Lone Palaro athlete from Marawi wants to play for UST tennis someday
ILOCOS SUR, Philippines – Not even the war can stop Prince Najeeb Langitao from going after his dreams.
The 13-year-old boy is the only delegate from Marawi City at this year's Palarong Pambansa in Ilocos Sur. It's his first time to join the country's biggest sporting event. (READ: LIVE UPDATES: Palarong Pambansa 2018 in Vigan, Ilocos Sur)
Prince is gunning for the gold medal in the secondary level of boys' tennis, a sport he has been playing for the past 7 years.
His father, who plays tennis as a hobby, inspired Prince to pursue the sport. He was only 6 years old when he started his tennis training at the Mindanao State University (MSU), just a few blocks away from his house.
"Nagja-jogging [ako] every day po, tapos every hapon nagpapalo, tapos every gabi drills (Every day, I jog, practice my swings in the afternoon, then I do drills at night)," Prince told Rappler.
"Umiiyak ako… kasi every day kasi nagja-jogging ako tapos drills, 'di nag-stop, nonstop po (I would cry, because the daily jogging and drills are nonstop)," he added.
Still, Prince is persistent in attending his training sessions no matter how hard they get.
He is aware of the pains he has to go through if he wants to achieve his goal: to eventually play for the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Tennisters.
"Gusto ko kapag malaki na [ako], maging varsity ako sa UST tapos scholar (When I grow up, I want to be part of UST's varsity team and be a scholar, too)," said Prince with a grin.
Training despite the war
The road to Palaro has not been easy for the Marawi athlete. (WATCH: Marawi: 153 days of war)
The months-long battle between government troops and homegrown terrorists from the Maute Group and a faction of the Abu Sayyaf Group made Prince fear for his family's safety.
Prince, his parents, and two of his younger brothers did not evacuate immediately. They then became vulnerable to robbers.
"Naging mahirap po. Kasi no'ng first nag-giyera, 'di po kami naka-evacuate. Doon lang po kami sa bahay namin. Tapos nanakawan pa kami…. Marami [ang nakuha] – mga pera, mga TV, gano'n," said Prince.
(It was hard. When the fighting began, we didn't evacuate yet. We just stayed at home. Then we were robbed… They stole many things – money, our TVs.)
He became scared when he heard members of the Maute Group supposedly sent messages to residents warning of a possible bomb attack at his school. (WATCH: Marawi in 360: Inside the War Zone)
The Langitaos were eventually forced to leave their Marawi home. They stayed at the house of Prince's grandfather in nearby Marantao town.
But did the war stop Prince from playing tennis? No.
He made the tennis court in Marantao his home during the months they were staying there. He even helped younger players improve their craft.
"'Di ako tumigil kasi baka makalimot akong mag-tennis tapos 'di na ko pasalihin ng tournament. Magsimula na naman mag-training. Iiyak na naman ako," said Prince.
(I didn't stop because I might forget how to play tennis and would not be allowed to join tournaments anymore. I would have to start from scratch. I'll cry again.)
When the siege was over, the Langitaos returned to Marawi.
Mission for glory
Prince's hard work and determination have been paying off so far.
He qualified for the Palarong Pambansa 2018 after winning the bronze medal at the Palarong ARMMAA (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Athletic Association) in February.
It was after his victory in the Palarong ARMMAA when he met his current coach, Sinagmaga Abdullajid, who believes Prince can make it far in tennis.
"'Yung technique ni Prince bilang player, 'yung ginagamit niya ang kanyang physical, mental condition. Malakas siya sa ano, sa serving, sa palo, sa lahat-lahat," said Sinagmaga.
(Prince's technique as a player involves him using his physical and mental condition. He's strong in serving, in his swings, in everything.)
Sinagmaga considers herself a mother figure for the young athlete.
"Bilang isang ina, itinuturing ko siya bilang isang anak – 'yung hindi ako sumuko sa paga-advise, sa pagmo-motivate. Kaya natin, laban natin [itong] larong ito. Pabayaan ang mga nangyaring sad experience basta't laro-laro. Laban, manalo, matalo," she said.
(As a mother, I consider him as my own child – I don't get tired of giving him advice and motivating him. I tell him we can make it, this is our fight. Forget about the sad experiences in the past. Keep on fighting, win or lose.)
Sinagmaga feels pressure to win gold for Prince. But the young athlete himself is so sure of his victory already. (READ: Palarong Pambansa 2018 athletes bring courage to win and to lose)
"Hindi [ako kinakabahan], 100% confidence ho!" said Prince with a laugh. (I'm not nervous, I have 100% confidence!)
And why wouldn't he be confident? He is proud of being the only Maranao competing in the games.
"Happy po. Maganda po sa pakiramdam na ako lang 'yung [taga]-Marawi… Mission ko po na maging gold medalist po kami, lahat ng kasama ko sa tennis," said Prince.
(I'm happy. I feel good that I'm the only one from Marawi.... My mission is to be a gold medalist, for me and my teammates in tennis.) – Rappler.com
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