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Bea De Leon: Volleyball and how it changed her world

Bea De Leon of Ateneo hammers down a killer against the token defense of FEU in this piece of action in Shakey's V-League. File Photo

"I just hit a ball."

Thus Bea De Leon rationalises when confronted with the hysteria of volleyball madness, fandom, or whatever you want to call it. At the center of it all are the Ateneo Lady Eagles, the glamour team for the past five years. De Leon is punching in her time card for Year Two on a train led by the phenomenal Alyssa Valdez.

Yet the 19-year old lass, isn't merely piggybacking on a juggernaut of a team. De Leon has given Ateneo a massive presence in the middle and that helped the team on its way to a second straight UAAP Women's Volleyball championship.

And that "ball" or "volleyball" to be succinct about it, has had a huge effect on the young woman's life.

One ball. One team. One family.

While she was in high school at Poveda, Bea's father, Elmer, wondered why his only daughter bothered with a sport that wasn't popular or he couldn't appreciate. "I wanted her to play golf or try something else that was more competitive," recalled the father with a wry smile after seeing how everything has turned out.

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Elmer never watched a single game of his daughter while she was at Poveda. Not one. "We weren't very competitive to begin with," clarified Bea. "But as a teenage girl, you crave for your parents' approval and their support. My dad not being there hurt me and I would often cry about it."

"I would watch, but Elmer didn't," added Det, Bea's mother. "I had to console Bea many times because she wanted her dad to be there."

All that changed when she was pursued by La Salle and Ateneo and we all know where she turned up in spite of her family's green and white pedigree.

Watching the mammoth crowds at the games, Elmer can't help but marvel at how huge the game has become. And his daughter is a young star at the center of the storm. Nowadays, he makes it a point to watch his daughter's every game, sometimes, even practices whether it be for Ateneo or the national team. "Even on weekends where it has taken me away from golf," he jokes.

Tickets to games sometimes cause little squabbles because everyone wants to watch.

As a youngster, Bea's father wanted to play for the La Salle basketball team but he wasn't skilled enough. "She is now living my UAAP dream for me," coos the approving father. "And I am proud of her."

"He is making up for lost time," chuckled a pleased Bea. "But better late than never."

The virtues of patience and perseverance

One of Bea's hobbies is her Lego collection of famous landmarks throughout the world. She has the Eiffel Tower, the White House, the Sydney Opera House, and the leaning Tower of Pisa among many others.

One would think that it would take a while to assemble them.

"I never have the patience to assemble them," she laughs. "I want them whole and assembled already."

The game of volleyball is altogether different.

To anyone who saw her in high school, she was tall and gangly tall who could hit but not with the power she unleashes right now. Standing at 5'11", she felt very insecure with her height. "I was taller even than the boys I knew so it was awkward. Maybe that is also why I slouch. Now, I love my height."

Confidence.

In the space of a few months, Bea's prowess on the court grew manifold.  Clearly, Ateneo's head coach Anusorn Bundit has a lot to do with her rapid development. However, it is also Bea's dedication and willingness to learn that has also made the difference.

However, the hard training has at one time or another caused the girl to wonder quite a few times last season if she should hang it up.

"Training under Tai is hard," she said and then paused for a moment. "That's an understatement. He pushes us. He teaches us all in the pursuit of perfection. It isn't only physically demanding but also mentally taxing. It's a constant struggle though. Imagine, several hours of practice that wears you out and you still have to study. Sometimes, you want to sleep but you can't."

"Then you have to bring it again the next day."

One time, Bundit questioned Bea's dedication and the words hurt her. "How could that be? I am here everyday and I get that?"

"It sounds harsh but when I look back at it, I am grateful. It has all been good because it got me to where I am. I won a UAAP championship. I was able to play for the national team. What blessings, di ba?"

Learning to be appreciative

Following every game, it seems like De Leon has just gotten back from a fire sale at some warehouse. She literally carts away bundles of food, fan art, gifts, and sometimes, shoes.

"Napupuno yung refrigerator namin after every game," said Elmer.

"One time," added Det, "A fan saw her buy some green mangoes outside the arena. The next game, that fan gave her two jars full of green mangoes 'so hindi na siya bibili.' How can you not be touched by these acts of kindness?"

"Sometimes, I forget to say 'thank you.' With everything that is going on -- people in your face asking for pictures, an autograph, Tweeting you words of encouragement -- I forget to say that. Luckily, my parents always remind me."

Although she's only 19, Bea has a maturity beyond her years. "Athletes do not necessarily want to be put on a pedestal," she reasoned. "But if we can touch other people's lives and inspire them then why not?"

When she hangs up her sneakers from the game, she not only wants to help her father with the business but to also find ways to help others.

While others her age might not care about national news and concerns, Bea does feel strongly about what goes on. "One time, I asked my parents what if I ran for public office? It is not a whimsical thought. I take what happens to our country very seriously. Of course, my parents told me that the system would swallow me up. But I really care about what goes on."

Sometimes, even among friends, they are surprised with how passionately she discusses national and social issues.

But being a young public figure of sorts, as opinionated as De Leon is, she is careful with what she says on social media less she misconstrued. "Sometimes, I just want to do things normal girls my age do. Learn and experience things. Make mistakes, just not the big ones. Rant. But I can't. I have to think of how I say it and when I say it. Maybe not now. Sometime in the future, I guess."

The future right now is that the Ateneo Lady Eagles are in the hunt for their third ever Shakey's V-League title as well as preparations for the coming UAAP Women's Volleyball tournament where they shoot for their third straight crown.

Over dinner at their home in Quezon City, Bea and her parents talk about the game, Ateneo, the pressure of winning, friends, and rivalries. The game has opened up a new world for Bea De Leon. A world where she hopes to make the most out of the opportunities presented.

"Who would have thought this would all happen? After all, I just hit a ball."

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