No shoes

PERCEPTIONS - Ariel Nepomuceno - The Philippine Star

Against all odds, two lady athletes surpassed the limits of an otherwise lopsided contest in a race where running gear is usually vital. This is a classic case of courage under fire.

The recently concluded “Green Palarong Pambansa” has displayed the talents of our young athletes from all over the country. Thanks to the Department of Education (DepEd) for successfully spearheading this event. Department Memo 035, signed by my dedicated friend Undersecretary Revsee Escobedo, officially mandated the officials of the agency to organize and professionally handle the battle of talents in Marikina City.

More than 9,000 athletes competed in 1,573 events. A total of 34 sports eventually handed over dozens of medals for deserving winners. Jackie Rose Orpilla of CALABARZON and Shane Ann Labinghisa of Western Visayas stood out in the narrative that goes beyond the physical competition of muscle, vigor and mental strength.

These two spectacular athletes are well above the ordinary. This is not to diminish the feat of the other victors. All the winners deserve to be congratulated. In fact, all the participants were achievers already for having been chosen to represent their regions after a series of elimination games in their local areas. But Jackie Rose and Shane Ann had a remarkable and unique angle in their saga. They had no shoes. Yes, barefoot, they ran all the way to their respective victories. Jackie Rose landed second in the 400-meter run, while Shane Ann won gold in the 4x400 relay.

Epic stories of struggle. Ours is a country full of struggle, challenges and desperation. For a developing economy, it is not unusual for many to be deprived of basic privileges of enjoying decent clothing, housing, education and access to basic health services. But stories on how obstacles were surpassed by the determination of someone who wants to save his family more than gaining personal glory abound.

We are fully aware, for example, of the country’s pride, Manny Pacquiao, who was born in Kibawe, Bukidnon. From Mindanao, he traveled to Luzon and humbly worked as a kargador in the public market of Malabon. Then, “Pacman” heroically slugged up to the international arena, where he disrupted all the traditional definitions of being a boxing legend. He is now amongst the immortal names in the history of boxing. His gloves lifted him and his family from poverty.

Lydia de Vega, Efren “Bata” Reyes, Gabriel “Flash” Elorde and many more Filipino athletes personify the reality, though fantasy to some, that we can transcend the boundaries set by our birth. That becoming bigger than what our surroundings would normally impose is possible.

Education, aside from sports, is also an enabler. I know so many Filipinos who were able to be freed from the curse of hopelessness that was typically lurking in the midst of financial difficulties. I cannot name them because I don’t have their consent. But many of them are my friends from the University of the Philippines where I studied.  They are now successful entrepreneurs, executives of large corporate organizations, famous lawyers and engineers and respected public servants. During the rare chance of dining together, we would now happily reminisce the days when we shared our measly allowances to buy us meals at the back of our dormitory. And to describe the pathetic situation, one of us accurately coined the phrase, “three days a meal” instead of the usual three meals a day. I wasn’t exactly impoverished. But many of my friends were.

Bridges and roads for personal progress. The golden ladder out of poverty can be education. Proper education. This is the most common means to land a good job that would catapult oneself to financial stability. I’m glad that the team of Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte is re-engineering the approach for our basic education. Recently, DepEd recalibrated the K-10 curriculum. I heard also that they are strictly ensuring that the education materials are effective in delivering the learning package needed to equip the young minds for a meaningful future.

Others opt to become overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to send the much-needed financial support to their families. The enormous sacrifice of living in foreign lands with a different culture, sometimes under hostile working conditions, is a desperate tool to possibly uplift the current dire conditions of their loved ones.

Meanwhile, sports can be the creative option to change the trajectory of one’s family. The inspiring legacies of successful Filipino athletes motivate the spirit of our young and struggling select countrymen. The story of Jackie Rose and Shane Ann can be the beginning of another one.

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