Philippines-China relations

NCR gymnastics’ Divine providence

NCR takes home the rhythmic gymnastic elementary gold for the 15th day in a row.

LINGAYEN, Pangasinan – As the trio of graceful gymnasts strode into the podium, Divina Beren stood at the back, smiling at her handiwork that dominated the Palarong Pambansa for the nth time.

A few minutes later, when the bets from the National Capital Region were called again to receive their gold medals for topping the team event, Beren — after much prodding from her co-trainers — joined the group and posed for a toothy smile.

Just another day in the office for the rhythmic gymnastic (RG) specialist, who steered the Big City students to their 16th straight RG crown in the elementary level, a streak probably unmatched in all of Palaro sports.

Proud ako kase nagbunga yung paghihirap namin (I’m proud because our hard work was worth it),” Beren told Rappler in an exclusive interview. “At very happy at proud din ako, dahil bilang isang trainer ng DepEd, nakikita ko yung ibang teams na nag-iimprove (I’m happy and proud, too, because as a DepEd trainer, I see other teams improving as well).”

RG pioneer

Beren recalled the early days of rhythmic gymnastics in the Philippines, when little was known about the sport brought to the country by Malaysians in 1991.

Noon (1991) lang ito na-introduce dito (This was only introduced in 1991),” she added. “Kaya isa ako sa pioneers ng RG sa Pilipinas. Isa yun sa mga courses na pinag-aralan ko nung nakakuha ako ng scholarship sa Tokyo (I am one of the RG pioneers in the Philippines. It was one of the courses I studied when I got my scholarship in Tokyo).”

The then-MAPEH (Music, Arts, Physical Education and Health) teacher opted to share her knowledge of this new variation of gymnastics, first spreading the word to neighboring schools in Manila and eventually, across the nation.

Being a former gymnast herself — an ex-national team member at that — Beren found joy in teaching what she knows to students who are interested. After all, she’s not just an athlete, but a teacher as well, having been in the vocation of education for almost 40 years now, first as a teacher then more recently, as a school administrator.

Winning machine

Because of this passion, she has overseen the careers of many a gymnast who have went on to successful careers in the sport, not just in the Palaro, but way beyond the annual meet that gathers the best student-athletes in the country.

She brings in Maggie Wagad, a protegé who once made the Palaro her playground, winning medal after medal from grade 6 to fourth year high school.

“She was the most bemedaled athlete in her time,” Beren beams with pride.

Wagad, who traveled from Manila to Pangasinan just to help train and inspire the athletes, is now a professor at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila and continues to do what her mentor did to her: teach a craft that only a few have mastered in the Philippines.

Beren, together with co-trainer Natividad Corpuz, has essayed most of the championships that the NCR has won in RG and their teams have been unbeaten ever since the sport was installed as a regular event in 1997.

“Elementary at secondary, hindi pa nakukuha yan sa NCR (no one has taken it from NCR),” she said.

And 2012 is not a different story. Her bets from Arsenio C. Herrera Elementary School in Manila mowed down competition, took it by the throat and never let go.

The NCR team combined for 128.065 points while their closest foes — Region XII and Region VII — managed to post a mere 84.939 and 84.437 points, respectively.

The secret

Asked if there’s a special formula for their immense success, Beren said that psychological conditioning, physical training, support from parents and proper coaching are the right ingredients to winning big.

Maraming aspect ng training (Lots of aspects in training),” she added. “At kailangan kung gusto talaga nilang maging magaling na gymnast, kelangan talaga magkaroon sila ng personal interest dito dahil hindi madali ang training (They really need to want to be gymnasts, they need to be personally interested because training is difficult).”

Beren also shared that in looking for prospective talents, they look for kids who possess natural flexibility and those who have long limbs, legs and necks — all instrumental in designing or better yet, creating the ideal gymnast.

Likewise, Beren — whose husband is a former Olympian gymnast who represented the country in the 1968 Mexico Olympics and whose son is an ex-national gymnast himself — credits Corpuz, an elementary teacher Beren believes is as important to NCR’s harvest as herself.

Hindi pwedeng siya lang. Hindi pwedeng ako lang (It was never just her, and it’s never just me),” she said. “Teamwork talaga ang susi (Teamwork is key).”

Corpuz does the early work, scouring the school for potential gymnasts, teaching them the fundamentals and developing them before Beren takes over and brings the kids to a whole new level.

Sa kanya yung pool at sa akin na pagkatapos (She deals with the pool and then I take over),” she related.

This cycle has proven to be magical for both Beren and Corpuz and as far as the duo is concerned, they are far from finished.

So after the celebration, the high-fives and hugs galore, Beren and Corpuz waved to their team — with the young gymnasts, the former champions who came to render support and the parents who have come all the way to give the group a lift — and signaled that it’s time to go home.

It was just another day in the office for Divina Beren. There is more work to do tomorrow. The rhythmic gymnastics secondary level competition awaits. –