built a wonderful facility and we don't want to lose the momentum that we've garnered, we will maximize what we already have. Our event group is already coming up with ideas on how we can have this all-year round activities," Coates guaranteed adding that they are positioning Mactan Newtown as sports, leisure and tourism township.
On the practical side, Coates also acknowledged that while Odette was already behind them, the super typhoon might not be the last one to devastate their township. With this, he assured that Megaworld has placed measures to prepare for upcoming typhoons.
First, the corporation has invested in its own weather monitoring system. Using data analytics and technology, every township would receive detailed weather advisory on a daily basis.
Second, they have updated their designs to better prepare for typhoons. "We implement the learning from the previous typhoons. For example, the thickness of the glass and the location of the main window. So we're trying to do preventative design to avoid future problem."
"We can't prevent a typhoon, but we can prepare for it," Coates finally emphasized.