i always thought that the “heart” makes an athlete great but i was wrong.. it takes the combination of good character & heart that make great athletes. you may have the heart to train hard, compete and build an iron-strong will to win but without a good character to go with that heart of yours, it’ll be nothing. a good character that makes you want to go out there, share what you know about your sports, and give back to the community — you’re doin’ it free of charge and all because you want to do it & you care. not because you can earn money from it.
for a sports junkie & fan like me, the quest to find the true & certified sports heroes is a never-ending journey. in the advent of sports here in the Philippines, a lot of teams, clubs, groups are sprouting out like wild shrubs and mushrooms. you can easily go “ga-ga” on one of them and fall trap to whatever charms they may have without even asking yourself if you should be following & supporting them or are they even worth your effort and time or are they really the heroes we can look up to as role models??? I’ve been on that loop for a long time now and for years, I’ve been looking for that true sports heroes. Admittedly, i easily get charmed by painstakingly good looks but relationship would turn sour the moment i see right through them.
so what really makes a great athlete?
a great athlete is someone with a “BIG HEART” that can form an iron will to train, play, & win. someone who believes in winning even before it happens. someone who can pull through despite the problems s/he faces. it is someone who’ll push forward to achieve his dreams & goals & will not just let go of it, never allow it to just fall apart. S/he is someone who uses all those defeats to propel him towards his goal.
a great athlete is a man of “GOOD CHARACTER.” Someone who unselfishly shares his talents & skills. You can see the willingness to teach and share what he does best without expecting anything in return and finds happiness and solace when teaching/sharing. It is someone who genuinely shows love, appreciation & care for his supporters no matter how little (in numbers) of them there is. someone who stays humble & grounded despite being in the midst of limelight & fame. most importantly, s/he is someone who doesn’t see his sport as a “million-dollar” career where he can earn a lot of money. he plays because it is what he really wants to do and that is where his mind, soul, & heart lies.
my constant quest for that great sports heroes brought me to Rugby. you wouldn’t really think that the sports rugby is crafted for us Pinoys. its a rough & very physical sport where players are mostly bulked up, brawny, & built to be crushing machines. Pinoys are average-built, most are just of average height of 5 feet, lanky and doesn’t have enough muscle mass to be a rugby player but to everyone’s surprise, Pinoys woke up one day seein’ for the first time in Guadalupe area, the official Rugby players of the country — the Philippine Volcanoes.
beyond those good looks & almost god-like bodies are men with high-caliber skills when it comes to playing Rugby. As one writer puts it, they’re the real deal athletically as they have put the map of Philippines in Asian Rugby. Just two weeks ago and before my legendary encounter with the team, they were preparing for the Shanghai 7’s. it is the preliminary for the prestigious world wide tournament, Hong Kong 7’s. Sadly, the team didn’t make the cut. They finished in 7th place, a step behind the goal of finishing 6th to qualify for the Hong Kong 7’s. Looking beyond this big disappointment, Philippine Volcanoes have proven a lot. They defeated the reigning champions in Asia, South Korea, with a score of 19-14. Then went on demolishing Rugby teams from UAE (24-7) and Thailand (22-0). Unfortunately, they conceded to better teams Kazakhastan (12-5) and power house China (24-10) which finally earning them the 7th spot on the tournament. Having beaten South Korea & their resounding victory on their last game versus Thailand (where they didn’t even allow the team to score even just a single try), they’re sending a clear message across all continents in Asia: Philippine Rugby Team VOLCANOES means business and in full throttle to win as many games as they can and eventually, getting the chance to play in the Rugby World Cup.
its not only their superb Rugby skills that earned my respect for this team, it is their undoubtedly humble & down-to-earth character & personality that won my heart. Turns out that these lads are far from the way they were presented in the ginormous Bench billboards across Guadalupe (which was taken down to give way to the request of the city mayors). On the billboards (if you happen to see them), they were projected as “Alpha male jocks” who seems to be full of themselves and cares nothing more than the fame and attention they get from playing the game and starring on that billboard. Hell yeah. i’m so wrong this time! i was surprised to meet the nicest, well-mannered & grounded bunch of gentlemen last August 23.
You really can’t judge a book based on its cover… really… i was actually thinking of meeting players with “diva-like” attitude during the meet & greet but surprise! surprise! the diva wasn’t there! they came on time, joined us for merienda and immediately mingled with everyone in the room. it felt like meeting an old friend to do some catchin’ up, telling stories to each other and all. you can see that they’re genuinely interested with you as you are to them. they’re warm & very accomodating, trying to answer each and every question thrown at them even if they’ve answered it already a gazillion times. the boys are witty & full of humor as they made fun of each other & teasing their newly appointed team captain Jake Letts that instead of being big & brawny, he has small frame much like that of an average Filipina! 😀
All of them have one pure Filipino parent making them eligible to play and represent the Philippines in the Rugby arena. And they endearingly call each other as “brothers from another mother” — a proof that their brotherhood as a team & as friends is strong as ever.
Despite looking more foreign than Pinoy, you’ll see in them the “never-say-die” attitude of Pinoys. The one that never breaks to pressure but bends & sways like a bamboo in life’s challenges. you can see a strong sense of nationalism too among them. Choosing to represent the Philippines over countries where they came from (even with the money & fame they can get from there) says a lot about them being proud to be called Filipinos. To represent a country plagued with unnerving politics (even in sports), corruption, and lack of proper government support is one daunting task. All of them have regular day jobs, even accepting extras so that they’d be able to save funds and use it to fly out here and compete under our flag. They save up leave time from work so they’d be able to train with the team and join as many tournaments as they can. it really takes a true Pinoy to endure sacrifices as many as that and that just makes me truly proud of them! it really doesn’t matter if you get nothing , not even a single cent from the government & even if your kababayans don’t take notice of your achievements.. the team loves the sport, takes pride of being Filipinos & representing the country, so they just brush it all off, put a brave face on and ready to take any opponents in a heart beat. =)
just when i was on the verge of giving up on finding that true sports hero, i met these lads. it’s funny how fate works that when it already seems impossible to find them, here are the Volcanoes. They proved that their sports are not just a “million-dollar” career. they proved that they are not just better athletes playing their best in every competition but they’re also better person just doing their best to share their talent & give back to a community almost alien to them since they didn’t grew up here. they are all out there doing greater things other than just moonlighting events & endorsements or aiming to get the world cup. they went an extra mile and went beyond what is expected of them. When everybody’s expecting you to be a better athlete, show them that you’re not just an athlete excelling in your chosen sport; you are a better person, able to do greater things not just for yourself or the team, most importantly for your kababayans and your country, making a difference and changing lives — and they did just that. =)
now i think that the quest is over.. i finally found the true sports heroes of my day.. and its been an honor meeting them & i’m even more proud that i’m training with them. its something i’ll bring with me, & something to talk about to my kids & grand kids.. something i’ll bring with me till the day i die.. =)
Philippine Volcanoes, proud & true Pinoys! the role models we’re all lookin’ for.. =)