Palaro athletes: Competing for regions, standing as one
LAGUNA, Philippines – The green of the grass at the center of the Laguna Sports Complex was covered by the green, purple, yellow, orange, and red uniforms of the nearly 6,000 delegates from 17 regions competing at Palarong Pambansa for the opening ceremony on Monday, May 5.
Though the grandstands were filled with politicians whose voices boomed through amplifiers surrounding the newly christened venue, it was the athletes who spoke loudest.
Standing in their immaculate jumpsuits and ball caps for hours in temperatures that either approached or exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit, they never wavered in their resolve to keep a fortified appearance, as if the slightest hint of fatigue would dishonor their region.
Not only did they look alive, they were alive.
Like the members of the Zamboanga female softball squad, who playfully slapped one another as they gushed over swimmer-turned-actor Enchong Dee, taunting each other for the girl fan moment both were enraptured in. Or the Calabarzon archers, who rushed over to take selfies with budding basketball stars Jeric and Jeron Teng as they made their way to take a ceremonial lap around the track. Or the Benguet residents of the Cordillera Administrative Region who rushed to the stage to shake hands with Winter Olympics figure skater Michael Christian Martinez after he lit the bowl-shaped Palarong Pambansa cauldron.
These are the athletes whom they admire and aspire too. Though boxing legend Manny Pacquiao and San Mig Coffee basketball player James Yap (has Game 3 of semifinals with Air21 tonight) were no-shows, the amateurs seemed content just to be there, poised for 5 more days of tests against the best the country has to offer.
Sport is life
The rallying call for the 57th Palarong Pambansa is that "sports is a way of life"; yet for many of the athletes competing in Laguna, sports is life. Set aside the storyline of youth overcoming disasters both natural and manmade, these athletes represent the future of our nation – the fleeting innocence of our nation, even.
If history is any indication of future trends (it is), many of these elementary and high school kids will go on to represent the nation at national and international events like Azkal footballer Chieffy Caligdong did; they will make the jump to UAAP or NCAA sporting events like Palaro alums Alyssa Valdez and Julia Morado; or they will go on to become chess masters like Eugene Torre.
The greater majority will not go on to become iconic sports heroes, however, but may pursue careers as educators, doctors, or police officers, carrying with them the confidence learned through sports to other endeavors.
‘Palaro is about the athletes’
One quote from keynote speaker and former Philippine President Joseph Estrada that few will disagree with is that Palaro is about the athletes.
It isn’t about which VIP will or will not show up, but rather it’s about the swimmers from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao who compensated for not having a pool to train in by swimming in the Sulu Sea. Palaro is about 12-year-old volleyball team captain Racquel Calicdan, the Pangasinan native representing Region I (Ilocos) who wants to follow in the footsteps of Ateneo volleyball star Alyssa Valdez but would settle for being a teacher.
Palaro is about the badminton players from Western Visayas who survived a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that cracked Bohol’s iconic Chocolate Hills but not their resolve. Palaro is about the delegates from Region 8, or Eastern Visayas, who held up a banner that read “We have survived…thank you for your help” at the opening ceremony during Laguna Governor ER Ejercito’s monologue.
The nation never fails to unite during tragedy; Palaro is one event where the nation unites in celebration. Palarong Pambansa is where the next generation of Filipinos strives to be the very best version of themselves they can be.
Filipinos of all ages can take not only inspiration from this, but notes, too. – Rappler.com