Jamming with the waves

By Arman Armero

SHE has an iron grip, a penchant for all masculine sports and an admirable advocacy for abused women and children.

She also happens to be the country’s top female jet ski racer, bar none, and proved it last Sept. 15 when she easily won the women’s side of the 2007 Petron-National Jet Ski Series in Subic, Zambales.

Julie Ann Mangio or simply Jam to friends and family, rides the ski like she is born into it. Her dedication for the sport also known as watercross and her competitive spirit even saw her competing in the supposedly all-male 4-Stroke novice category to provide support to Team Networx stablemate Sammy Parilla Jr., who was but two points adrift of Team Zouave’s Robbie David.

With Jam on his tail, Sammy pushed his ski to the limit, with Robbie struggling to keep in step with the two Team Networx riders.

Sammy, the son of Bantay, Ilocos Sur Mayor Samuel Sr., went on to capture the Driver of the Year title in the category, with Jam looking very pleased, relaxed in the knowledge that once again, she has proven that determination knows no gender.

“What men can do, women can do, and maybe even better,” said the 19-year-old Advanced Batch student of Philippine School of Interior Design in Makati. “That’s always been my motto since I started competing in every sport I indulge in.”

Growing up with the boys

Jam, a true-blue Kapampangan, grew up with two brothers and a sister she describes as the “more feminine” type. The youngest daughter of Nestor Mangio and Marionette Panlilio Mangio, whose family owns the Lakeshore Development Corp.

Growing up in a God-fearing, but active family, little Jam first ventured into gymnastics and ballet in her kindergarten years, but with big brother Mike always “roughing” her up, Jam developed a liking for more physical, male-dominated activities.

“Lagi kaming nagkukulitan ni kuya Mike. Minsan nga nagkakasakitan na, pero hindi ako umaangal. Even when I was young, I already wanted to prove something,” Jam said.

During her high school days at the Poveda, Jam became the school’s team captain in volleyball. But soon enough, volleyball gave way to boxing, tennis, basketball, karting, triathlon, softball, soccer and recently wakeboarding.

In watercross, Jam and Mike are familiar fixtures in the water, although when she first tried to ski, she wasn’t as focused as she is now, joining and winning in the last leg of the series in the last two years.

“I’ve always been strong since I was a kid and I would try everything, kahit na anong sports. Two years ago, I rode the jet ski just to test the waters, so to speak, but BJ Ang [a teammate in the Networx squad] urged me to really concentrate on watercross. I guess itutuluy-tuloy ko na,” Jam added.

With that in mind, the charming Kapampangan is going to Thailand for the King’s Cup in December to compete in the women’s 1200cc category against the best female riders in Asia.

Jam’s motivation and advocacy

Jam attributes her strength to many things—faith, family, a sports drink called GU Gel, an exercise regimen of 10 push-ups a day and even vegetables like lettuce and broccoli, and fruits like bananas—plenty of bananas.

“Iyun talaga ang paborito ko, banana. Nagbi-build kasi ito ng muscles at resistensya,” Jam said of the potassium-rich fruit.

But aside from all these, Jam’s determination is fueled by her desire to banner girl power and Pinay power.

“I’d like to show the world that Pinays can compete with the best athletes in the world and at the same time, promote women’s power and women’s rights,” she said.

In Thailand, she hopes to rub elbows again with Japanese female ace rider, Seiko Ozawa, who ruled the expert stand-up category against her all-male rivals.

“Grabe siya. Napanood ko siya sa Thailand last year. Talagang lumapit kami ni Abby [Reyes, another Pinay rider] para magpa-autograph. Idol ko talaga siya.”

Jam and Mother Teresa

A self-confessed feminist and a women’s and children’s rights advocate, it’s small wonder that Jam idolizes the saintly Mother Teresa of Calcutta, India.

In fact, Jam is an active member of the U Foundation, a Filipino initiative which started early this year which reaches out to the squatters in Payatas and other poverty-striken communities.

“I have a soft spot for kids. ’Pag nakikita ko sila na walang makain, awang-awa ako kasi di naman nila ginusto ’yon and I really wanted to do something to share what I have,” said Jam, who often times ends up distributing her school allowance to the Payatas kids.

Her advocacy, strange as it seems, gives her the strength and motivation to be the best that she can be in her chosen sport, or maybe later in life in her future possession. She even mentioned boxing icon Manny Pacquiao as somebody who draws his strength from his patriotism and nationalism.

“Look at Pacquiao. Maybe his strength comes from that, his love of country. Sa akin din, before the race, I think of all the women na inaapi and poor and underprivileged and I draw strength from those thoughts,” she continued.

This charmer plans to help in the family’s businesses, which also include Graceland Hotel, but as sure as the sun shines at the break of dawn, Jam’s heart will always cry out for abused and underprivileged women and children, her deadly secret weapon why she’s so good in everything she does.

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