MANILA, Philippines－”Mama, mama,” a tiny voice called out from the end of the line. Marestella Torres-Sunang, at that moment, had her attention divided－one hand on her mobile phone, the other tending to her 3-year-old son. Just wait for a while, she would later tell the little boy.
A shuffling noise filled the background, and after a few seconds, the child seemed to have settled down－the cue for Sunang to apologize before again talking about motherhood, a relatively new aspect of her life.
People have always known Sunang as the 3-time Olympian who has taken Philippine athletics to the world stage, a long jumper who has won her fair share of golds and trophies. (READ: The time is now for long jumper Marestella Torres-Sunang)
But aside from being an athlete, she has also been fulfilling another important role: mother.
At that moment, Sunang had just come home from her morning jumping session. She’s usually awake before sunrise, trains the whole morning, comes home in the middle of the day, and buckles up for occasional evening sessions as well.
It helps that Sunang ang her family decided to move to Cavite so she would just be a stone’s throw away from the training field.
In a phone interview with Rappler, Sunang recounted the challenges of juggling her duties as an athlete and a mother – how she finds time to squeeze in a precious nap before training resumes, and how much she treasures bonding with her son in the evening.
“Parang pag-aaral lang po kasi ‘yan eh. Kailangan may time management ka (It’s just like studying. You need time management),” was Sunang’s response when asked how she’s able to balance everything.
“Meron kang obligasyon sa training, meron kang obligasyon sa anak mo (You have an obligation to train, you have an obligation to care for your child).”
The year that was
Sunang can still vividly remember that fateful day in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, when all eyes were on her as she embarked on her final tour of duty in the biggest sporting event in the world.
Prior to Rio, the 36-year-old had just broken the Philippine long jump record – leaping 6.72 meters in the Kazakhstan Open, which in turn paved the way for her third ticket to the Olympics.
With momentum and confidence on her side, Sunang was ready to conquer the odds for a podium finish.
“[I was] very excited. Siyempre ‘yung mind ko, nandoon na kaya ko pa rin, na makuha ko lang ‘to, papasok ako sa finals,” she recalled. “Sa mind ‘yun, pero siyempre, iba ‘yung sa katawan.”
(I was very excited. In my mind, I was thinking I got this, that I just needed this jump to make it to the finals. That was what went through my mind, but of course, the body can tell you otherwise.)
It seemed, however, as if destiny wouldn’t have it. The Philippines’ long jump delegate missed out on a finals seat, logging in a best of 6.22 meters during her first try in the group qualifiers. She finished 28th in a pool of 38.
“After the competition, medyo disappointed siyempre. Pero inisip ko na lang at my age and sa situation ko, nagawa ko pa rin makarating doon [sa Olympics]. Para sa akin, napakalaking bagay, ‘yun na ‘yung pinaka-achievement ko eh,” Sunang said.
(After the competition, of course I was somewhat disappointed. But I just reminded myself that at my age and considering my situation, I still managed to reach the Olympics. For me, that’s a huge accomplishment and my biggest achievement.)
While there were many things that could have factored in the day of the competition itself, Sunang, looking back, ponders on whether or not her early peaking in Kazakhstan was a deciding aspect in her Olympic performance.
“Maaga talaga ako nag-peak. Then medyo nagka-problema rin ako sa warm-up, sumakit ‘yung lower back ko kasi nagkataon na doon ako nag-land sa butas na pinagla-landingan ng iba. Charge to experience na rin,” Sunang said.
“Sa amin [sa athletics] na, ‘yung makarating ka lang sa Olympics, napakalaking bagay na ‘yun. Hindi ka basta-bastang makakapunta doon kasi measurable kasi ‘yung event ko eh,” she added.
(I peaked early. Then I had some problems during my warm-up, I experienced slight lower back pain because I landed by chance on the hole where others previously landed. But I’ll just charge it to experience. In athletics, just making the Olympics is already a major feat. It’s hard to qualify for it because you have to achieve certain figures.)
After her Olympic bid, Sunang now shifts her focus to competing in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for the 2017 Southeast Asian Games less than a month from now.
“Okay naman po ‘yung training, maganda naman ‘yung progress ng talon ko. Target namin, sa SEA Games ako magpi-peak,” she said. (My training is going well, I’m seeing good progress with my jump. I should peak at the SEA Games.)
Whether or not this year’s SEA Games will be her last remains up in the air, as Sunang believes only time will tell.
“Actually, nagde-depende ‘yan sa magiging performance ko. Wala namang definite na hanggang kailan, I have to listen to my body first. Kung healthy pa rin, siyempre itutuloy. Kung hindi, bakit pipilitin, ‘di ba? Kumbaga, step by step,” she said.
(That would depend on my performance. There’s no definite date yet for when I’ll stop, I have to listen to my body first. If I’m healthy, then I’ll continue. If not, why would I force it, right? I’ll take it step by step.)
For now, Sunang feels at peace with her health and condition. She remains battle ready for the upcoming biennial meet as well as the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in September.
Aside from rigorous training, of course, her daily routine includes quality time with her son.
“Mahirap na masaya… Kasi dati, maliit pa siya, tulog lang nang tulog. Sa ngayon kasi ‘pag nangungulit sa ‘yo, kailangan mong laruin. So adjust lang sa oras. Siyempre, ang pasensya, dapat laging andiyan,” Sunang said, happiness evident in her voice.
(It’s tough but fun… Before, when he was still a baby, he would just sleep all the time. But now when he wants to play, you have to play with him. So I just need to manage my time, and of course, patience always has to be there.)
It starts with a dream
With numerous trophies and medals under her belt, Sunang’s only wish is to see young athletes excel as well, especially in track and field.
“Kasi ngayon iba na panahon, more on social media na. Ang naiiwan na lang diyan ay ‘yung mga dating veterans. Dapat nga meron nang sumusunod sa akin ngayon eh, at my age, ‘di ba?” Sunang told Rappler.
“Dati kasi ang utak namin talaga ay training, training, training. Kailangan talaga ng disiplina, sipag sa training,” she added.
(Today’s generation is more focused on social media. The people left in the sport are the veterans. At my age, there should already be someone following in my footsteps, right? When we were younger, our minds were focused on training, training, training. Discipline and hard work are really needed for training.)
The San Jose, Negros Oriental native shared this advice for aspiring athletes who hope to reach the world stage: it all starts with a dream.
“‘Yung dedication nila, dapat nandoon. Sana ituloy-tuloy nila hanggang college, hanggang makapasok sa national team. Disiplina, at dedication sa ginagawa nila,” she added. “Kailangan meron silang mga pangarap. At siyempre, hindi mawawala ‘yung pagdadasal araw-araw.”
(The dedication has to be there. I hope they continue to take up the sport until college, until they become part of the national team. It’s about the discipline and dedication in everything they do. They need to have a dream. And of course, have faith and continue to pray every single day.) – Rappler.com
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