What people don’t know
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - June 10, 2019 - 12:00am

Success has a thousand fathers, while failure is an orphan. That quote is an indictment of how harsh audiences can be in any environment. In sports, though, they can be particularly cruel. All that matters is that the athlete or team they are rooting for should win. From the athletes’ perspective, it can be a lonely road. Spectators aren’t there when athletes train in terrible heat, or monsoon rain. Nobody is there when they don’t feel like training, or are going through personal problems unrelated to their craft. 

“The most difficult thing is that people only see the fruit,” says three-time ONE Championship world lightweight champion Eduard Folayang. “You know, all the time you invest into training, the sacrifices you’ve given, that is usually what they don’t see. It’s like a tree: you only notice it when it bears fruit.”

There are other things athletes have to endure that regular people wouldn’t be able to relate to. Athletes have to sleep early, train for hours every day, and maintain a strict diet. They also have other obligations, like meetings with sponsors, travel, and opening ceremonies. 1991 Outstanding Female Athlete of the Southeast Asian Games Akiko Thomson-Guevara shares her experience from the 1988 Olympics, when she was just 13 years old.

“I was excited to be there. I was a baby at those Games,” she says. “We were given a uniform for the opening parade. I wore these new leather shoes, but you’re standing for five hours. Next thing you know, I had a blister the size of a coin. And I was swimming in two days.”

Akiko did not menstruate at all in her first year of training in the US in 1990. But that experience is very common to gymnasts. The body is under so much physical strain that it cannot support life. In some sports, athletes only have their monthly periods when they retire. Accordingly, they miss the growth spurt that comes with it. 

 Some athletes, particularly the most high-profile ones, are pressed into serving as spokespersons for their sport, even if that is not their intention. 

“Our sport is, I don’t know, politically wrong, maybe. Every time there’s news of bad guys who carried firearms, we’re the ones who get hit. We need to inform the public that the shooting sport is just like any other sport like golf or basketball. One needs to train.”

But the bottom line is doing it for a higher reason, personal expression, financial gain, adulation. The only question is if you’re willing to do what needs to be done.

“For the young people, take courage,” says Philippine long-jump record holder Elma Muros, “It will not be easy, but it will be worth it.

And that is the hope of all those who get into sports, that the public will be more forgiving, more understanding, more compassionate.

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