Meet Al Gonzales, swimming instructor

Coach Al Gonzales is a late bloomer.

Like many adults, Gonzales harbored a fear of water rooted in a childhood near-drowning experience, which he can still remember vividly.

Encouraged by college friends to pursue triathlon fuelled a desire to break free from his self-imposed imitations.

He plunged into the water, hoping to call himself a triathlete one day.

The journey was not without struggles, but Gonzales pushed forward, embracing each stroke and every breath as opportunities for growth. He eventually conquered his fears and developed proficiency in the water.

Swimming became more than just a physical activity; it became a source of liberation and self-discovery. Gonzales decided to share his passion for swimming with others, particularly those who, like him, had once believed themselves incapable of mastering the art.

He embarked on a new chapter in his journey, going back abroad to get certification as a swim instructor from Total Immersion, a swim school in New York.

Drawing upon his experiences as an adult learner, he approached teaching with empathy, patience, and understanding. He recognized that learning to swim as an adult comes with unique challenges and insecurities, and he made it his mission to create a supportive and nurturing environment for his students.

Under Coach Al’s guidance, countless adults found the courage to confront their fears and embrace the water. With his encouragement and guidance, they pushed past their limitations and achieved feats they once deemed impossible. Many of his students went on to pursue open-water races, inter-island swims, and triathlons, some even reaching their pinnacle, the Ironman World Championships.

Last year, he participated in the inaugural Subic International Triathlon (SUBIT) Legends Triathlon. The event gathered 30 triathletes from the early years of the Philippine Triathlon, commemorating 30 years of SUBIT, Asia’s longest-running Olympic distance race.

Al Gonzales is a subject matter expert for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the President of STET-VIP, a non-government organization of athletes and volunteers who conduct humanitarian aid and disaster response missions. He is also a Philippine Air Force 505th Search and Rescue Group Auxiliary, a Coast Guard Auxiliary, an Army Reservist, and a Divemaster.

He received the Best Book Award from the National Academy of Science and Technology and the Gawad Kaunlaran Medal from the AFP twice.

He is also a recipient of an Oblation statuette from the University of the Philippines.

The AFP, Philippine Coast Guard, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, and the Philippine National Police awarded him citations, certificates, and medals for his voluntary work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The title “Coach Al” is closest to his heart. It reminds him of how he defied expectations and shattered stereotypes.

It reminds us, too, that anything is possible with dedication, perseverance, and a willingness to leap into the unknown.

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