KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Cherry May Regalado has vivid memories of her high school life. Though that doesn’t mean she’s fond of them.
Regalado was hastily classified then judged purely on the basis of her social class. She wasn’t rich, nor was she one of the popular or cool kids, and those seemed good enough reasons for her classmates to conclude she would never amount to anything.
What a difference 4 years of discovering yourself in college, an endless supply of motivation, and unyielding determination can make.
At 21 years old, Regalado has gracefully come out of her shell and grown into many roles: a loving sister, a responsible daughter, a college graduate, an accomplished pageant queen, and a talented pencak silat martial artist. But the proudest hat she wears arrived just in the summer, when her dream of representing flag and country became reality.
“I can’t seem to absorb it just yet. I’m finally going to play in the SEA Games,” says Regalado, who sees action on August 28. “I was merely a spectator before. I’m nervous, but I guess that’s natural.”
Regalado, a native of Aklan, will be competing here in the artistic solo category – the only girl for the Philippines in the artistic competition, and one of only 3 for the entire 14-person team.
This will be her first major international competition and she almost didn’t even make it.
Coming out of her shell
High school was tough on Regalado, like it is for many others. She described it mostly as a period of constantly doubting herself, failing, and searching for a chance.
“I wasn’t famous in high school. The kids were rich and my family was just average and when it comes to school, it’s all about the money,” she lamented.
“When you don’t have extra-curricular (activities), no matter how intelligent you are, you won’t get very far. There was a class system. The rich and famous stuck together. The quiet ones were at the bottom.”
Regalado, the youngest of 5 siblings, was a sprinter (in 100m and 200m) as well as a long jumper and triple jumper through high school, always yearning to make the national team but only going as far as the regionals. There were way too many talented runners and jumpers in Aklan, she said. There was limited success for her as well in volleyball.
When she was about to enter college, she vowed she would find that one opportunity to prove herself and make the most of it. That chance came right before college even started.
Regalado, whose father was a karateka in his youth, picked up self-defense training in preparation for moving to Manila for school. But her trainer saw potential for pencak silat – a form of martial art that originated from Indonesia – and suggested she join competitions.
Her mother was particularly against her partaking in martial arts, however, and fighting with another.
“Actually she’s never seen me fight ever since I started. As in never. She says she’s afraid and she might stop the match ahead of the referee,” Regalado laughed it off, saying she understands her mother and doesn’t hold it against her.
Regalado competed in the State Colleges and Universities Athletic Association (SCUAA) on the first year pencak silat was included in competition, and quickly fell in love with her chosen sport. She particularly enjoys the artistic part of it, the forms and how those complement the fights. In pencak silat, she also likes that defense counts.
“In this sport your blocks or defenses have scores. Unlike other sports where only punches, kicks, and takedowns have scores. Here, all your movements are accountable,” she explained.
But pencak silat wasn’t the only chance Regalado was presented with. Despite being shunned by her classmates in high school, she shined in pageants. While she found a home on the mat, she was just as comfortable on the stage.
“13 crowns since I started joining pageants in high school,” she proudly declared.
Regalado is regularly invited to local pageants and she juggles her two passions, sometimes leaving training for a few days to compete on the stage and then coming back to work double time in pencak silat. She even combines them by performing silat as her talent for pageants – and she almost always secures the “Best in Talent” award.
She has already been offered an invitation to train for bigger competitions like Binibining Pilipinas. But if she is to make a choice, Regalado will not hesitate to choose pencak silat.
Destined for silat
As with many athletes around the world, there’s normally a story of being pushed to the brink of giving up – if not quitting entirely.
Regalado saw her national dreams go up in smoke when she was just about to finish her degree in Home Technology from Aklan State University. Her thesis defense, the last remaining requirement for her Food and Nutrition major, was set on the same day as the Philippine National Games (PNG) in Pangasinan.
She needed to compete at those Games in order to have a shot at the national team. At the same time, she wouldn’t graduate if she missed her thesis defense.
The option to delay graduation for a year and go to the Games was on the table for her. Naturally, her mother was livid.
“We fought because I really wanted to go to the PNG and graduate the following year. But she wouldn’t let me,” Regalado recalled. “She told me I was already in my fourth year and we worked so hard for it so why delay graduating? She said no. I was so devastated. We didn’t speak for almost a month.”
In the end, Regalado obeyed her mother, but not without striking a deal in her favor.
“I told her I wouldn’t compete. But we made a deal that once I graduate, I can do whatever I want, even compete,” she said.
The catch, however, was the pencak silat national team was no longer in the cards for her at that point for she had missed the PNG. Regalado was gutted, and was resigned to looking for a job elsewhere.
So when the national team coach came calling for an opening on the squad, Regalado no longer had the heart for competing. But the coach somehow convinced her, saying Regalado only needed to perform well and show what she can do.
So Regalado flew to the capital for a competition held in Pasig, which she won despite being slotted in the biggest bracket, and decided she would stay in Manila.
“I called my mom and told her I wasn’t coming home because the coach told me to start training already,” Regalado shared. “She asked if I was sure about pursuing pencak silat. So I reminded her of our deal that after graduation I could do whatever I wanted and she would support me. And that was that.”
Regalado has since competed in two other international competitions, including the World Championships in Indonesia in 2016.
Things fell into place for her after the devastation of losing a shot at representing the Philippines. Now she can say she’s completed her degree but still made it to the national team right after, and will now compete at the SEA Games, as if she was destined to stay on her silat path.
For women, for the Philippines
Pencak silat tested Regalado. How far could she go? What was she willing to sacrifice? Just how courageous was she? She discovered much more about herself and what she was capable of.
To this day Regalado still uses her high school experiences as motivation, especially the comments she gets when asked about the sport she plays.
“Usually people question why is it that I’m a girl and yet I chose pencak silat. Is it not too difficult for me? Their impression is negative. They say of all the sports I chose one that involves hurting one another,” she shared. “But sometimes I answer back and tell them that I train so I don’t get hurt. I don’t compete just to let someone else hurt me.”
She will compete at the SEA Games not just with herself and family in mind, but also her country and the young girls back home who may be struggling in high school, too, at this very moment.
“I’m very proud of female athletes who continue to fight. Not just for money or fame, but because they have dreams,” said Regalado, who looks up to Olympic silver medalist Hidilyn Diaz.
“It’s not only for themselves or their families, but more so for the country. We won’t be fighting for our own causes, we won’t stand there because of our own dreams or what we want. We’ll stand to compete, because we want to proudly represent our country. Once you win or perform well, you carry the Philippines with you, not your name.”
“People won’t remember your name. But they’ll remember your country and think that the Philippines is good.” – Rappler.com
All quotes have been translated from Filipino to English.
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