‘The difference between the first & second placers is the right pair of shoes’

NEW BEGINNINGS - Büm D. Tenorio Jr. - The Philippine Star
�The difference between the first & second placers is the right pair of shoes�
Ormoc City Mayor Lucy Torres Gomez and Rep. Richard Gomez (center) with former vice mayor Toto Locsin and Philippine Sports Commission chairman Richard Bachmann at the opening of EVRAA 2024.
STAR/ File

ORMOC CITY — Bearable was the evening heat when the student-athletes of Region 8 joined the parade in this city on Sunday to open the Eastern Visayas Regional Athletic Association (EVRAA) games. The 214 athletes from Ormoc, the defending overall champion after winning the regional meet thrice already, including last year’s victory of 178 gold medals in Tacloban, paraded with obvious confidence. Aside from being the participants of the host city, the Ormocanon students were also parading in their uniform brand-new Stan Smiths all the way to the Ormoc City Sports Complex.

Shoes and clothes, motherhood statement as it is, do not make the man, but shoes, in particular, says Leyte Rep. Richard Gomez, spell a difference in winnowing winners from runners-up in a sporting event.

Eastern Visayas takes youth sports seriously. The journey of true champions starts as 13 provinces and cities compete in the annual regional athletics meet.

“The difference between the first and second placers in sports is the right pair of shoes,” says Richard. He means it in both literal and figurative ways. The right pair of shoes is one. Real care for the student-athletes is another.

In the department of “loving the dreams of the students to become athletes,” Richard and his wife Lucy, now the mayor of the city, have created projects and programs for the Ormocanon youth. Apart from each athlete owning a pair of shoes that matches the category they compete in — “we provide basketball shoes for basketball players, boxing shoes for boxers, volleyball shoes for volleyball players, running shoes for sprinters…” — they are also well taken care of with hot meals 24/7 for the duration of the EVRAA that will culminate today (May 10).

Leyte Rep. Richard Gomez, at the construction site of a huge sports complex in Ormoc, takes youth sports in his district seriously.

The hot meal is served in ceramic plates and stainless cutlery (“because winning athletes are well taken care of and treated properly”) with round-the-clock kitchen attendants at the three-story, 36-room athletes’ dormitory. Each 40 square-meter room in the dormitory — built at P50 million — has Carrier air-conditioning units and a Kohler toilet seat, sink and shower. (“When we want to create winners, we have to treat them like champions. In Ormoc, we don’t scrimp on our athletes,” Richard says.)

He adds that giving the athletes the best training is a must. So, the city tapped the services of champion sprinter Elma Muros, Olympic silver medalist for boxing Onyok Velasco and others to train the students for EVRAA. Ormoc, says Richard, takes its student-athletes seriously.

EVRAA, according to Department of Education director for Region 8 Evelyn Fetalvero, is a yearly regional athletic meet participated in by 13 schools divisions from the six provinces and seven cities of Eastern Visayas. These are Biliran, Eastern Samar, Leyte, Northern Samar, Southern Samar, Baybay City, Borongan City, Calbayog City, Catbalogan City, Maasin City, Tacloban City and Ormoc City. Winners of EVRAA will compete in the Palarong Pambansa.

“My personal belief is when we create winners among youth, we take them away from drugs. I hate drugs,” he says, adding that the first mandate he took when elected mayor of Ormoc for the first time in 2016, was to eradicate drugs in the city. “Ormoc before 2016 was the capital of drugs in Region 8,” he says.

“We create winners in sports because sports, tried and tested, will drive away our youth from drugs,” he says.

One champion Ormocanon is Rex dela Cruz. At last year’s EVRAA in Tacloban, he brought home seven gold medals for swimming. “In Ormoc, we are trained mentally and physically. Extra treatment like nice uniforms builds our confidence. Wala pang laro, panalo na,” says the 16-year-old swimmer from Ormoc City Senior High School.

When Richard, the actor who turned public servant, sees striving, struggling young athletes, he always remembers the day he decided not to take drugs. He grew up in a “hostile environment in Quezon City where drug addiction was rampant in the neighborhood” and made a pact with himself and his grandmother, who raised him when his estranged parents left for the US, that “even if some of my relatives are into drugs, I will not become a drug addict.”

He took up sports and took it to heart because with volleyball, his first sports of expertise when he was studying in public elementary and high school, he got high on winning. The weight of gold medals strewn around his neck did not weigh him down; instead they were his uppers. Every ball spike he made on the court gave him an adrenaline rush. Every block was an opening to get high on the friendship he shared with his teammates. Every kill was a ticket to life devoid of drugs.

He has been a winner since then. Richard was part of the Philippine team that won gold in the men’s epee event at the 2005 SEA Games. He also won the gold medal for the Philippines at the Asian Master Fencing Championship in 2015.

“When you develop a city, you develop infrastructure and programs and projects. At the core of it all is people, the human capital. I’ve always maintained that human beings are assets, not liabilities. The wealth of the city is its people. When we invest in the happiness quotient of people, they give back in ways that can’t be tangibly measured. Sports give people happiness,” says Lucy, adding that the city is spending “a little over P100 million for the city hosting of EVRAA.”

She adds, “Sports is addictive. Winning is addictive. When you are affirmed positively for doing something well, a nice game performance, you learn to appreciate your own strength without anchoring your strength on other people’s strength. I think every child should be happy in school; if he is not academically inclined, I’m sure he has other gifts. So, eto yung sa sports.

“That’s why Richard did not turn to drugs; he turned to sports. He got his high on winning,” ends the proud wife of the congressman.

Talent, discipline, staying away from drugs — and the right pair of shoes — bolster the athlete to have a winning mindset. Richard Gomez will always subscribe to that.

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