Finding inspiration in academic families

By Gianpaolo Manalastas MA 2009

Blog Photo GP ManalastasI did a great many things during my four years at the University of St Andrews. I took part in the clubs and societies; I went to the balls and ceilidhs; I visited as many of the “50 pubs and bars within the square mile” as possible – followed by trips to Empire and KFB; I hitchhiked to Amsterdam – I even managed to emerge with a pretty decent degree. Not one of the things that I did included running. The furthest I ran whilst living in St Andrews was probably the length of West Sands and the Scores – and I did that perhaps once or twice. I’ve never been much of a runner: it never really crossed my mind.

Last year, however, that all changed.  On 20 April 2012, my uncle Edwin “Bong” de la Cruz went missing while on holiday in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. There isn’t much you can do in terms of physically helping a search, when you’re so far away from the last place that person was seen.

After a couple of weeks of Skype calls and emails to embassies and reports from family members, I grew frustrated with the sense of powerlessness I felt. The thoughts going through my head ranged from pessimistic to downright desperate, and so to clear my head I went for a run. I live in Cambridge, and so a run along the river Cam seemed like a good idea. After about 30 minutes of running, I felt a sense of relief creep in – the situation was terrible, but I’d managed to think less about the hopelessness and focus on my uncle. It may seem cliché, but I managed to numb that sense of frustration, and put it into some physical activity. After some longer runs, I decided to try to turn the running into something more worthwhile, and so I entered a ballot to run the London Marathon for a charity closely linked to the struggle my family is going through.

Luck would have it that one of the first friends I made in St Andrews also lives in Cambridge: my academic mum, Jenny Mackay. She adopted me during Freshers Week of 2005, and it’s been a long tale of ceilidhs and bops and Raisin weekends! It has also been a tale of support and encouragement. Jenny has been an excellent friend right from the very beginning – testimony to the academic family system we have in St Andrews.  After my first long run back in June (10km, long enough for me at the time), I told her that I had entered a ballot to run the London Marathon, and Jenny’s response was staggering: she offered to put herself into the mix for a place on the marathon for the same charity, in the hopes that at least one of us would get a place. Fast forward almost a year later and here we are, just 12 days away from running the London Marathon, having both been successful in getting a place with the charity.

Jenny’s motivation for running is better put in her own words:

“Running a marathon as epic as London, would be thrilling for anyone. But running it alongside my amazing friend, and in support of such an important and profound charity, means I am gearing up for the race with more determination and dedication than I ever realised I had.  This energy is not down to a strict training programme or copious volumes of Lucozade; it’s what running the race means to me and to Gianpaolo that spurs me on. Seeing a close friend (who I’ve known since ‘adopting’ him into my academic family) go through the agony of having a relative go missing, makes me want to do anything and everything I can to help. To have the chance to share the marathon experience with him, from day one of training back in November all the way through to race day, is my privilege and just a small way of showing Gianpaolo and his family that they have my wholehearted support.”

It has been a long year: my uncle is still missing, and my family have flown out to Vietnam to hold a service to commemorate the one-year anniversary of his disappearance. I’ll be making my own tribute to him, and along with Jenny, I hope it makes a difference.

The academic family is a particularly St Andrews institution that provides a lifelong network and sense of connection for many students and alumni.  We’d love to hear more of your academic family stories – please share them in the comments below.  If you would like to hear more of Gianpaolo and Jenny’s London Marathon exploits, check out GP’s Facebook page in memory of his uncle here.