Moving on from Haiyan through volleyball
MANILA, Philippines – Most of us lament the non-airconditioned gyms Filipino athletes train in and criticize the subpar quality of sports equipment and facilities of the country.
But for one minute, imagine warming up, jogging, setting up for a serve, spiking, and running plays inside a beaten down gym without a roof, debris piled up around you and the eerie cries of grief and devastation, along with the murmurs of rebuilding and hope, heard just outside the gym's walls.
Imagine having to stop running or jumping whenever your ears catch the rumbling sound of a truck approaching the gym – and then holding your breath as it passes by – knowing that if you take so much as a whiff, the smell of dead bodies would waft through your nostrils and could send you hurling.
What could we say about that?
That's what Queenly Rez Urena, together with her teammates from the Region 8 secondary girls volleyball team, had to go through in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda). That's what they had to endure just to make it to Sta. Cruz, Laguna for this year's Palarong Pambansa.
Looking at the 16-year old Queenly, fresh from an afternoon of training, you couldn't even tell she was a Haiyan survivor. Her eyes betrayed no strife. There was no trace of the killer storm and her experiences with it. Her toothy smile was of a normal teenager, eager to keep moving and see what life has in store.
"Yung kuya ko kasi naglaro siya ng volleyball. Humanga po ako sa kanya so ginaya ko siya at naglaro po ako ng volleyball," she recalls how the game first captured her heart in 4th grade. "Hanggang ngayon, hobby ko na maglaro ng volleyball." (My brother played volleyball. I admired him so I played volleyball as well. Up until now, my hobby is to play volleyball.)
Hailing from Tacloban, Queenly is a 5-foot-5 utility spiker who played for Leyte National High School, from which she just recently graduated. She lives with her mother, while her two older siblings study college in Cebu and her father is a private employee in Saipan.
Her toned physique hints she is a disciplined and accomplished athlete at such a young age. True enough, Queenly has already received several honors for her impressive play. In her junior year of high school, Queenly was awarded Best Setter and Best Utility Spiker at inter-school leagues and even at the Leyte edition of the Shakey's Girls Volleyball League.
Her volleyball experience is impressive as well. Queenly shares that she and her teammates have already played not only against highly competitive teams in Manila, but also against an international squad from New Zealand. This opportunity, she shares, came through the National Shakey's Girls Volleyball League early this year with guest teams Australia and New Zealand traveling to the Philippines to play.
Queenly was a member of the Eastern Visayas team then. And although they finished last out of 10 teams, the experience was something else. To her, it was more than just being exposed to a more competitive international brand of play, it was mostly about building her confidence.
"Malaki po (ang naitulong). Mahirap naman yung wala kang kalaro," Queenly shares. "Confident ka na kasi mas malakas sila kaysa sa amin." (It was a huge boost. It's more difficult to not compete. We grew confident because the opponents were stronger than us.)
There's also plenty she learned through volleyball about being one with a team and growing into a better person. The kind of unity and camaraderie present in volleyball has had only positive effects on Queenly, and that is why she loves the sport even more.
"Kapag may problema yung isang tao, pwede mo silang tulungan. Team po kasi," she explains the dynamic. "Kapag may problema yung isa, tutulungan ka ng ka-team mo. Doon mo po malalaman yung ugali mo." (When one has a problem, you can help. Because we're a team. When one of us has a problem, our teammates help us. That's when you find out who you are.)
She admits one unpleasant attitude she has since overcome with the help of her teammates.
"Kagaya sa akin, putong, yung minsan madaling mainis." (For me, it was putong, meaning I was easily annoyed.)
Overcoming tragedy through volleyball
On the day Typhoon Haiyan struck the country in November, 2013, Queenly and her family were already staying at a lodge, certain the storm and its flood waters would not reach them. They were among those who evacuated to avoid the danger in their hometown, which Queenly says is very prone to flooding.
Together with her mother and cousin, Queenly stayed at the ground floor. By 7 AM her mother alerted them that water had started rushing inside the lodge. Already trapped, they had nowhere else to go but up. Queenly shares someone helped them and brought them up to the second floor, where they waited out the storm for a day, unaware of the devastation happening outside the lodge and all the lives lost.
In spite of the constant fear they had to endure and the limited rations of food, Queenly and her family consider themselves lucky – with no casualties in their family and only one classmate lost by Queenly.
"Buti na lang po wala kaming namatayan," she spoke softly. "Yung pinsan ko medyo nasugatan lang ng kaunti. Pag hupa na ng tubig, pag labas namin, marami na po patay." (It's a good thing none of our family members died. My cousin was wounded a little. After the water receded, when we went out, many were already dead.)
During this rough time, Queenly turned to the one best way she knew could make things better, even just temporarily: volleyball.
Mere weeks after the typhoon hit, Queenly and her teammates went back to training. The horrible conditions did not stop them. Even Queenly's mother couldn't keep her daughter from staying out late as trainings ended at 5:30 PM – a time of day when streets started going quiet and public transportation became hard to come by. And while it is dangerous, according to Queenly, to roam around at this time or past 6 PM, she says nothing can stop her from playing.
In fact, she and her team welcomed all the busy hours of training and the two-week trip to Manila in January for the National Shakey's Volleyball League.
"Parang nakaka-move on din po kami pagpunta namin sa Manila, kasi enjoy," Queenly describes how getting back to the game and competing helped her and her teammates. (We were able to move on somehow when we came to Manila because we enjoyed.)
Though she admits it was temporary bliss.
"Pero pagbalik po namin sa Tacloban, nare-remember namin. Nakakaiyak." (But when we came back to Tacloban, we remembered it all. We felt like crying.)
As she and her teammates prepare to compete at the 2014 Palarong Pambansa from May 4 to 10, Queenly says her hometown is a whole lot better than before. Though there are some towns still trying to recover from the typhoon.
"Okay naman na po siya. Sa ibang parts po sa San Jose, mahirap po tignan. Tapos nakakalat pa yung iba. Tapos yung ibang mga patay hindi pa nahahanap." (It's okay now. In other parts like in San Jose, it's hard to look at. It's still messy. And there are still some of the dead that haven't been found.)
Brought up to a simple life by a simple family, Queenly, the youngest of 3 siblings, dreams also of a simple future.
"Simple lang po, makapagtapos. Maging varsity sa paglalaro," she says. (Simple, to finish school. To play for the varsity team.)
Queenly says she'd be happy if Adamson University offered her a scholarship. She hopes to perform well enough at Palaro to impress scouts and hopefully play alongside Mayette Zapanta, one of her idols, and even against her biggest volleyball inspiration, Alyssa Valdez of the Ateneo Lady Eagles.
She is currently waiting for the results of her application to Leyte Normal University, where she looks to study HRM (Hotel and Restaurant Management) in the hopes of becoming a flight attendant someday. She will also continue playing there as part of the college varsity team if she's accepted. If that option falls through, she will be joining her elder brother and sister, who are attending college in Cebu.
The right-handed spiker's dreams may be simple, but she still cannot shake off fear and doubt.
"Hindi ko naisip sumali. Nakakatakot po eh," Queenly answers when asked about any dreams she may have of playing for the Philippine Super Liga, the country's first commercial volleyball league. (I haven't thought about joining. I'm scared.)
"Kasi parang medyo nada-down po ako. Kasi matatalo na lang ako ng ganon kasi yung iba kong kasama malalakas po sila." (I feel a little down. I think I will just lose because others are also strong players.)
At 16 years old, Queenly has many years ahead of her to work toward her dreams and build her confidence some more. Right now, the task at hand is her last Palarong Pambansa.
"Kinakaya na lang namin para makapaglaro," Queenly shares her team's motivation. "Para maka-experience na rin kami. Kayanin natin, kunin na natin 'to. Last year na namin eh. Maglaro na lang kami sa kaya namin." (We're enduring all of it just to play. So we can gain the experience. We will endure, we will take this. This is our last year. We will play to our very best.)
For Queenly and her teammates, holding their breaths each time a truck filled with dead bodies passed by meant less about blocking out the smell, than it was about blocking out the tragedy and the sorrows that came with it.
Holding their breaths, and then pressing on with their training, meant they can at least forget about their problems for the moment and focus instead on what lies ahead. – Rappler.com