FULL TEXT: Fred Uytengsu’s Executive of the Year speech at PSA Awards
Alaska Milk Corporation’s Wilfred Steven Uytengsu was hailed as the Executive of the Year in the 2016 Philippine Sportswriters Association Awards on Saturday at One Esplanade in Pasay.
Here is his full speech where he touched on his personal experience into his foray to the sporting world, from basketball, football, and triathlon.
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.
It is really an honor to be here this evening as your guest speaker, and congratulations to all of this evening’s Philippine sportswriters’ awardees. What a wonderful tribute to your accomplishments this year.
When Musong Castillo asked me about accepting the award of Executive of the Year, I smiled and asked, “Why would you recognize someone whose franchise had just lost two PBA Finals in the last season? Hardly a definition of success.” Musong smiled back and said the award is not about the Alaska Aces’ performance in the PBA, but about my involvement in sports over the years. We had a quick chat and I humbly accepted the award. It did give me a chance to reflect on my association with various sports over the 40 years. So to the PSA, thank you for giving me this chance to reflect.
Sports has always been an important part of my life and continues to be so.
I took swimming in a relatively late age, starting off playing baseball, but I like the notion of swimming because as a baseball player, sometimes you lost because your teammates struck out or someone dropped the ball. What I liked about swimming is that you look at yourself in the mirror whether you won or lost, and it is whether your work ethic or your time in the pool or your racing plan was executed that defined winning or losing. If I didn’t train hard enough, I had no one to blame but myself. If I’m successful, it’s because I worked harder. I enjoyed that notion competing for 13 years, swimming four hours a day, six days a week, 50 weeks a year. Along the way, I learned a lot about the importance of a great work ethic, commitment, dedication, and sacrifice. All of these would turn out to be great life lessons as I began my working career.
I also encountered some challenges and failures along the way that shaped me. Returning to the Philippines in 1981 to swim in the Southeast Asian Games, and that turned out to be a somewhat disappointing experience. I came back to swim two personal events in the 100 and 200-meter butterfly and two relays. Upon arrival in Manila, I was told I would not swim those events. Why? Because the coach’s favorite swimmer swam those events. And I said let’s settle it in the pool. It will take less than a minute. And I was told no, the decision has been made. I watched in the stands as that other swimmer competed and failed to make the podium. Had I swam those events and achieved my personal best, I would’ve ended up with a pair of silver medals. I learned then, politics and nepotism, two of the evils that have, and continue to affect Philippine sports. End of story, or is it? I know it’s late in the evening, so to my sportswriter friends, perhaps over a beer, I will engage you in that discussion.
I also learned later at the end of my swimming career that if you want something, you must work very hard to achieve it. I had one year after I graduated in college to train for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and in the new pool of my alma mater, the University of Southern California. My father felt that my days as an athlete were over and insisted I begin my working career. I didn’t think I could work a full-time job and still continued to train. And so I started my career in Los Angeles as a banker. My father paid for my education in a very expensive university, and I didn’t have the gumption to ask him to support me while I indulge on my athletic desires. In the summer of 1984, I watched seven of my teammates from the USC swim team represent five different countries, some of them earning Olympic medals. I also watched a couple of my fellow Filipino swimmers compete. Nobody from the Philippines made the semifinals, much less win a medal, but I think every one was richer from the experience, and I think I would have as well if I had that opportunity.
It was a disappointment and it took me many years to reflect on that and finally accept the fact that had I wanted this bad enough, I would have made the effort, I would have awaken at 4:30 a.m. to train, put in an eight or nine-hour workday and come back to the pool at 6 p.m. Then I looked at how many of our athletes here in the Philippines have extreme hardship, must find ways to augment their income to make sure they have enough to eat and a place to sleep at night. So shame on me. Shame on me for feeling sorry for myself when so many others have it so much harder.
Upon returning to Manila in 1985 and shortly after, starting the Alaska franchise in the PBA, I took in a new challenge in a sport I virtually had no experience in: basketball, and I’m sure it probably showed. Our desire to put up a competitive basketball team quickly shifted to the desire to win, perhaps one of my character flaws of being overly competitive. But it was then when I learned the importance of teamwork.
In our 30 years, the Alaska Aces have never been the most talented team in the PBA. Our success has been the result of hard work and adherence to our core values, where integrity sits at the very top of the list, and of course, teamwork. I am proud of the tradition that we established and our success. I’m also proud that over the years that our Alaska players and coaches have been selected to serve on the national team, and I can think of no greater honor than to represent your country in this sport. And I know it’s not just for our Alaska athletes, but for all of you who have represented the Philippines.
Now I’m sure you’re thinking, “Alaska just lost its third Finals in a row.” That’s true. Over the last couple of weeks, a lot of people have wondered and a few have dared to ask me what happened. Believe me, it’s been a bitter pill to swallow, and it’s not just for me but for our entire franchise. Coach Compton has offered his anecdotes and from my perspective, I don’t think anyone expected us to be in this last Finals, much less be up 3-0 against the powerhouse San Miguel franchise, with or without June Mar Fajardo. He is a great player. The truth is that San Miguel team is extremely talented and is 10-deep. We had our chances in Game 4 and in Game 5. In Game 6, I didn’t think we gave ourselves the best shot, and in Game 7, I think we simply felt overwhelmed. I said at the press conference before the Finals started that to be the best, you have to beat the best. We were not the best in that Finals, San Miguel was, and they deserved the congratulations.
Am I disappointed? Of course, I am, but I’m not deterred. I still believe our franchise is very capable due to our work ethic and our desire. They say you are measured by what you accomplished, but you are defined with by what you attempt. I am proud of the Alaska Aces and how they are defined, and we will be back.
As a result of our involvement in basketball, and given that we are a milk company, I wanted to be able to share the importance of proper nutrition and an active healthy lifestyle by establishing Alaska Power Camps that also extended later on to soccer. These programs are held every year and have touched thousands of children in various cities around the country, instilling the fundamentals of the game while promoting teamwork, hard work, discipline, and sportsmanship.
Then came the opportunity to partner with the National Basketball Association and establish yet another program with the Jr. NBA and recently, the Jr. WNBA. Since its inception of the program in 2007, we have reached 100,000 children and coaches, teaching the fundamentals of the game while inculcating the STAR values of sportsmanship, teamwork, a healthy attitude, and respect. This partnership also went beyond the traditional scope when our Jr. NBA ambassadors travelled to Los Angeles in 2013 and were awarded a check for $150,000 by the NBA and the LosAngeles Lakers to support the victims of typhoon Ondoy.
For 20 years, we have sponsored the Alaska Football Cup, which is a result of a partnership with Tomas Lozano and is the single largest football tournament in the country. Last year, we had 6,000 participants representing 400 teams from all over the country and whilst the Alaska Cup maybe the culminating event, it is the catch that go on year round to give our children a chance to improve their skills and hopefully, go on to play on a higher level. I’m proud of the fact that a few of these participants from the Alaska Cup have gone on to represent the Philippines as members of the Azkals.
On a personal note, I rekindled my interest in triathlon in the late 90s when I picked up a few extra pounds and felt like middle age was settling in. So I started training and racing in Olympic distance and half-Ironman races locally.eventually, I started to race in the region, in Australia, and in the US. And my experience at these races led me to believe that we could offer the same type of experience to triathletes locally, and perhaps do it a little bit better. I was told by officials it could not be done, so I we t down to get the franchise for Ironman and Xterra, which are the premium names in triathlon, and I remember when I came back to hold our first press conference and said we were bringing Ironman here, people thought we were going into the movie business, as very few people have heard of Ironman triathlon. We held our inaugural race in 2009 in CamSur with 500 participants in less than 20 countries. My vision was two-fold: firstly, offer the opportunity to local triathletes to participate in a world class event; and secondly, to invite foreign triathletes to visit the Philippines and in the process, do our part to help promote sports tourism.
Over the past seven years, we have grown the sport immensely, and now have 2,900 athletes from over 50 countries participating in the Cobra Ironman 70.3 Philippines in Cebu, selling out the race in just 28 minutes. The attraction has spread over a broad demographic with people embracing this active lifestyle of swimming, biking, and running while checking off that accomplishment and ticking that bucket list item. In the process, our Cebu race was dubbed “The Crown Jewel of Asia” by the Ironman CEO and is a widely sought after race by many professional triathletes from around the world. But what was really rewarding to me is how many people have come up to me and said, “This changed my life. I was sedentary and now I’m active. I’ve lost 10, 15, 20-pounds. I was a diabetic and I don’t need insulin.” Those type of life-changing opportunities continue to persuade me to push further in this foray. We have now four different Ironman events in the Philippines and recently, we’re awarded with the Asia Pacific Championships which will be held on August 2016. This is the first time the Asia Pacific Championships has been held outside of Australia or New Zealand.
In pursuing the organization of these events, we were also socially responsible by contributing back to the communities in which we race. We included the Children’s Hour as a beneficiary of our Ironman race in Cebu, and we just recently built a village in Bantayan Island in conjunction with Gawad Kalinga. Many of these foreign professional athletes helped in the process, contributing both their time and financial resources.
As triathlon has grown in the parental demographics, so did the demand for triathlon among children. We sponsored the Ironkids initially for the kids of triathletes and have since seen interest in shorter distance triathletes for a larger group of the youth in ages six up to the teens when they are the then rated to take on a standard distance triathlon. It’s been extremely rewarding to see families come together and support each other on race day.
From triathlon, this has opened the door for us to create opportunities in mass participation cycling as we created Cycle Philippines which are community bike rides that encourage people to get back and enjoy riding your bike again, and create awareness for motorists to share the road. These events attract 2,500 cyclists each time and remind people how much fun it is to get on that bicycle.
I feel incredibly privileged to be here this evening to describe these events and my involvement in sports, but it certainly would not be possible without the dedication of several people. Of course, Dickie Bachmann, Alex Compton, and CK Kanapi of the Alaska Aces, together with the franchise of the p,ayers and coaches of the past and the present. Tomas Lozano, who is the foundation behind the Alaska Cup and the Makati Football School. To Princess Galura at Sunrise Events, who seven years ago, had no idea what a triathlon is and now runs a myriad of multi-sport events around three different countries with outstanding results. So to all of you, thank you.
To my friends in sports media, this has been quite a journey. I had the pleasure of knowing some of you for many, many years. We may not always agree on the same approach, but if we don’t push that envelope, we’ll never know what is possible. Thank you for calling it as it is at times, but thank you for being a sparring partner at others.
Musong asked me when we first spoke, “What else is next, Fred?,” and I told him that we would concentrate on what we’ve been doing, continue to make a difference for the youth in basketball, soccer, and triathlon. We’ll create aspirations for the youth through the Alaska Aces, who I hope serve as role models that honor the game and the spirit of sportsmanship. We will continue to create opportunities for those who aspire to play football at a higher level. And we’ll create opportunities for those who seek the challenge through triathlon, both young and old.
But when I sat down to write my remarks for this evening, it got me thinking. Now, I have some grander ideas for Philippine sports going forward. But that, ladies and gentlemen, will have to wait until we meet again in a not too distant future.
Thank you again to the Philippine Sportswriters Association for this honor and good evening.
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