A provincial life

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco - The Philippine Star

Two big news stories turn our attention to living back in the provinces. First, the provincial government of Bataan donates 25 hectares of land to the Philippine Sports Commission (on Chairman Butch Ramirez’s birthday, to boot). Then, no less than three national sports associations and two Philippine Basketball Association teams choose Ilocos Norte as their training site. This only brings to light the fact that, for athletes, training in a less urban setting works. A new branch of science called anthropometric history shows that being crammed into dense cities actually causes people to live shorter lives, and physically get shorter over time and over generations.

If you were to ask the greatest athletes in the world, most would talk about their challenging beginnings outside of big city centers. They would invariably recall having makeshift equipment, or none at all. They would vividly remember the first time they received “real” branded sports shoes, or met their idols whom they had once worshipped from afar. Save maybe for basketball players or boxers in places like New York City, distance, deprivation and determination are common factors for athletic success. Now that there is a pressing need for isolation, going back to the provinces works. Contrary to what Belle sings in the Disney musical “Beauty and the Beast”, there is much more to a provincial life.

Not too many people know that most of our current Olympians are training far away from maddening crowds in other countries. Hidilyn Diaz in Malaysia, and Carlos Yulo in Japan are just a couple of examples. Yulo is more than an hour’s train ride from downtown Tokyo. Diaz runs among banana trees to build endurance. This primal surrounding draws something out of the athlete that being surrounded by concrete does not. The air and food is always better, strengthening the lungs and improving digestive efficiency. The relative silence and lowered exposure to electronic devices also helps calm the mind and regenerate the organs. The lifestyle forces one to sleep and wake earlier. Indeed, it’s as if Mother Nature takes back command in rural areas.

Why would NSAs choose to be in the provinces? Less distraction, less chance of infection, more closeness. Plus, it’s easier to slow down, take a breath, and focus. Technology allows us to be in touch without being in the room. And it reminds athletes that they are on a unique path, one that very few others are. Big goals require intense focus. If all you can do is train, recover and visualize, then that’s actually true luxury for an elite athlete.

As for the Philippine Sports Training Center, it will eventually be the main hub for national athletes’ training. It will be the first sports facility of its kind since the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex was built in the 1930’s, before the country was even a republic. But what is of most significance is that the PSC owns the land, and can tailor the sprawling space any way it wants to. It will be near enough to Metro Manila to be accessible by car or ferry, but not so near as to encourage visitors. Even media covering the national athletes will have to resort to technology to get their sound bytes.

Fresh air, peace and quiet, a slower, stiller pace. Solitude to zero in on one’s craft. Sounds like the old days, when artisanal was mainstream. Sounds like a great life to me.

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