Let us flashback to a little less than a decade ago, 2006 to be exact. The month of May that year was filled with joy and celebration in the Philippines, but do you remember why? Perhaps the hint of the tallest mountain in the world would ring a bell.
On May 17, 2006, Leo Oracion was deemed one of the first Filipinos to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. It was, then, instant fame and glory for the sportsman hailing from the province of Quezon; countless features were made on the journey all the way to the chilly white peak.
We remember that it was difficult: a broken mask, lack of water and oxygen, exhaustion that came with the challenges, and all of which beaten by a strong fighting spirit to finish the adventure. However, there wasn’t much said about the man who carried on with the adventure not many are able to tell. So what else is there to know about the Filipino mountaineer named Leo Oracion?
To start, Leo Oracion is an avid sportsman who used to join all types of competitions like triathlons, running races, adventure races, and cycling races. But what makes him different is that he doesn’t see sports as a means of becoming the best among all others similar to him or just to challenge his skillset; he does it to appreciate the bigger things. “We never conquer (the) mountain, we just visit it and enjoy the tranquility and view around it,” is what he said when asked about how conquering Mt. Everest, implying the importance of pausing to take in the beauty of what’s before him.
Upon marrying his wife, Vanessa, they settled in Switzerland and that was just the beginning of a change for Leo whose life was once so dedicated to sports. His family started growing, and he’s since had two sons: Kalayaan Kaya and Tao Lakan, four years old and ten months old respectively.
Having children has made Leo and his wife come to a compromise in order to properly care for the little boys, as hiring household help or nannies isn’t a big part of Swiss culture. Vanessa, an anesthesiologist turned occupational doctor, has dedicated weekdays to work leaving Leo in charge of the duties at home including caring for the kids, which he fondly refers to as “Bantay Bata.” Along with the fatherly duties while Vanessa is busy, Leo’s also had to learn French to find a job of his own. Luckily the job he’s gotten now is seasonal at a hotel, allowing for the couple to switch roles on weekdays in the meantime, which subsequently gives Leo the freedom to pursue his own personal endeavors. In fact, he’s been joining mountain bike races in Switzerland like the Grand Raid that he’s been a part of from 2012 up until 2014.
It’s been a juggling act for Leo: training, handling household chores, and giving his kids the care that they need, so interestingly enough, when Vanessa isn’t around, he takes his two tikes along with him while he trains, sitting the boys in a chariot attached to his bike. On the weekends, he’s free to train by himself up in the mountains where there are a lot of trails for cycling.
An interesting feat Leo’s noticed about the cycling culture in Switzerland is that it’s a way of life. People can bike to school, work, and the supermarket; it’s a regular mode of transportation for the Swiss. Motorists even make it a point to allow a 1-2 meter space when they pass bikers or slow down and wait until they can overtake; the respect for bikers is great, though not enough to avoid missing the cycling community of the Philippines. There are Filipino biking groups in Switzerland, but because they are based in Geneva, too far away from Leo who lives in Gueuroz, he isn’t able to meet them regularly. The last time he’s biked with fellow Filipinos was two years ago, only making it feel lonelier since he usually trains on his own now (on days he doesn’t take his children).
Nevertheless, it’s different for Leo now who’s been (and still is) many things like a mountaineer, a runner, a cyclist, and so on and so forth, but at the moment he is first and foremost a family man. Just like his view on finishing the climb up to Mt. Everest, he’s enjoying where he is at the moment, “the tranquility and the view around it.”
Read excerpts from the interview here