Modern day heroes with BIG HEART & GOOD CHARACTER — Philippine Rugby Team Volcanoes

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.. =)

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Philippines finest! Meet our very own Rugby team, Philippine Volcanoes! =)

until now, I’m clueless why I’ve been so blessed this past months. I never expected that my love for football will take me to places I’ve never been to, meet people that I never imagined I’ll be able to meet or talk to even if I live for hundred plus years. And for that, I’ll always be thankful to the Man upstairs and always be in debt with the sport football.. =)

I was able to meet Team Azkals, their coaches and Sir Dan Palami of course since I started playing soccer but I was even more blessed when I started training for Rugby! 😀

Rugby opened a lot of doors for me — met a lot of people/friends on training, trained by one of the best coaches in town (hello Coach Aloh! :D), was able to trim down 20lbs with all that running in Rugby (yes, I’m 20lbs lighter because of that!).. what else? I was able to discover and let out the inner “Amazona” in me! haha! yes, definitely! I’m slow when running — like a slow poke, I tell yah and I don’t have any sense of balance but I always knew that I have this brute strength inside me.! I just lack the opportunity to show it but yeah its there! haha! And Rugby, bein’ a full contact sports, players use strength/power so I was able to utilize that brute strength and put it into good use! 😀

AND THE BEST PART OF IT ALL — I was able to meet our very own Philippine Rugby Team Volcanoes! 😀 woot-woot! yep, along with two of my friends, met the team & their coach Matt Cullen! I didn’t get to see all, just the 12 of them but it was a blast! It’s not just a meet up, I get to dine & eat merienda with the team, I was able to chat with all 12 of them, have our picture taken and I get to take home a jersey from the team! 😀 really, really cool! :>

it all started with joining Philippine Rugby Football Union’s Rugby 101 blogging contest (now, if you guys have been following my blog, you can still see my entry). I never meant to join because the entry I passed was already made way before PRFU announced their promo/contest, though I had to edit it coz it was originally part of a very long entry.  And since it was already made, I thought, “well why not send this to PRFU. Let’s give it a shot.” But I sure am not hoping to win coz I know there are a lot of “better” bloggers over me who wanted to meet the Philippine Volcanoes and I really don’t stand a chance — my blogs are not meant for competitions/contests (still amateur, you know), it’s just an online journal containing the ramblings of the demented mind of a writer wannabe.

the next thing I knew, I found myself clicking the “send” button of my office mail! True story: I had to duck under my table and was convinced to just hide there for the rest of eternity as my email was processing the request to send the entry to PRFU. Then I later said to myself, that entry won’t make that far so why stress myself out. It may even not get the attention of PRFU and the team.

Days went by and here comes August 19, announcement day for the winners of the blogging contest. I was out of the office and don’t have any internet access until after the weekend was over. Friday, August 19, I didn’t go online to check. Saturday & Sunday, I was out in training and usually, I just sleep after a tough day at the pitch so two days went by without internet connection then come monday morning at the office, as I was browsing tons of my email about work, I stumbled with PRFU’s email informing me that I won in their contest! 😀 I think I went catatonic for a few hours then I realized I need to revert back to the email. I think I spent an hour (at least) before I was able to complete and send my reply. I was just in shock. It was surreal and the thought of meeting the team won’t just sink in! As in serious! It felt like I was dreaming! haha! But when PRFU called me, yeah that simply brought me back to earth and confirmed that I was not dreaming after all! 😀

The meet & greet was scheduled the next day, Tuesday, August 23, 2011 at Oakwood Center, ADB Avenue, Ortigas. Yes, I have work but I wouldn’t pass up the chance to meet the team so I filed a leave of absence so I’d be able to go out and meet them. =) it’s a once in a lifetime experience so even if I’m neck-deep with work, I ditched everything and went there!

This is it! *hingang malalim* LEZ GO!!! :))

I’m nervous as a rabbit about to be thrown to a pit full of lions! haha! eh sorry naman! I went into panic mode the moment I saw the team entering the dining hall! you see, I have this unexplainable condition of having the hardest time talking to the male species! serious! Growing up in a household full of women and growing up without my dad, I’m totally clueless on know how to react when I’m surrounded by guys, well in this case they’re not just guys but totally gorgeous men so the moment they said “hi” to me, I got tongue-tied! haha! I’d say that the best decision I ever made that day was to take two of my chika friends with me and let them do all the talking coz as expected, my mouth was kept tightly shut during the event! I talk to them when they ask me about something but that’s about it. I was also way too distracted by their almost god-like appearance. When I say god-like, I mean they all look like Greek gods who went down to earth from Mt. Olympus, seriously.The word beautiful was an understatement when describing how this men look like (I know right, I’m now officially the envy of all the girls in the world! haha!).

Greek gods from Mt. Olympus! ay sorry mali, my bad! haha! Meet our Philippine Rugby Team Volcanoes! =)

and because i was way too shy to talk, I just took photos that day! 😀 Volcanoes, even after training early in the morning was all smiles in front of us! they’re just adorable.. =’) *sigh*

the meet and greet was truly a treat coz we got the chance to talk to them personally. the team was divided to 6 groups with 2 players together. they went around the the tables for the 10-minute interview. I just wished my chika friends asked a little bit more personal questions other than how the game is played, the Haka, Shanghai 7’s. Sayang! We didn’t get to ask who’s taken and who’s not, what’s their fave food, color, or something, or if they’ll date a fan or someone who’s not into Rugby.. alam nyo yun, I was actually hoping that the conversation will be just chill and relaxed, laid-back but my chika friends opted for the more serious questions! haha! so there.  I’d bet all my fingers that should my friends asked those personal questions and I’ll put it in here, this blogging site will crash due to myriads of girls trying to access the blog! =P

but i have to say that the team was very accomodating. they’ve been asked same questions over and over but still they graciously answer everything. another thing that I really like about them is that they’re not a snob (even on twitter or other SNS sites where you can find them), yung bang parang feeling sikat coz they’re trying their best to talk to us, small talk for lack of better word, they’re even asking questions about us, what we do for a living, our hobbies, the sports we play, someone even asked about the food we love to eat. it’s not something you’ll expect to see or hear from people with celebrity-like statuses. People in limelight are usually snobs *cough, cough, i know some people* haha! but yeah its true. and for that I give them 200% pogi points! I really think that celebs, athletes, public figures should be gracious enough to grant a photo opt or a small chat/talk with their fans coz they owe their popularity to the people who constantly follow & support them. they’re public figures for Christ sake! yun lang.. just saying.. two of the most accommodating and gracious teams I met was the Philippine Dragon Boat Team Pinoy Dragon Warriors & our Philippine Rugby Team Volcanoes! that’s the truth! and I admire and love them for that! =)

(ok, enough with commercials, haha!) funny that the interview felt like a speed dating of sorts.. hehe..

Searchee number 1, oopppss sorry!!! haha! I mean 1st batch of the interview was with Kenneth Stern & John Odulio!

–Kenny was the “madaldal” one.. I mean he was the one doing all the talking in this interview while John was a bit quiet, just giving out some points & opinions when asked. But both are charmers! our interviewers were dazzled! even the photographer if I may add! haha! Oh and if I heard it right (and if my memory serves me right) John is a registered nurse.

and here’s more of these two;

and the interviewers were charmed! i just love the look on them! classic! 😀

Our second batch of interview was with Andrew Wolff and Rupert Zappia! =)

True Story (I guess.. But on a second thought, coming from Andrew who loves to make fun of his teammates.. errrr.. I just don’t know what to believe!): Guess why Rupert was all red on the face that day? According to Andrew, he went out to train on a hot sunny morning in the PHL and he forgot to put on his sunblock ergo, Mr. Sun left him red-faced! 😀

— Both Andrew and Rupert was makwento and talkative but hands down to Andrew for being so outspoken. Among the 12 of them (the team captain included), he’s the only team member who spoke of how little the government and most of their kababayans took notice of their achievements. Despite being on top of their game, beating most of the best Rugby teams here in Asia and after demolishing Malaysia (with score 86-20) last June 2011 therefore establishing themselves as serious and tough contender for Asian top 5 next year, they get no support from the government. Most of their expenses when they compete or play, they had to get it from their own pockets. This really breaks me heart and I truly admire them, they just love to play the game & they take pride of representing the Philippines in any competition that they’re so ready to make sacrifices, even if it means taking a leave from their work and funding their trips just to compete.

more of these two (apologies, picture’s too dark, don’t want to use the flash coz we’re like in a middle of a conversation);

Some of you might be familiar with Andrew Wolff. He had his share of limelight as a local artist here in the Philippines, appearing on various local TV shows & movies. =)  See, our players are not just superb Rugby players! Jack of all trades! 😀

And for the 3rd batch of the interview, we have Oliver Saunders & Chris Hitch! (thank God I can still remember all the names! haha! sometimes i’m so bad with names, I couldn’t remember everything!)

— What else can I say, both are talkative. I think Chris Hitch was the one who asked us with questions rather than us asking questions about them! :> tall, dark, and handsome types that you just love to take home to your parents and say “mom, pop, I’m marrying this guy!” yeah for real.. agree ladies? and i hear a yeah… haha!

more of these two tall, dark, and totally handsome men;

i think its all because of the sun.. blame it on the sun but I’m lovin’ the color! so Pinoy! 😀

our fourth batch of interview was with Mark Chatting & Chris Everingham!

— Mark reminds me so much of Yannick Tuason of Team Azkals I guess because of the hair & the smile, the smile that can melt a thousand hearts! haha! and the other Chris, Chris Everingham that is, was the most charming of the bunch! he’s the guy that you can never say “no” to. You’ll probably do whatever he ask you to do.. as in serious.. maybe it has something to do with those eyes or maybe the way he talks to people — may kasamang lambing! — now if you guys can understand my tagalog! hehe.. And Chris was the one asking the three of us what we’ll do after the meet & greet but before we can even answer, the peeps from PEP.ph asked for a photo opt with him.. hay sayang! would love to join them after their game that day! =P

more of these two charming lads here;

their version of Korean pose with Leslie & Zsazsa! cute! 😀

i’m diggin’ the hair! Mark’s “bagong gising” look! haha!

The next batch was my favorite! Here we’re with the new Team Captain Jake Letts & Jon Morales! =)

— If there’s one guy I’m allowed to take home to my parents that day, it’ll be Jake! haha! Joke! ok, ok! I’m caught red-handed! got this huge crush over him! for the record, I’m harmless. I usually admire from afar, I’m not the crazy stalker type! haha! Surprised too that his mother hails from Bicol, same with me, grand mum & mom is from Bicol too, Albay. and both of us never been to Bicol (We can tour the province, together, if you like! haha! joke!). And with Jake was Jon, that tall, dark, and handsome guy who, despite nursing a bruised lip (got it from their game versus Hong Kong University), still look gorgeous! You just got to love battle scars! And I love Jon for adding us on facebook! 100% pogi points and hugs to you Jon! =)

and last but not the least, the 6th batch of interview was with Harry Morris and Justin Coveney! =)

— This perhaps was the fave batch of my good friend Zsazsa! She’s crushing over our lawyer here (hello there Justin)! haha! If Chris Everingham was the most charming among the bunch, Justin here was the most talkative! Sobrang daldal, promise! It started during our merienda. Justin kept asking a lot of questions about us, what we do, any sports we play, our favorite stuff and the weirdest part was he’s asking about the Azkals! Nakakaloka sa dami ng tanong! And Harry was equally madaldal too! haha! He told us about his upcoming travel show which will feature various travel destinations! Best of luck to you Harry! Hope this travel show of yours will push through! =)

I enjoyed everything that day.. the food, the warm welcome, the 10-minute chit-chat with the team but this takes home the cake: I GOT ONE BIG HUG FROM THE TEAM! ALL 12 OF THEM!

And here’s the only picture of the group hug that i can never forget even if i live a hundred years.. or die then get reincarnated! :))

and this officially makes me THE LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE TODAY! :))

thanks guys! if i could just hug all of you back, i would although i think you guys probably won’t fit in my arms! :>

and before i wrap this blog up, let me first introduce you to… Coach Matt Cullen!

True Story: On one of the group pics of the team, Zsazsa shouted “Let’s see a wacky pose!” and all of the players said “Huh? What?” the only guy who knew what a wacky pose is was Coach Matt! He came in, joined his team and said “Ok guys let’s do wacky pose!” On field, Coach Matt was totally a different person, he’s not the cool guy, all smiles and all nice with each and everyone. He’s on his beast mode whenever there’s training, shouting at the top of his lungs and commanding the team with a voice that will scare the shit out of you! serious! On my first training day at Rugby 101, he was there. Just his mere presence it’ll scare you to death! then wait till he shouts. But hands down to him, all the success of the team says a lot about his coaching — its effective and brings success to the team. =)

Got to say a huge thanks to PRFU for making all of this possible! this is something that I’ll never forget and something to tell my grand kids that one day, I was able to meet the most amazing Rugby team of my time. And to the Philippine Volcanoes, I want to thank you guys for such a warm welcome! You’ve been so gracious and accommodating that day. I just wish we had more time talking — although I might not speak at all but I did enjoy everything. I hope to see you again one day, maybe in one of your games this December and please do remember me when I approach you guys and ask for a photo opt or an autograph. =)

oh and hands down to you guys (saludo po talaga ako sa inyo)! i admire your love and passion for the sport and for representing the Philippines. True Pinoys through & through! I always believed that you don’t have to be born & raised here in the Philippines for you to be called and considered a Filipino. Being a Filipino is not just by blood, it is but most importantly by heart… and you guys is the living proof of that! keep it up! laban lang! we’re 100% behind you guys, rallying with you in every game & supporting you all the way!

Again, from the deepest recesses of my heart, MARAMING MARAMING SALAMAT PO! Don’t be strangers alright! And I’ll see you guys in your games! you can definitely count on me, shouting at the top of my lungs & cheering for you guys to win! Go Volcanoes! =)