Meet Ariana Dormitorio, Philippines' 'Queen of the Trails'

The 23-year-old MTB rider has clear dreams: qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics, continuing to inspire women in cycling with her positive mindset, and getting a pet pig.

By Alessandro Poggi

They call her 'The Queen of the Trails'.

Ariana Dormitorio is a girl who loves cycling, and in the last few years has become one of the most exciting prospects in Southeast Asia.

The Filipino MTB rider is a three-time national champion and in 2018 made history for her country by winning Under-23 gold at the Asian championships on home soil.

She was the first woman from the Philippines to top a continental cycling race, 21 year after her male compatriot Placido Valdez.

Now, after making a name for herself in the sport, Dormitorio is dreaming of booking a spot at the Tokyo Olympics next year.

But it's not just about cycling.

The 23-year-old believes that being able to market yourself is key for athletes and, through her growing social media channels, she aims to continue to inspire young women in her country to take up the sport.

"I am happy that I’m becoming a role model for a lot of girls," Dormitorio said during an exclusive interview with the Olympic Channel from her home in Quezon City, near the capital Manila.

"Now that I’ve seen so many girls cycling on the road, it makes me so happy because women can really do the same as men and that’s what I want."

Dormitorio in MTB action [CREDIT: Thai Cycling Association]

Dormitorio: Height doesn't really matter

"It started out really as a hobby," remembers Ariana, who was born in Iloilo, in the Panay island.

"My dad got invited by some friends to try mountain biking and we just started to cycle around Manila."

At 12 she joined a few local races, competing with elite women. Soon after, she won her first competition in a mountain time-trial.

"I like to climb, this is my main strength along with endurance," the three-time Asian Mountain bike Series champion said.

"My main discipline is mountain biking: I love it a lot because I’m always in the mountains.

"I live in the city, I live in the capital, that’s why is a big change for me whenever I ride in the mountains," said the Filipina, who usually trains on the mount Maarat in San Mateo ("A second home to me"), a few kilometers away from Manila.

Dormitorio is just 155cm tall (5'1), but she points out that U-23 world champion Sina Frei from Switzerland is even smaller than her (151cm) and can keep up with world gold medallists like Jolanda Neff and Kate Courtney.

"One thing about cycling is that height doesn’t really matter. It’s more about power/weight ratio. Even if I am small, I can generate a lot of power."

Family effort

Ariana probably wouldn't be the athlete that she is without her father Donjie.

The businessman has been supporting his daughter's career since the beginning: he's her head coach and helps her also as a sport psychologist, nutritionist, and even as a social media manager.

"He didn't have any cycling background, we just started the same," she admitted.

"I’m very blessed that my dad has been super-duper supportive. He’s very competitive, he does a lot of research and we help each other every time." - Dormitorio to Olympic Channel.

"I'm really lucky that my dad is my coach. Sometimes when there are things that I feel don't work for me, I am open about it"

Her father also created an MTB school, where Ariana can train with her younger sisters, who are 12 and 8.

"They started younger than me, I'm pretty sure they are going to do better than me," said the Trek Philippines rider.

"It’s totally a family effort. Sometimes our vacation involves bike races," she added.

Tokyo dream: a first for a female Filipino cyclist?

After graduating from high school, Dormitorio decided to make cycling her career.

When she joined the team KTM, she also started to give a name to her bikes.

The first one was called Dylan, the latest one is the colourful Bubblegum, and before that there was Cotton.

"I think here in the Philippines I’m the one who popularised the names of the bikes," the Filipina said with a laugh.

"For me, giving my bikes a name is more of a personal thing. When you really love something, there’s got to be a name for it!"

But being a professional cyclist in the Philippines is not easy.

"Training programmes, race courses are not really up to the level that they have in Europe.

"I was able to participate in one-month bootcamp in Switzerland, at the UCI, so seeing their training programme, nutrition, the quality of the trails there, well we don’t have them here in the Philippines.

"We are really way behind so being able to qualify for the Olympics would be really a big achievement for me."

Ariana is confident she'll earn more points in the next few months and book her ticket for Tokyo.

She would become the first female Filipino cyclist to qualify for a Summer Games.

Taking part in the test event last October on the Olympic track in Izu helped boost her confidence:

"The race course in Tokyo is very technical, We don’t have something like that in the Philippines.

Being able to see the track it’s going to be easier for me to adjust my training".

Getting back up: Ariana's mental toughness

In Japan, Dormitorio also learned how to manage her fears, especially when riding steep and rocky downhills.

"I tried to blank my mind, control my breathing, and believe that I trust my training".

"I saw that female riders could do it so I was like 'Maybe I can do it as well!'" she recalls.

"Mental toughness is important and you really need to believe in yourself." - Dormitorio

Last December, the 23-year-old crashed out in the MTB cross-country race at the home Southeast Asian Games, where she was favourite to win gold.

"I got quite emotional, because I’ve been preparing for that for the longest time and things didn’t go the way I wanted them to be," she remembers.

"But that’s life, those things happen."

That day the Filipina learned a valuable lesson:

"I shouldn’t really dwell on things I can’t control

"I’ve been raised by my dad to focus just in the positive things: if you have any fears, you really need to overcome them, because subconsciously if you do have fears, they’re weighing you down."

"I’m really a happy person, whenever I face challenges I say ‘that happens, next time I’m going to do better’ - Ariana Dormitorio

Dormitorio in MTB Action [CREDIT: Hernando Albania Jr.]

Ariana's mission: being a role model

Dormitorio is a rising sport star in a country where Kai Sotto, Carlos Yulo, and Alyssa Valdez have earned a status of celebrities.

"Here in the Philippines sports are really popular, fans are very supportive with every kind of athletes, especially on social media," the young rider explained.

"Filipino athletes are doing well when it comes to promoting brands, reaching out to fans"

And the Internet is where Dormitorio has a chance to share her relaxed side, including a love of food (tacos, gyoza, cheesecake - which she struggles to fit into her strict athlete's diet), and her passion for pigs (hence her nickname and social media handle - Queen Piggy) which she hopes will one day lead to her having one as a pet..

The 23-year-old is also actively marketing cycling development in her country, but she wants to leave an even bigger mark.

"Achievement for me is not a podium medal, but being able to help people, spreading a message around the community about me being a Filipina, a small Filipina, conquering a lot of things, and they could do also the same thing."

"I’ve been vocal that women should get into cycling, a lot of females are starting to get into it. It’s just a matter of telling them that it’s ok to have darker skin and to crash, you can still be girly and pretty when you’re on a bike" - Ariana Dormitorio

"People send me messages like ‘Thank you Ariana for being an inspiration…'.

"The fact that I’m able to touch people’s lives, just being me, doing what I love, posting on social media, and seeing them change into someone because of me, because of how I tell them on social media, is even a bigger achievement."