MANILA, Philippines – One humid summer night, two teams were preparing to take the volleyball court. This court, however, looked nothing like the courts of the UAAP or the SEA Games.
It was a pavement court located in an obscure village far from the bustling major commercial centers. The court’s end lines and sidelines most likely weren’t that accurate, and the net was tied to beams that supported the covered court.
Nevertheless, people crowded in and around the area to watch what would be an exciting game.
The first team took to the court, visibly nervous and excited at this time. This writer, in particular, knew the feeling all too well as one of the players of that team. A couple of minutes later, the reason for the anxiety stepped on the court.
Jed Montero, one of the UP Lady Maroons’ finest volleybelles, began warming up. She was a guest player for the opposing team. This writer remembers feeling utterly intimidated by the thought of facing a UAAP star. The crowd’s cheers upon her appearance did not help ease the first team’s anxiety. Montero was, after all, a well-known athlete in the world of local volleyball – even in the “ligang labas” circuit.
Montero had been playing for the University of the Philippines at the time. She played for UP in UAAP Seasons 70 and 71, from 2007 to 2009. And although her team failed to reach the Final Four during her time, the finesse and power she exhibited in every attack made her a memorable face.
But this “ligang labas” game happened nearly 6 years ago. A lot has changed since then.
Separation from the game
It’s very rare for an athlete to voluntarily leave the game he or she has long loved and worked hard for. Montero was definitely not among the rare few.
The 5’5 ½” native of Sagada, Mt. Province was forced to part with her volleyball career in 2010 when she dislocated her right ankle. Because of this, she was unable to play out her final year in the UAAP.
The injury not only derailed her UAAP plans, but it also took her away from the game for more than 3 years.
“Nung na-injure ako, puso ko gustong maglaro [pati] utak ko. ‘Yong katawan lang talaga yung hindi kaya,” Montero admitted what it was like for her to turn her back on the game prematurely. (When I got injured, my heart and mind wanted to play so badly, but my body just could not.)
Montero had no choice but to accept her fate. Thus, she set her sights on other endeavors, primarily a career in show business.
“Showbiz,” she said simply. “I hosted for Wowowee and did hosting gigs, and [did a] teleserye.”
Her last rendezvous with the game was during ABS-CBN’s Kapamilya All-Star game. Apart from that, she had not been a part of any organized volleyball game in that span of time.
But thanks to the emergence to the country’s first commercial league for volleyball, the Philippine Super Liga (PSL), Montero was presented with an opportunity to rekindle an old flame with her lifelong passion.
Reunited with her lost passion
Montero reunited with volleyball late this year by playing for the RC Cola Raiders in the PSL Grand Prix, the league’s second conference. She had originally been invited to play for the Cignal HD Spikers in the league’s inaugural Invitational Conference, but conflicts with her job did not allow her to do so.
“Dapat maglalaro ako. But I had conflict with a show, so I could not,” she shared. “Dapat sa Cignal ako maglalaro noon. Kinukuha ako ng Cignal pero hindi ako pinayagan ng ABS-CBN because I’m doing a show. So ayaw nila, baka ma-injure.” (I was going to play. But I had conflict with a show, so I could not. I was supposed to play for Cignal. Cignal wanted to get me, but ABS-CBN didn’t allow me because I’m doing a show. They didn’t want to because I might get injured.)
This time around, she said she was able to balance trainings and her work.
“For now I don’t have a regular show. Kakatapos lang nung show namin. So now mga raket-raket lang so medyo nakaka-attend na ng training.” (For now I don’t have a regular show. Our show just wrapped up. So now I do freelance work so I can attend training.)
But just because she has time, a team and a league to play in doesn’t mean Montero is back to her old form. Naturally, that’s an entirely different process that won’t be happening overnight.
For RC Cola, she hasn’t resumed her natural position as an open spiker just yet. Instead, she is getting her rhythm back by playing as a libero.
“Hindi nga conditioned eh! Kaya siguro si coach Ron [Dulay], ginagawa niya muna ako libero para at least receive lang muna. Pero slowly, sabi niya, we’ll be there rin. We’ll get there,” she explained. (I am not conditioned at all! That’s probably why coach Ron made me a libero for now so that at least I’ll just be receiving. But slowly, she said, we’ll be there. We’ll get there.)
Coming back, Montero understood that it wouldn’t all be happy times. She still has to put in a tremendous amount of work just to get her body conditioned. It’s also an entirely different thing to get her body to respond to her mind the way it did all those past years.
“Mahirap sa katawan. Katawan kasi kalaban mo, yung walang training,” she explained. “Pero yung thinking sa loob, alam mo yung gagawin mo eh. Kailangan mo lang talaga pa-kundisyon sa katawan.” (It’s hard for the body. The body is your hindrance because you haven’t had training. But when thinking inside the court, you know what you’re doing. You just really need to condition your body.)
She added, “Kung yung laro lang dati, gustong-gusto ko ibalik talaga.” (I really want to get my old form back.)
For the 25-year-old athlete turned showbiz personality, the best part about going back to her roots as an athlete lies in all the little things that are usually overlooked. She realized she missed the usually insignificant routines that make up an athlete’s everyday life.
“Nakaka-miss yung feeling talaga na naka-uniform ka, papasok ka ng dugout, prayer, warm-ups – lahat nakaka-miss,” she mused. (I missed the feeling of wearing a uniform, going in the dugout, prayer, warm-ups—I missed everything.)
“Masarap sa feeling. Yung feeling mo nung athlete ka talaga, bumabalik siya.” (It’s a good feeling. That feeling of being a real athlete, it comes back to you.)
As she worked to get back in game shape, Montero’s team finished last among the 6 teams that competed in the PSL Grand Prix, which ended last December 14 with the TMS-Army Lady Troopers grabbing their second title in the league.
But that won’t stop her from continuously playing the game she calls her life.
“Once you’re an athlete naman kasi nasa puso mo na yun. For 13 years, I’ve been playing volleyball—hahanap hanapin mo talaga yun,” she said. (Once you’re an athlete, it’s in your heart. For 13 years, I’ve been playing volleyball—you’d really look for it.)
“It’s my passion. It’s my life.”
Three years after she left the game, Montero is back. She’s definitely not the same athlete that intimidated opponents all those years ago. But people still know her name. There was excitement in her return to the volleyball court and anticipation in how she might play after her absence.
She might not be dominant as she once was, but she is still respected. And many, including this writer, have not forgotten just how good Jed Montero can be. – Rappler.com