Doctor, water polo athlete, rugby player, triathlete, CrossFit athlete, and more. Ian Banzon is the woman — the athlete — who can do it all.
She competed in the 2015 Southeast Asian Games, finishing fifth with her water polo team. She qualified for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in 2019 and was the first Filipina finisher in the race. She holds five UAAP medals for swimming. She has finished within the top three in many running, cycling, and CrossFit events.
This is Ian Banzon.
But the list doesn’t stop there. We know — crazy, right?
When we asked Ian to list down all the sports she plays or competes in, even she forgot a few because the sheer number makes it hard to remember them all.
And before you conclude that she’s probably just one of those people who enjoy trying a bunch of things — a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none type of individual — Ian Banzon actually excels if not wins in most of them.
These accolades only scratch the surface of the things she has achieved as an athlete. In essence, for any sport she has ever played, she probably has some form of an accolade for it. That’s just the type of athlete she is. And with the number of sports she competes in along with all the honors, it’s easy to assume that Ian spends most of her time just training and working out.
However, that is not the case.
On top of all the medals, trophies, or honors that she has at home, Ian also has degrees hanging on the walls to go with them. Apart from being the stellar athlete she is, she is a medical and sports acupuncture physician and she’s a sports competition and team doctor. As a matter of fact, she is currently the team doctor of the Philippine Women’s National Football Team and will be heading with them to the World Cup this July.
Indeed, Ian Banzon is immersed in a life of sports, in her work, and in her passions. And it served as a platform for her to discover her true potential as an individual.
Diving Into the World of Sports
“It started with swimming,” Ian shares with us.
When Ian Banzon was younger, her mom, like many parents, would enroll her in different summer programs. She tried choir, art classes, theatre, and of course, sports. Swimming was the first sport she tried, and thanks to these summers she would spend exploring different activities. And eventually, as she got older, her mom let her pick what she wanted to pursue. When she was faced with this sudden freedom to choose, she panicked.
“I just asked, ‘what is my younger brother doing?'” she explains. “He was doing swimming and golf. I already did swimming before, but this was when it started to be more long-term. So I went for the summer and enjoyed it.”
So that summer, Ian was asked if she wanted to continue swimming even as school was ongoing. She ended up continuing all the way through high school, college, and med school.
From this small jumping-off point — starting off with summer swimming programs — a whole lot of doors opened up for Ian in the world of sports.
When she was in her fourth year of high school, her former swimming coach offered her an opportunity to come train with him at the university he was coaching in. Ian went for it. And as a senior in high school training with college kids, the head coach of the varsity team saw her and offered her a scholarship.
“I was really surprised because I’m a pretty good swimmer but I wouldn’t say I’m the best,” she says. “But I’m thankful for that opportunity. When I was in college, I got another grant — I had a benefactor. [These people] don’t know you. People who offer scholarships don’t really get to choose who it goes to, it’s more of the school chooses for them. But I’m really thankful for that because these are people who don’t know you, but they invest in your dream. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I am right now.”
From that point on, the gratitude she felt for the opportunity she was given served as a main source of motivation.
“On the days that I didn’t feel like training or working out, in my head, I think, this is work. I get paid for a scholarship and in return, I need to do this,” she explains. But even with this in mind, the push that she felt to succeed wasn’t exactly a pressure to win. It was a pressure to discover the boundaries and stereotypical limitations of her potential.
“I’m not the best athlete or the best student ever. I was never number one, I’d say I’m pretty much number two all the time, which I think is good because there’s less pressure when you’re not the best but you’re good enough,” she shares with us.
“That’s my goal — to live up to my potential because I don’t want to waste things. If I do my best, then I can’t say I can do anything more because that’s my best. If someone beats me but I already gave my all, then I’m not gonna regret that because she really was better than me at my best, so I’m happy because I was able to give everything I could.”
And this is a mindset Ian carries with her to this day. In all of the sports she competes in now, she upholds an ethos centered on improvement, and if she happens to finish atop the podium, it would be a bonus for her. Ultimately, Ian keeps her focus solely on herself, and never on her competitors.
“I don’t set out to beat someone,” she asserts. “I just want to see where this goes, where my potential will take me.”
And fortunately for Ian, this journey of attempting to discover her true potential led her to find purpose in her passions.
Finding Purpose From Passion
When Ian Banzon was in high school, her school did not have a swim team. But, she needed to join a club, so she joined the badminton club. But at 17 years old, she, unfortunately, suffered an ACL injury. This was the first of many injuries, she opens up to us.
“I didn’t cry when the surgeon said I had to undergo surgery. I cried when he said it would mean eight to 10 months without sports,” she recalls.
For most athletes, an injury is one of the biggest fears one could have. But, even though she had to miss months of doing the things she loved the most, she wound up realizing different values as an athlete. Ian finally learned the importance of strength training, and she also met some really good friends while she underwent rehab for her knee. But apart from this, she also discovered another potential path for her career.
“That was my intro to medicine and sports medicine. I think if I didn’t tear my ACL in HS, I wouldn’t have gone into sports medicine.”
So, she went into the field of medicine, knowing that she wanted to dive into the world of sports medicine, and nothing else. That was the path.
But, as Ian has realized by now, sometimes the path we set out in our minds is not the one that pans out in the real world.
“Usually people do either orthopedic surgery, rehab, or family medicine to get into sports medicine, but after med school, I was tired. I felt like I was missing out on so many things like sports and other opportunities like working with big sports brands. So I took a year off, just reevaluated everything, and thought about what I really wanted to do and how do I want to spend the rest of my time. Then I found acupuncture.”
Her friend and mentor helped her embrace this opportunity with both arms. Although she set out to become a sports surgeon, she realized that there were also nontraditional routes she could take while still doing the main goal she had in mind: to be of service to other athletes.
“A few days ago in our football doctors group, someone posted my photo when I was a medical intern,” Ian shares. “I did an elective on sports medicine and it was with one of the doctors of the football federation, so I was just a stretcher bearer. In the caption, he said, ‘Hey Ian look — you were just a stretcher bearer before…look where you are now.”
Now, Ian Banzon is a successful medical and sports acupuncture physician and a team doctor. Most notably, she boasts her current role: the team doctor to the Filipinas. Although things did not exactly materialize the way she had envisioned her life to go, Ian expresses that she is thankful for all the opportunities she has been given with the path that she did take.
Striking a Balance
Working as an athlete, many different doors opened up for Ian Banzon, in many ways that she probably did not expect when she first started swimming. But from that point on, she truly found a passion within world of sports — in fact, it’s probably closer to a universe.
From being a swimmer and earning scholarships in college and another grant for med school, her thirst to explore her true potential evolved into many other sports, including cycling, running, triathlon, CrossFit, water polo, rugby, obstacle course racing, football, and many others.
“Basically, if someone invites me to try something, I try it,” she admits.
All of the other sports served as channels that led to her self-discovery. And the more she tried, the more she learned.
Applying her medical degree on top of all this, many tend to wonder: how does she have time for it all?
Describing her weekly routine before Covid-19, she shares, “There was a time pre-pandemic when I would get up at 4:00 AM and end at 10:00 PM. That was my usual Thursday. Train Water Polo, teach indoor cycling classes, and then go to the clinic, and then coach a run club in BGC. So that was a whole affair of moving Manila to Mandaluyong to Quezon City to BGC — all around.”
And no matter where her appointments may take her, Ian always strives to strike a balance.
“My patients know I only hold clinic in the afternoons, I say morning is ‘me-time’ because it’s important to keep that balance.”
It definitely is easier said than done. Of course, exerting effort while competing and training for many different sports can take up a lot of energy. But by shifting the perspective, and by remaining connected to all these sports as her passions, Ian describes it as her own personal “playground.”
“The reason I do it is that as an adult you can’t go to the playground and play. But I feel like a kid at heart. And I think that’s what it all comes down to — enjoying it and having fun.”
But even while she’s having fun, she keeps close to her heart the value of good, honest hard work.
“I think training is where the hard work is,” she shares. “You kill yourself in training so you can have fun in competitions. So then you can just rely on training, trust that training. For me, I just think I have a good base because I like doing all these things and I learn from my mistakes.”
So no matter where she is, whether it’s on a court, in a pool, on the road, or even in her clinic with her patients, she manifests all the years of bookmarked lessons in everything she does. And with all of it, she has been able to break down boundaries, discover her potential, and propel herself in all the different areas of her life.
Life Like a Pro
One thing that we need to consistently remind ourselves of, is that Ian Banzon is not a professional athlete, technically speaking. She was a student-athlete for years and now competes in many different sports as an amateur.
But this is exactly what makes Ian’s journey in the sports industry so special. She paved her own journey through choices she made herself, and each step is a reminder of the decisions it took to get to where she is.
Ian contemplates her parents’ role in her life, having given her the freedom to choose the activities she wanted to pursue. In other words, they didn’t push her toward anything specific. Instead, they provided her with the tools based on the decisions she made for herself. And with this freedom, she has been able to build a life that aligns exactly with what she wants to do.
But the road was not always straight and the decisions did not always feel right immediately. And for Ian, it was sports that prepared her for this — setbacks and all.
“[Sports] teach you about life. That’s why I like the game — everything, not just fitness. No offense to people who just like to exercise, that’s great, do it for your health. But I really like sports because you learn a lot more. You learn about teamwork, you learn how to work with other people, and you learn soft skills, like thinking of different ways to attack a problem.”
Truly, there is far more to sports than just professional sports, and Ian is one of the best athletes who exemplifies this.
“There’s a big bang for your buck in sports,” she expresses. “You can learn so much.”
Like most successful athletes, Ian Banzon believes that if you set your mind to something, nothing can get in your way.
Back when she tore her ACL at 17, she found a way to use that setback to find a purpose for her career, and she created a stronger foundation for herself to improve as an athlete. Another instance is when she took a year off of med school after feeling as though she was missing out on other passions, she used it as a platform to steer her direction in a new path that worked better for her.
And even as a doctor — an intimidating career because of the time and dedication it requires — she remained true to herself.
But of course, there were also boundaries not just in her personal life, but in the world in general as well. In particular, many people still believe that being an athlete has to mean being a professional. Some others might believe that it’s too difficult to balance both and that you can only prioritize one. It’s possible that you might have had these thoughts yourself.
But for Ian, with all the boundaries that came her way, she simply stayed true to her ultimate goal: seeing how far her potential can take her. Having kept this in mind from day one, she never let the roadblocks define her. Instead, she found a way to bridge every boundary, creating a series of connections that eventually led her to where she is today.
She is incredibly proud of all that she has achieved, and she remains grateful for all the individuals who helped her along the way. In fact, it is her gratitude that keeps her grounded amidst all that she does and is the very thing that has and continues to open doors for her.
And even after all the accomplishments, she still admits, “It’s still a work in progress.”
“I think I’ve stepped on to the level I wanted to reach, that I set for myself when I was younger. But life is a continuous process so now it’s here and it’s just fine-tuning it to become better.”
So if there was any boundary that has stood in your way that you’ve been wanting to overcome, take it from Ian Banzon herself — “What are you scared of? Achieving your potential? Seeing that you could be better?”
Because all one needs to do is, “Try,” she says. “I’m not perfect, but I try.”
Text ANNIKA CANIZA
Interview AMANDA FERNANDEZ
Photography GREG MAYO
Art Direction KARLOTA TUAZON
Hair and Makeup CATS DEL ROSARIO
Sittings Editor JAMES CRUZ
Shoot Coordination TONI MENDOZA
Shot on Location Park Links by Ayala Land Premiere