The challenges of Cherry Ann Rondina
Rick Olivares ( - March 11, 2016 - 12:11am

MANILA, Philippines – When I remark that Cherry Rondina’s spikes are as eagerly anticipated like Alyssa Valdez’ thunderous throwdowns, the lass from Compostela, Cebu protests.

“Naku,” she exclaims as she applies the brakes. “Iba talaga yung palo ni Ate Alyssa. Bomba!”

“Ako? Malayo pa. Sana makarating din ako sa level ni Ate Alyssa.”

Growing in Compostela, Cherry would often go to the beach, which is just a few minutes away from her home. She’d spend hours there if not playing children’s games with friends, gazing out at the open sea. Thinking. Dreaming. Of a better day and a better life.

Rondina relays that her family isn’t well off. Her father did a variety of odd jobs while her mother left to work as a domestic helper in Brunei. It hurt that her parents were far from one another and more often than not, there wasn’t enough to get by. Her father constantly reminded all his children to persevere.

It was by the beach where she acquired her nickname, “Sisi.” In English, it means “small oyster.”

The name was bequeathed to her not only out of her love for the small-sized seafood but it also referred to her height as she stands five-foot-six-inches.

But man, what a wallop she packs!

After the end of the first round of the UAAP Women’s Volleyball tournament, Rondina is leading the league in scoring and is rated as one of the top serves and diggers. She has clearly lit a fire under her UST Golden Tigresses squad that is currently is sixth place with an even 4-4 record with six matches left to play.

And when she hammers down those spikes of hers, the joy on Sisi’s face is undeniable and the celebration is infectious. For some, the post-hit celebration seems overly infectious but it isn’t at least to many, insulting, because she doesn’t look at opponents nor does she taunt them. “Hindi ko alam kung saan nangaling yan (the post spike celebrations),” she confesses. “Hindi naman ako ganyan. In fact, ang Papa ko na laging tumatawag pagkatapos ng laro ay sinasabihan ako na dapat tahimik lang ako. Yang pag-taunt? Hindi ko kayang gawin yun.”

To understand the rapturous glee of Rondina, you have to know of her youth. "Mahirap yung buhay namin,” Sisi admits. Her words trail off as she fights off the hurt.

She is oft homesick. Left behind in Cebu is her father, Arnold, and her three other sisters. No matter how tough things were, the family stuck together. Hardship never broke them. In fact, it bonded them together with Arnold filling the dual role of father and mother. The children helped out in the house chores. Every Rondina child knows how to clean, do the laundry, and cook.

Her father, claims Sisi, is her best friend. After ever game, she looks forward to his calls. He constantly feeds her with positive messages. “Maari matalo kami sa game na to, pero sabi ni Papa, may panahon para bumawi kaya huwag maging frustrated. Yung hirap namin bilang pamilya ay naturuan ako magkaroon ng mahabang pasensya. Kahit mahirap maging positive lang at magsumikap at magkakaroon din ng magandang resulta."

School-wise, she readily admits that she isn’t as learned as many of her classmates. However, she remains undaunted. “Favorite subject ko? Math. Hindi ako ang best sa math. Hirap ako. Pero challenge yun. Gusto ko nga matuto magsalita ng fluent English. Mahirap dahil hindi ko nakasanayan pero kailangan.”

Life is one big challenge for Rondina. Aside from her mother’s sacrifice by toiling abroad, volleyball has provided an opportunity not only for her but also for her father and her siblings.

When she first arrived on the campus of the University of Santo Tomas along bustling España Boulevard, her first thought was, “Wow!” The renaissance architecture of the main building, the massive size of the school grounds, the sheer number of people coming to and fro.

“Papa, gagawin ko ‘to para sa atin,” she silently promised when she enrolled in UST.

It is that mindset that Sisi brings to everything she does from school to volleyball even to life. “Kapag nasa classroom ako, ini-imagine ko na ako yung teacher namin,” she shares. “Kung makatulong ako sa iba, maturuan ng volleyball o ano man, malaking bagay yun.”

As it is, whenever her UST Golden Tigresses play, her barangay back home is Cebu is a ghost town as everyone stays indoors with neighbors packing their small home to all keep their eyes glued on the television set. When she returns back home, the streets are lined with her neighbors, friends, and even people she doesn’t know. Her modicum of success has given pride to Compostela. Young kids, not necessarily impoverished one, have been given hope.

The game of volleyball, already popular before she went to UST, has become even bigger.

Sisi vehemently protests that she is a celebrity. Even if there are throngs of volleyball fans who ask for selifes or even crowds that greet her back home. “Hindi ko alam kung paano nangyari yun eh pumapalo lang ako ng bola.”

However, Rondina understands that because of her sudden rise as one of the women’s game’s top players, she can do something not only for the sport but also her fellow Compostelans.

She is a cinch to be a top choice by the semi-pro volleyball teams. With the volleyball boom and agents out to sign the next big thing to endorsement contracts, Sisi is taking her time because right now, Sisi is focused on her studies and the UAAP tournament.

Aside from bringing glory to UST, if you ask Cherry Ann Rondina what she wants most in life, it’s really simple… she wants her mother to come home and for her family to be together again.

“Kung makakatulong ang volleyball para mangyari yun, pagsisikapan ko yun.”

“Better than any championship yun."

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