Pursuing the dream

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - December 11, 2019 - 12:00am

Winning isn’t everything… but it sure feels great to be No. 1.

The entire country is celebrating and congratulating all our athletes who gave the Philippines the crown in the 30th Southeast Asian Games (SEAG).

Our teams won gold medals not just in the homegrown sport arnis, which its athletes swear traces its roots all the way back to Lapu-Lapu in Mactan, but also in the emerging field of eSports. Sibol Pilipinas, for example, whose youngest member is just 15, bested the Indonesians for the Mobile Legends gold, despite training for only two months against the competitors who had a year to prepare.

Even non-sports fans like me can get caught up in the real-life drama of people pursuing their dreams.

Now the question is, can we do it outside the home court, in bigger events? Can we bag enough gold medals and rank high in the Asian Games and – most elusive of all – the Olympics?

Perhaps the wild applause will reinforce the determination of our athletes to sustain their winning streak and aim higher. And perhaps the acclaim will inspire budding athletes to pursue their dream of shining in sports.

*      *      *

So why did we emerge at the top in the 2019 SEA Games, while our record in previous SEAGs after our 2005 hosting went from bad to worse?

It can’t be simply because we’re the SEAG host, although athletes and coaches say lusty cheering from the home crowd did give Team Philippines the energy and determination for that final spurt to victory.

Being a non-sports fan, I leave the proper analysis to the experts. All I can safely say is that the winners underwent rigorous training for many years, and needed a lot of support to accomplish this.

A member of the water polo team, for example, got his start when he was a child living by the sea in General Santos City. Teodoro Roy Cañete Jr. learned to dive while joining his older relatives in tuna fishing boats. Sometimes he competed with Badjaos in diving for coins tossed into the water by boat passengers and crew.

Cañete later joined the Philippine Air Force, where he became a paratrooper and competitive diver.

Today Cañete and his team are the proud recipients of a silver medal in water polo in the SEAG. While silver is just second best, Cañete and his team ended Singapore’s 27-gold consecutive winning streak in the Games.

Stephanie Sabalo, gold medalist in dancesport, recounts arguments with her mother Mariel, who wanted the girl to devote her time to pursuits more worthwhile than dancing. Mariel, who says she didn’t even know there was a dancesporting world, was also appalled by the skimpy costumes used by her daughter, especially in the cold weather of their home city, Baguio.

Stephanie’s dance partner, Michael Angelo Marquez, had his own travails. In high school his classmates, noting his love for dancing, teased him for being gay. He’s not, but “I took it positively,” he told “The Chiefs” on One News this week.

In 2005 when the country hosted the SEAG, he watched the dancesport event in which the Philippine team bagged the gold. “I told myself one day I would compete,” he said.

Today Michael Angelo is giving back, teaching dancesport to children.

Mariel nevertheless cheered lustily for her daughter at the SEAG, and now the proud mama accompanies Stephanie everywhere.

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Sports competitions are all about human triumph against challenging odds. The ongoing 30th SEAG is filled with such stories.

Among the most compelling stories is that of Daniela dela Pisa. At the tender age of four, after a fight with her elder brother during which she was injured and had to be taken to a hospital, Daniela was diagnosed with Stage 2 ovarian cancer.

At that early age, Daniela had already taken an interest in gymnastics, thanks to her mother Darlene and grandmother, both of them gymnasts.

The sport had to take a back seat as the girl battled cancer for at least a year, mostly with chemotherapy. As Daniela recovered, her mother began coaching her.

Daniela, now a shy 16-year-old, has been free of cancer for about a decade now, according to her mother. With the girl healthy enough to aim for the SEAG, Darlene found a private benefactor who sponsored Daniela’s training this year in Hungary.

The training opened their eyes to the rigorous discipline that has made Eastern European gymnasts shine in the Olympics.

Can Daniela become an Olympian? Her mother is aware of the challenges ahead. Darlene said her daughter must hurdle other international competitions first, such as the Asian Games, before she can qualify for the Olympics. For this, Daniela will need sustained support for her training. After her gold-winning performance in the SEAG, perhaps the sponsors will come out.

In fact, even Education Secretary Leonor Briones is hoping that the country’s outstanding performance in the SEAG will stimulate greater interest in competitive sports among Filipinos.

For budding athletes, Stephanie Sabalo has this message on pursuing one’s dream: “Mangarap po tayo, unlimited po yan… at pag nangarap po tayo, chase it, go for it.”

Or, as arnis team coach Reignrose Esquierra put it: “Stop dreaming, start moving.”

*      *      *

UPSKILLED: In my previous column on the four-point “KITE” reform program under the Department of Education’s newly launched Sulong EduKalidad, “upscaling” of teacher skills should have been “upskilling.” My apologies.

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