Women take up martial arts and self-defense training for various reasons. Some of them have the mind to get down and dirty, so to speak, and engage in training and sparring sessions, unmindful of throwing and receiving blows, of dishing out pain and taking it—bruises and all. One such lady is Jennylyn Mercado, an actress and mother to a 4-year-old boy, Alex Jazz.
Shedding pounds after giving birth may be hard for some mothers, but apart from doing Jiu-Jitsu, running and participating in triathlons, Jennylyn may have also gotten back in shape thanks in part to getting her showbiz groove back on track. At one point, her hectic schedule included doing a TV soap, hosting GMA-7’s Protégé: The Battle for the Big Break, appearing in Party Pilipinas, and co-hosting Showbiz Central. Her latest soap, Indio, should be airing by early 2013.
Why this pursuit of fitness? “Meron ako kasing heart problem, so sabi ko ‘pag hindi ako naging fit and hindi inalagaan ‘yung sarili ko, baka … ayoko namang mapaaga,” she shares with a slight laugh.
The 25-year-old is every bit the star as one can imagine—tall and trim with alabaster skin, she’s just about perfect in girly clothes and high-heeled Louboutins. She looks at home right where she is—under the spotlight, inside an air-conditioned studio, amid the flurry of makeup, hairstyling and outfit changes, and the resolute flashes of studio lights in sync with every click of the camera. The resulting images hardly give any impression that this beautiful woman can also kick ass.
When Jennylyn says she’s trained in Jiu-Jitsu with a background in wrestling, is actually a fan of Ultimate Fighting Championship®, and at one point also tried Muay Thai, you may look at her with disbelief—as if you’ve missed your morning coffee and your brain refuses to function—thinking, “how on earth do you manage all that, looking the way you do?” If there’s ever any time not to judge a book by its cover, this would be it.
Three years of Jiu-Jitsu was a means to learn self-defense. “Kasi sa bahay namin, puro kami babae. Ang lalaki lang ’yung anak ko [at] ’yung driver ko [na] umuuwi pa. So parang self-defense na rin to protect my family, myself, lalo na lagi akong nasa labas. Minsan nasa school ’yung anak ko, ako mag-isa. So kailangan ko ng protection not only for myself but, of course, for my family,” she says.
“’Yung Jiu-jitsu kasi hindi lang siya pang self-defense. Para siyang cardio and weight [training] at the same time. Kasi wrestling siya eh, so nagbubuhat ka, nagte-take down, merong mga submission … Ang daming mga muscles na talagang nawo-workout mo. So ’yon, gustong-gusto ko siya,” she adds.
Unfortunately, she discovered a disadvantage: The workout gave her what she describes as “a wrestler’s body.” She notes, “Nagkaroon ako ng muscles, tapos ang laki ko talaga.”
Extreme cardio workout
In search of what she says is “good extreme cardio” regimen to counter the muscle mass build-up, Jennylyn turned to another sports discipline. It was also at this time that she needed to get her body back in condition.
“Nag-start ako ng running lang pagkatapos ko manganak,” she shares. “Kasi [C-section] ako so nag-antay pa ’ko ng mga eight months bago talaga ako maka-workout. Tapos nag-start ako ng running … after running nag-bike ako, tapos nung nag-bike na ’ko, sabi ko parang gusto kong mag-triathlon. So tin-ry ko. Hindi ako marunong mag-swimming talaga. Marunong ako ’yung swimming lang na swimming lang; pero wala talaga akong formal training ... So kumuha ako ng coach—triathlon coach—tapos ’yun, nagtuluy-tuloy na.”
When queried if she had to change her diet to lose some of the mass, she says, “No. I eat a lot kasi, lalo na protein … basta healthy [eating]. Tapos meat, kailangan maraming meat sa katawan, para talagang meron kang pang-build ng muscle, meron kang energy.”
A desire for overall fitness and wellness, especially as a young mom, has led this singer, actress and TV host to push herself to her limits. The prodding of a friend led her to train for the rigors of a triathlon. She narrates, “Meron akong friend na parang, [sabi sa akin,] ’Ba’t hindi ka mag-triathlon?’ Triathlete din siya. ‘Eh kasi yun talaga papayat ka.’ [Sagot ko,] ‘Talaga? Mahirap yata yun, ayoko ’yun, baka hindi ko kayanin.’ Ganun. ‘Hindi, start mo muna ng running, tapos pag nagustuhan mo, bike. Tapos dire-diretso.’”
Jennylyn continues, “Sabi ko ‘pag pwede na ‘kong mag-workout, dun talaga ibibigay ko lahat; susubukan ko lahat. Hanggang kaya ko, gagawin ko. Para rin naman sa health ko ’yon; para sa anak ko, sa family ko. So, hindi na kailangan, kung baga, walang masama kung subukan ko.”
What people say about training with friends and surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals to make sure it encourages you to keep with your own fitness program could not have been more true in Jennylyn’s case. She’s developed a really strong bond with her trainer, Jojo “JoMac” Macalintal, the head coach of TriMac Sports Coaching, considering him like a sibling.
She tried Muay Thai at some point, but admits, “I stopped kasi tumatakbo ako, ‘di ba? So ’yung ’pag sumisipa, nagkaroon ako ng light sprain, hindi ako makatakbo. Sabi ko masisira ’yung career ko dito, masisira ’yung triathlon training ko dito.”
Sacrifices and achievements
Jennylyn says her goal to become a triathlete is “commitment na talaga.” Still, it isn’t without sacrifices, especially to someone nurturing a career in entertainment. “Mahirap [ito]. Lalo na sa time kasi kakainin niya talaga ’yung oras mo. … Kung kailangan mong gawin ’yung three disciplines, kailangan ’yung buong araw mo libre. Ganun. Or kung gusto mong isa-isa, at least three hours a day,” she says.
In all seriousness, Jennylyn has, in fact, joined races before. “’Yung una-una kong days, duathlon [ang sinalihan ko].” She says her coach told her that duathlon is a harder version of the triathlon.
“Sa triathlon magsa-start ka sa arms—swimming, tapos biking, tapos running. Eh ’yung duathlon magsta-start ka nang running … Tapos akyat ka sa bike … Tapos takbo ka ulit. So parang bubugbugin niya talaga ’yung muscles mo sa legs. So ’yun ’yung pinakamahirap talaga na … unang-una kong nasalihan.”
Finishing with a respectable time, she notes not caring what she clocks in, “Basta ang importante, matapos ko.” When she does finish, “Sobrang proud na proud ako sa sarili ko. Kasi, kahit ’yung coach ko, kasi para talagang pinaghirapan ko ’to eh … I worked hard for it and ’yung training na ginagawa ko hindi talaga biro. By the time na matapos mo, talagang … iba [ang] fulfilment.”
Jennylyn would’ve joined her first international triathlon in Cebu this year, but her plans got derailed. “Kasi ’yung mga sinasalihan ko mga short distances lang … [like] 10K run, 40K bike, tapos 5K run. Ganun lang. Tapos ito kasi, ito [sana] ’yung pinakamahaba talaga.”
She also reveals, “Sobrang excited [ako] kasi ano pa lang, a year before nag-book na ako, tapos wala akong connection, as in akong nag-register, akong nag-scan, nag-email … [A]s in ako talaga lahat.” It would’ve been a chance for her family and even her boyfriend, actor Luis Manzano, to take a vacation together as well. So when things went south and the trip didn’t push through, “talagang ang sama-sama ng loob ko,” she admits. Still, the dream lingers and, from what determination she’s displayed so far, there’s no doubt that she’ll do a triathlon someday soon.
Jennylyn has also recently taken up an even tougher challenge: Balintawak Arnis. Read all about it—plus her take on motherhood, the toughest challenge of all—in the February issue of HealthToday, out now in bookstores and newsstands.