VIGAN CITY, Ilocos Sur -- Lheslie De Lima had trained for more than a month to condition her body for a 3,000-meter run. But it looked like it was the first time she ran that stretch after crossing the finish line on Monday at the Quirino Stadium here.
Lheslie, who is a distant relative of Sen. Leila De Lima, was still gasping for air after the sprint that needed an extra 400 meters to determine the victor because officials failed to ring the bell to signal the final lap.
Overall, De Lima and rival Cabila Tubiano ran 3,400 meters.
The 13-year-old runner from Bicol region took a five-minute respite before heaving a sigh of relief and answering questions from reporters who swarmed her as she copped the first gold in the 2018 Palarong Pambansa.
"I almost stopped but my opponent was still running (and there was no bell yet) so I carried on and ran for another lap," she said in Filipino.
The incoming Grade 8 student of Baao National High School, who was among the athletes who ran barefoot, clocked 10 minutes and six seconds to beat Tubiano of Northern Mindanao by a whisker (10:07-07) and claim her first gold in three years.
Western Visayas bet Grace Tejones came in third with a time of 10:52.99.
"This is my first gold in Palaro after three tries," said De Lima, who hails from Baao, Camarines Sur. "I dedicate this victory to my parents... My father is a farmer, my mother a housewife. I'm the fifth child among seven siblings."
Although this is her only first-place finish in the annual multi-sport spectacle, De Lima is not really a subpar runner. In her first two stints in the elementary category, she bagged four silver medals.
"This the third time I joined the competition. It's the first time I won in high school," he said.
Despite her potential in the sport where the country has produced a slew of world-class champions like Elma Muros, De Lima has a modest dream.
"I just want to be a teacher and a coach," she said.