“It felt like heaven,” 66-year-old Aniceto “Nick” Fontanilla recalled as his eyes lit up.

The athletic senior citizen was referring to a moment of glory for the Philippine national dragon boat racing team in Canada last year.

More specifically, when they clinched the gold medal for the 200-meter race in a nail-biting finish at the International Dragon Boat Federation World Championships tournament, widely considered as the Olympics of dragon boat racing.

For now, it’s back to training for his next competition.

Nick practices at Manila Ocean Park and begins warm-up exercises with his team mates at seven in the morning. The senior aged paddler takes no issue with being one of the oldest members of his team. 

You’ll find him completing lunges and push-up routines with impressive ease and sure-footedness.

His training routine is equally impressive: two hours a day, four days a week.

That’s of course apart from his day job, where he runs two marketing and research companies that he owns. Outside his sport and work, he spends time bonding with his family and grandchildren. Find it hard to believe? You’re not alone, he gets that a lot.

Moving and Thinking as One

Philippine Dragon Boat. Moving as one
Team spirit and unity are among the joys Nick finds in dragon boat practice.

Nick was 60 when he started dragon boat training after watching paddlers practicing in Manila Bay for an upcoming tournament.

He was inspired by the groups’ team spirit at play –watching them move as a unit amidst cries of encouragement — Nick decided that he, too, wanted to be join. He approached Coach Rhowie Enriquez of the Triton Dragon Boat Racing Team after practice; and the rest was history.

Practice Makes Perfect

For Nick, the best way to keep up physically with his group is through frequent training.

“He’s really the most consistent in both training and competitive racing among the senior members,” Triton’s Coach Rhowie informed Health Begins With Her.

And that’s despite Nick’s daily battle with arthritis. The surging pain is usually more pronounced when he wakes up in the morning or at night after work. But once he joins the team for practice and mounts the boat, the pain subsides. Paddling has become Nick’s physical and mental therapy.

“You accept that there is physical, mental, and emotional pain. Once you accept that, you will be able to tolerate it,” Nick shared.

Philippine Dragon Boat. Nick doing lunges
Nick joins his team in doing lunges and stretching routines with apparent ease.
Philippine Dragon Boat. Nick jogging with the team
Nick jogs with his team in preparation for boat training at Manila Bay.

Growing older helped Nick gain a deeper appreciation for his health and body – things which, according to him, most young people take for granted. At his present age, Nick believes he’s in the best shape of his life.

Nick’s Diet

Nick has had his share of hurdles. In 2005, he was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. He had frequent mood swings and palpitations, and was hospitalized for several days when his pulse and heart rates doubled. Fortunately, he was able to recover through medication and maintenance.

While he does not deprive himself of any kind of food, he keeps everything in moderation.

He starts his day with a breakfast heavy on fruits paired with pancakes or bread and cheese. For lunch, he usually prefers fish or chicken. He caps the day off with fruits, and noodles or fish.

Philippine Dragon Boat. Nick in racing tournament
Nick and the Triton Dragon Boat Racing Team in one of the country’s many tournaments. Photo credits: Nick Fontanilla’s Facebook page

Paddling with Pride and Joy

The best part of this sport, Nick says, is that he gets to race competitively in big-time tournaments both locally and abroad. This is because his team’s collective performance earns him a spot in prestigious racing events despite his age and physical limitations.

In his six years with the team, Nick has taken home over 30 medals – more than 10 of each gold, silver, and bronze.

“Kung kaya ko, kaya rin nila.”

Philippine Dragon Boat. Philippine dragon boat team international wins.
Nick and fellow Philippine delegates in one of many international dragon boat victories. Photo credits: Nick Fontanilla’s Facebook page