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Kaizen Dela Serna

Kaizen Dela Serna: The Next Door Ninja

For the month of July, The GAME is stepping into the world of one of the fastest-growing sports, Obstacle Course Racing, through the eyes of one of its frontrunners: Kaizen Dela Serna.

Obstacle Courses have been around for a long time, with races dating back to 700 BC through events such as the ancient pentathlon. Over the years, it has evolved into different shapes and sizes — to the modern pentathlon, the X-Games, and even the popular Ninja Warrior races. Perhaps this is why this concept is not something that feels new.

However, Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) has only recently become globally recognized as a sport. World Obstacle, the federation that unifies and regulates OCRs was only established in 2018 in hopes of developing the sport worldwide. Since then, the sport has seen momentous growth, with its influence beginning to snowball, even among Filipinos. In fact, the Philippines now has its own federation, the Pilipinas Obstacle Sports Federation.

And one of the athletes at the forefront of Obstacle Course Racing in the country is Kaizen Dela Serna.

Kaizen Dela Serna is a young Filipina athlete who, just as OCR was taking off, took a ride on the sport’s earliest waves and has cemented her spot as one of the best in the country. In 2019, she won a gold medal for Obstacle Course Racing in the SEA Games, and in 2022, she even broke a Guinness World Record.

Much like the sport itself, Kaizen journeyed through several ups and downs to get to where she is now. And at only 21 years old, she tells The GAME that the course is far from finished and she still has many obstacles down her path that she is eager to overcome.

Discovering new beginnings

Kaizen Dela Serna’s journey as an athlete actually did not start with Obstacle Course Racing, though it did start with something rather similar: gymnastics.

Kaizen Dela Serna (Gymnastics)
Before taking on Obstacle Course Racing, Kaizen spent seven years as a gymnast. (Photo credit: Kaizen Dela Serna on Instagram)

The Filipina grew up as a gymnast. However, she admitted that over the years that she dedicated to the sport, she started to fall out of love with it, and after seven years, she decided to quit. But, still an athlete at heart, she was on the lookout for a new sport, finding new ways to channel her energy by running, cycling, and competing in triathlons, among others. But it was only when her mom took her to an obstacle gym facility that she struck gold.

“I tried it for the first time and I was actually so excited because I’d never heard of this type of sport, and when I tried the obstacles, I fell in love with it because I liked how it was so fun and at the same time, it was so challenging for me,” she reflected.

It was love at first try for Kaizen.

“I fell in love with it because I liked how it was so fun and at the same time, it was so challenging for me.”

Kaizen on her first encounter with Obstacle Course Racing.

Gaining a deep fondness early on, she later decided to participate in a competition. In 2018, Kaizen competed in her first-ever Spartan Race, a popular Obstacle Course Race that is open to anyone interested in joining. And right off the bat, she already recognized her edge in the sport.

“When I joined the race, I was very shocked because I was able to top my age category,” she shared. “This was my first time and I was able to excel right away, so that’s what made me fall in love with it more.”

Filipina athlete Kaizen Dela Serna competing in a Spartan Race
Getting to know the sport in one of her earliest Spartan Races. (Photo credit: Kaizen Dela Serna on Instagram)

On top of this, she also explained that her foundations as a former gymnast were truly useful to her as she was able to translate her skills to the obstacles in the race, as many of them involved swinging, hanging, and a lot of upper body strength.

From there, the young athlete continued to explore the sport.

The intricacies of Obstacle Course Racing

In Obstacle Course Racing, Kaizen explains, there are five categories: Ninja, Obstacle Course Racing Short Distance (around five to 10 kilometers), Long Distance (which can reach up to 100 kilometers), Parkour, and Adventure Racing.

Kaizen has already competed in all the categories except for Adventure Racing. But, the category that she loves the most and puts her focus on is the Ninja category.

“It was easier for me to translate young gymnastics skills to the Ninja category because it has a lot of movement where we kind of fly. If you see my obstacle videos, it’s me barely touching the obstacle. It’s more flying super fast, touching the bell, and then going to the next which is what I enjoy doing.”

Obstacle Course Racer Kaizen Dela Serna at the 2023 Southeast Asian Games.
Kaizen flying through obstacles. (Photo credit: Benjo Cabarro)

Ninja races are around 100 to 150 meters long only, comprised of up to 12 obstacles in a short distance. Because of this, Kaizen emphasizes that speed and agility are among the main attributes that Obstacle Course Racers in this category should possess. But these are just two pieces to the puzzle.

OCR entails overall fitness — speed and agility, as well as strength, muscular endurance, and power are keys to being competitive in this industry, not to mention the technique and coordination that are required out of all the different obstacles on the course.

A lot of factors come into play in an OCR. This is why she dedicates a lot of time to her training.

Life in training

An Obstacle Course Racer has to develop and improve many different skills and attributes in order to become highly competitive, and this is why the national team trains six days a week.

Kaizen explains that their weekly training regimen involves several aspects — track sessions where they work on sprint intervals to develop speed and endurance; strength and conditioning days where they build their power; and finally, obstacle sessions where they train their techniques.

Obstacle Course Racer Kaizen Dela Serna training
Kaizen hard at work in training. (Photo credit: Kaizen Dela Serna on Instagram)

On a race course, one of Kaizen’s biggest strengths is finding the best techniques and applying them to every obstacle she faces, thus, she is able to swiftly move around an entire course. But, she also admits that she is currently working on her upper body strength and coordination as some of her areas for improvement.

Luckily, she is constantly surrounded by her teammates whom she looks up to. “Most of the athletes I look up to are actually my teammates,” she shared.

As one of the youngest on the team, she expressed that this has been a huge benefit to her, as she is able to learn not only from her own experiences but from the experiences of those around her, both in an out of the sport.

Thus, even with a tough training schedule that is physically demanding, Kaizen still shares that at the end of the day, it’s still a lot of fun, which is the reason she fell in love with the sport in the first place.

This is truly one of the aspects that makes Obstacle Course Racing so special to Kaizen, and she feels lucky that she gets to channel this passion of hers and represent the country while doing so.

Team Philippines for Obstacle Course Racing at the 2023 Southeast Asian Games
Team Philippines proudly represents the flag at the 2023 SEA Games Obstacle Course Race events. (Photo credit: Benjo Cabarro)
Chasing dreams

Kaizen Dela Serna has come a long way since her first-ever Spartan Race in 2018, having represented the Philippines in many highly esteemed international tournaments — a dream that she’s had ever since she was a young gymnast.

“When I started to pursue gymnastics at around 12 years old, I wanted to compete in the Southeast Asian Games because my older teammates competed so it really inspired me,” she reflected. “When I found out that there was Obstacle Course Racing in the SEA Games, I was so happy because this is my dream and it’s finally happening.”

But before she could earn the right to represent the flag, Kaizen had to compete in the qualifiers for the national team, which is open to any athlete who wants the same opportunity. After competing in a series of three qualifiers, she earned enough points to earn one of the coveted slots.

As a first-time competitor, and at only 17 years old at the time, Kaizen competed in the team relay event, where the members of the team have to complete every obstacle before moving on to the next. It was a team effort, but in the end and after 14 obstacles, Kaizen and her team were able to clock the fastest time and secure the gold medal.

“Have a powerful heart and be resilient. Whenever there are challenges, a lot happens along your way, and you have to be able to overcome them, you have to be stronger.”

Kaizen on the importance of resilience as an athlete.

With this, the young Filipina already got a chance to be a part of history as one of the first-ever SEA Games medalists for the sport, as 2019 actually marked the first year wherein OCR was included as a standalone sport.

“It was my dream. It’s such a big thing for me to be able to wear the medal around my chest. All our team’s hard work had paid off and I was really grateful that I was able to make it,” Kaizen proudly shared.

Obstacle Course Racer Kaizen Dela Serna at the 2023 Southeast Asian Games.
Kaizen wears the Philippine flag with pride whenever she competes internationally. (Photo credit: Benjo Cabarro)
Obstacle Course Racer Kaizen Dela Serna at the 2023 Southeast Asian Games.
With speed and technicality as two of her strengths, Kaizen always overcomes obstacles swiftly. (Photo credit: Benjo Cabarro)

Given her memorable and successful experience in 2019, it would be easy to assume that in the 2023 SEA Games, Kaizen was more comfortable. But the young athlete admitted, “I was more scared because it was my first time competing in individual.”

Earlier this year, Kaizen Dela Serna represented the Philippines in the women’s individual category for Obstacle Course Racing in the Southeast Asian Games.

“It was really different from what I did in 2019, because it was all on me, there’s no more help from my teammates… It’s me who’s going to do the whole course.”

But in the end, she was able to overcome her fears on the course. Watching her run at the 2023 SEA Games, she moved quickly through each obstacle using her speed and technique — two of her biggest strengths. And with both on her side and after months of preparations, she was once again able to earn a spot on the podium, recording the second-best time.

Obstacle Course Racer Kaizen Dela Serna at the 2023 Southeast Asian Games.
Kaizen on her flying run at the 2023 SEA Games. (Photo credit: Benjo Cabarro)
Obstacle Course Racer Kaizen Dela Serna at the 2023 Southeast Asian Games.
In her second SEA Games appearance, Kaizen managed to return to the podium with a silver medal finish. (Photo credit: Benjo Cabarro)

“I’m happy that I was able to show what I practice for and I’m really thankful for the opportunity,” she expressed.

With a silver medal around her neck, Kaizen stood proudly on the podium wearing the Philippine flag. And while this is a huge feat in her budding career as an athlete, her success has already extended even past the region.

Among the best in the world

Just last year, Kaizen Dela Serna was one of the two Filipino athletes who were able to set a new Guinness World Record for Obstacle Course Racing. And she did not expect it at all.

In the weeks leading up to the Obstacle Course Race tournament that would determine the Guinness Records, Kaizen recalled that she was clocking one minute to finish the entire 100-meter course. But, just like anything else, she got by with the right preparations.

“I trained a lot before the race. I trained almost every day, six times a week, and luckily, I was able to set the record, and my time was around 39 seconds.”

Obstacle Course Racer Kaizen Dela Serna at the 2023 Southeast Asian Games.
No matter what is put in front of her, Kaizen does her best to overcome any obstacle. (Photo credit: Benjo Cabarro)

Indeed, Kaizen Dela Serna set a Guinness World Record by finishing the 100-meter Obstacle Course Race with a time of 39.24 seconds — shedding over 20 seconds from her original times.

American World Guinness Book of Records adjudicator Justin Patterson was present in Arcovia in Pasig City to present Kaizen, as well as her teammate Julius Rodelas who set the record for the men’s category, with their certificates of recognition.

“It’s such a big thing for me to be able to wear the medal around my chest. All our team’s hard work had paid off and I was really grateful that I was able to make it.”

Kaizen reflects on what it means to win medals for the Philippines.

Although Kaizen no longer holds the Guinness World Record time, as her teammate Precious Cabuya set a new record at the recent 2023 SEA Games, this is definitely a marker of her skill as an athlete, even by global standards. And this is a true testament to the hard work that she puts into her craft as an Obstacle Course Racer, driven by her passion and her goals for the future.

“My dream, if God wants me to complete there, would be the Olympics,” she asserted.

“It’s been my dream since I was young, even when I was a gymnast, aside from the Southeast Asian Games, I wanted to reach the Olympics.”

Obstacle Course Racer Kaizen Dela Serna at the 2023 Southeast Asian Games.
Kaizen is proud to hold up the Philippine flag on the international stage, and strives for more opportunities to bring success to the country. (Photo credit: Benjo Cabarro)

While Obstacle Course Racing is still yet to become an official Olympic sport, Kaizen is in a fortunate position as a very young athlete, with many years left to compete. As an athlete of a young sport as well, there is still a lot of time for OCR to evolve, gain even more recognition, and give passionate individuals such as Kaizen a chance to perform on the biggest sporting stages.

Indeed, her passion for the sport truly shows, not only in her races but even in the work she does outside of training and competitions.

Broadening the path

The room for Obstacle Course Racing to continue growing is big as a sport that is still new to the scene. But already, Kaizen Dela Serna is pushing for that growth. Earlier this year, she launched a new passion project dedicated to her love for OCR.

“I started my own club,” she told The GAME.

“It’s called Ninja Monkeys. It was super nice because our president was encouraging everyone to start coaching and as someone like me, who loves kids and wants to give back to the community, I started my own club.”

Ninja Monkeys Philippines
The young kids who train with Kaizen in her new club, Ninja Monkeys. (Photo credit: Ninja Monkeys Philippines on Facebook)

Beginning with just around five to 10 students when she launched the club just around two to three months ago, the number of kids has now grown to more than 40 students. With this, she had to recruit the help of her supportive teammates in coaching the kids, from ages five to 15.

“I’m so happy because that’s our goal as a federation and myself. I want people, especially the youth, to get into sports instead of being at home using their gadgets all the time.”

The local Obstacle Course Racing federation also organizes races for children who are interested in competing in the sport, so Kaizen’s club is not only a way for kids to enjoy physical activity, but it also acts as a true platform for them to grow as competitive athletes.

As Kaizen is still a third-year student at De La Salle University, she dedicates her time to all her commitments — training, academics, and her newly launched club — but it is something that she is happy to do, especially as she is a huge part of the sport’s growth locally. With all that she is doing, she hopes to inspire a new generation of athletes who are not afraid of chasing their dreams.

As a young athlete full of passion and dedication, the future is bright for Kaizen Dela Serna. (Photo credit: Benjo Cabarro)

“Keep dreaming and keep striving to reach your goals, whenever they’re setbacks, stand up and overcome those challenges,” she shares with any young athlete out there with big dreams.

“Have a powerful heart and be resilient. Whenever there are challenges, a lot happens along your way, and you have to be able to overcome them, you have to be stronger.”

Spoken like a true Obstacle Course Racer, a true athlete, and a truly inspiring individual. There is a long way to go before we hear the last of Kaizen Dela Serna, but already, she is creating a lasting impact on Philippine sports.


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