How Bangkok baker and single father Manfred Waibl uses his passion for sport to overcome enormous family challenges
During a recent mountain Trail run, I met a father whose unconditional love for his two young daughters is truly inspirational, allowing them to dream big, and to never let a serious challenge stop them from achieving their goals.
He's Manfred Waibl, 45, a single father from Innsbruck, Austria, who is passing on his passion for sport, especially Trail running, to help his children overcome enormous odds.
“I've lived in Thailand for 15 years. Before coming here, I was on a 10-year work assignment in Hong Kong. My passion other than sport is artisan bakery and retail management. Currently I am heading the Central Food Retail Bakeries at Central Food Hall and the Training Department in our Retail Academy. Making bread is truly rewarding, from its creation to receiving customer appreciation.
From hiking mountains to Trail running
I started Trail running very young, about ten years old. About that time, I played in the national badminton squad, and we used to train in the forests behind the sports center for cross training. I remember signing up for a local Trail race and came first in my age group. I was awarded a giant trophy and was immediately hooked.
All my family is into mountain sports, and we hiked over the mountains as far back as I can remember. My younger brother is still my Trail running buddy when at home. He knows the best routes.
I started real competitive Trail running during my time in Hong Kong to help balance a hectic work life schedule. Hong Kong is the ultimate Trail running destination in Asia. Within 20 minutes of the city you can find lots of trailheads, from easy rolling paths to very technical rocky mountain trails.
I moved to Thailand in 2006. There were very few Trail races back then, even so they attracted 60-100 runners. Adventure dashes were very popular at that time, where you would trail run first, then mountain bike and usually finish off with a swim through a lake – great fun!
A few years later, that same organizer decided to hold a Trail Race. It was the starting bell for an unstoppable movement in Thailand. Now you have races every weekend with events that you need to sign up many months in advance to secure a place. Races even have been recognized by world class athletes, and Thailand, with its beautiful mountains, has now the opportunity to become Asia's hotspot for this booming sport!
But what is most important is the community of runners here in Thailand. Many friendships have been made, and every runner has improved through the years through encouragement from fellow runners. A great example is the Bangkok Runners Group. Everyone is very welcoming and supportive on and off the trail. When my life took a difficult turn six years ago, the camaraderie from that very group helped me stay afloat, which I am very grateful for today.
A superhero is an overstatement. I have two daughters, Vanessa, 11 years old, and Valentina, eight, who I raise as a single father with a live-in nanny for additional support.
It's a challenging role to be a father and busy executive, but also very rewarding with lots of love.
Vanessa, my oldest, is the same as her dad, fully into sports. She is a striker on Lions FC Girls Football Club, did a few years of gymnastics, and plays badminton. Vanessa recently became a Trail runner after hiking for a couple of years on weekends in the hills surrounding Bangkok, mostly in Chonburi. She recently came first in a 10km Trail Race in the 12-15 age group, when she was just 11. She is an outstanding skier and might aim for Thailand's very first Olympic Winter medal in the future.
When Valentina was born, doctors immediately told us that something was not okay with her. After a lot of tests and hospital visits in the first month, we got the news that she has cerebral palsy and might never be able to walk or speak. She was also fighting epileptic seizures. When she was two years old, her mother decided to leave our family and start a new life. That was a big blow!
When Valentina was born, we got the news that she had cerebral palsy and might never be able to walk or speak. She was also fighting epileptic seizures. When she was two years old, her mother decided to leave our family and start a new life
Trail races with both daughters
My inspiration comes from Mother Nature. I wanted to allow Valentina to feel the outdoors and not be strapped in a wheelchair. I firmly believe that breathing in the fresh air and seeing wildlife has helped her development. When she was three years old, during our vacation in Austria, I carried her to her first mountain summit and let her touch the snow; she loved it so much.
I had already run over 200 races in my life, so I thought now it's time to give back and let my girls feel the race vibe. Those memories will stay forever.
Both are very loving and peaceful individuals, very respectful to their friends, and keen to learn new things. Vanessa is also very independent. Since the age of six, she flies alone between Thailand and Austria as an unaccompanied minor to spend time with her grandparents in the summer and winter. We are a TEAM! We do as much as possible together!
Running together is always fun, even though it has become more strenuous recently as Valentina has gained a lot of weight – she’s 24kg now. But I will carry her as long my back allows me to do so. Vanessa is usually always in front; with the extra weight I can't follow her. The running community is very supportive; lots of people cheer and like to take selfies with us. It's also good weight training for me.
Favorite moments running with my girls
That just happened recently over New Year when we were on a northern Thailand seven-day road trip. On our last day, we stopped in Sukhothai and decided to climb Khao Luang in Ramkhamhaeng National
Reaching the exposed peak was spectacular in so many ways. The views were fantastic, blue skies, and the temperature was a splendid 12 C. All three of us thanked God for giving us the strength to do all this together and shared a few tears
Advice for parents who also want to participate in sports with their children
Nature is the best classroom; you can learn so much in one day. We are blessed to live in Thailand, which has never-ending flora and fauna - monkeys, snakes, butterflies, birds, and plants. We have seen many of nature's creations and learned from them all.
As for participating, start early with some short hikes; even it's only 1-2 km, kids can discover a lot. The ideal age would be five years and up. You will see that kids like to run on forest trails, and exercise stimulates the brain. Let them join a ‘3km Fun Run’,which most organizers put together for families. It's exciting to mingle with the pro athletes too.
Let the kids take risks and get them away from online games and TV. But mostly, it's up to the motivation of parents to support them going into the great outdoors.
I organize kids' hikes from time to time within a one-hour drive from Bangkok, so every parent is welcome to join. See you out on the Trails!’’