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Central Visayas athlete aims to make his overseas dad happy

LOOKING FOR A WIN. Rick Angelo Sotto swapped computer games for athletics, and it's landed him in the Palarong Pambansa. Photo by Naveen Ganglani/Rappler

LOOKING FOR A WIN. Rick Angelo Sotto swapped computer games for athletics, and it's landed him in the Palarong Pambansa.

Photo by Naveen Ganglani/Rappler

LEGAZPI CITY, Philippines – Rick Angelo Sotto stands under the blazing hot weather of Legazpi City in Albay on this Monday afternoon. 

He's showing a smile that's affectionate; the kind that displays charisma, if not playfulness. He holds bottles of blue and white Powerade in each hand while showing a demeanor that makes him seem very approachable, as if the result of his recent games didn't matter since he's simply happy to be part of the Palarong Pambansa.

But there's a fiery and competitive spirit hidden beneath the calm and cool expression. In his head, he's still distressed about finishing second in his first Athletics-Jumping competition since arriving in Albay. Winning gold mattered to him. He needed it, even if he won't exactly say it.

"Hindi kami mag champion, pero maraming gold. Okay lang hindi mag champion basta maraming gold," he said about the Palaro 2016 goal of his region, Central Visayas, while keeping the marquee smile.

(We may not win the championship, but I hope we get a lot of golds instead. It's okay if we don't win the championship as long as we have a lot of golds.)

Sotto feels like he owes victory to the Central Visayas region, his hometown of Cebu, and his school, Cebu Institute of Technology – University. He has dreams of returning on the 17th of April with the pride of a gold medalist. Quite lofty goals for a 13-year-old, sure, but certainly admirable.

But his deepest source of motivation strikes at home, a place which hasn't felt quite as complete over the last 6 years. See, when he was 7 years old, Rick's father, Ricardo Sotto, left the Philippines to work in Saudi Arabia for a computer science company. Rick's been the man of the house since, tasked to help his mother Angelita and younger brother with everyday life.

That's not to say Ricardo has been out of their lives – he visits once a year, typically during summer. But it's no secret a house doesn't feel quite like home without a dad, especially with long periods of absences.

So what does Sotto do to make up for that longing feeling? It's simple: every minute of training, of competition, of victory or defeat, is dedicated to his old man on the other side of the continent.

"Sobrang masaya kasi ginawa niya ang lahat para lang mapasaya ako," says the beaming Sotto, whose voice cracks a little bit. "Gagawin ko din ang lahat para mapasaya siya."

(I'm so happy because he's done everything to make me happy. I'll also do everything to make him happy.)

It wasn't that long ago when Sotto started training in athletics. He does a little bit of everything, but is participating in the jumping event of Palarong Pambansa – something that didn't exactly seem imminent two years ago.

"Gusto ko hindi lang computer, computer. Gusto ko mag sports," said the young athlete, who admitted that all he did before turning 11 was play PC games, notably DOTA and Left 4 Dead.

(I didn't want to just play computer games. I wanted to play sports, too.)

"Nag advise ang coach ko, kasi sabi niya maganda raw," he said about the decision that ultimately led to an amateur athletic career. "'Pag nanalo ka, meron allowance."

(My coach advised me to try sports, because he said it was nice. Whenever you win, there's an allowance.)

For every competition he wins in Cebu, Sotto gets P200. If he wins gold in the Palaro, he takes home 5 grand – an amount that could be beneficial for both him and his mother, who works as a barangay (village) officer. Maybe he'll even use the cash to help get his brother a new bike.

Sotto is tall for his age, with the lean body usual for an athlete who spends hours pushing his body to physical limits. "I will practice hard to win so he will be proud of me," Sotto said about his father. Sometimes, he plays basketball too, mimicking the moves of his idol Kobe Bryant.

His athletic prowess has already earned interest from other high schools in Cebu such as the University of Cebu and the University of San Carlos, but his interests don't just remain on the track. Believe it or not, the part-time athlete and part-time computer geek also cherishes every second in the classroom, especially if the subject being discussed is Mathematics.

"Kasi gusto ko mag so-solve nang problems," he said, laughing, aware that Math isn't exactly the first choice for a favorite subject.

"Madali lang siya i-answer, pero kapag nag che-check kami, maraming wrong," he added, knowing there's still room for improvement there as well. 

(I like solving problems. They're easy to answer, but whenever we check papers, there are still a lot of mistakes.)

But in other fields, Sotto is doing quite well. In fact, he recently got an average grade of 91% in MAPE (music, arts, physical education).

That kind of tireless commitment on the field and in the classroom, his palpable optimism, and his loyalty to his roots make him the kind of athlete who will be coveted by universities in Manila once he gets closer to the college ranks. A school from the UAAP or NCAA may soon be calling, although they'll probably end up disappointed, because Sotto doesn't plan on leaving Cebu.

Why's that?

"Hindi, kasi malayo ako sa pamilya ko eh."

(No, because I would be far away from my family.)

Ricardo may still be thousands of miles away, but that doesn't mean he and his wife, Angelita, don't give advice to their son as he takes on the biggest challenge of his athletic career to date.

"'Good luck. Pray always.'"

Anything else?

"'Wag kang pumunta kung saan saan,'" the laughing 13-year-old said, recalling his parents' stern warning.

(Don't go to random places.)

They don't have to worry. He's just here to win. – Rappler.com

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