WHEN WE LOOK BACK at the disruption of sports in the year 2020, we will probably focus on the unprecedented scale of the cancellation, suspension or postponement of events that we had looked forward to abroad and at home, starting with the Tokyo Olympics, the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships, the “March Madness” of NCAA basketball and the NBA skirmishes in the USA, and here the abrupt end to the UAAP Season 82, among others.

Memorable Sporting Moments

My thoughts, however, go back to a few memorable accomplishments of teams who made their mark in the collegiate ranks, and a number of sportsmen and women who went beyond the call of duty and recovered from serious setbacks.

In basketball, the perfect season (an undefeated 16-0) achieved by the Ateneo Blue Eagles under the tutelage of Tab Baldwin to cap their three-peat championship easily tops the charts.  The Hail Mary team played with discipline from the start, followed an impenetrable defense system and remained unbeaten – rare indeed in collegiate sports.  The Lady Bulldogs of NU surpassed themselves by equally registering an unbeaten streak of 86 games won to snatch another trophy in their journey to legendary status – an incredible six-peat team in women’s basketball. 

A Rare Football Ten-Peat

Closer to home, I witnessed a young high school team from FEU Diliman that claimed their tenth championship in a row – a rare feat that perhaps will not be replicated for a long time to come.  Two Korean coaches (Master Kim Chul Su in the early years, and his current young replacement Coach Bae Bo Park, now on his 5th year), backstopped by the veteran Vince Santos,  molded the team’s work ethic and ensured the return to basics, enabling the young players to engage in an exciting brand of a rapid short-passing game that encouraged scoring runs from the wings combined by a feisty defense that did not wilt under pressure.

But what truly impressed me in my few years of experience with FEU student-athletes supporting their coaches in their efforts to build team and character was the athletes’ capacity to overcome adversity, their resilience and determination to recover from serious setbacks, particularly, injuries which at times seemed to be career-threatening. 

Courage Trumps Fears

A few brief stories of resilience stand out, and may be worth re-telling.

I remember the volleyball spiker Lycha Ebon in her rookie year, as she lay hurt on the right-side of the court crying in pain.  After top-scoring for her team towards a deciding fifth set in a game against Adamson, she suffered a year-ending ACL injury which took many months of physical rehabilitation after surgery – a recovery that was prolonged after she suffered a relapse of the injury during practice.

Under the guidance of the team therapist, Coach Lou Regidor, she had to do daily workouts, follow a strict regime as well as a certain diet, and, most of all, to maintain her mental toughness to get back to speed with her team.

I remember the green and gold footballing brothers, Paolo and Cholo Bugas, sustaining injuries in mid-season and insisting that they wanted to be back on the pitch.  I cannot forget the day I witnessed Paolo writhing in pain on the ground as he held his knee before we rushed him to hospital.  But such was his resilience that when his team reached the finals, Paolo insisted on playing even just in the second half of the final game.  The coach obliged, and Paolo took one offensive run during extra time, and kicked an arching stunner that deflected against a defender and zoomed past the opposing goal keeper to score the winner for the eventual champions.

I remember injuries sustained by other players in the collegiate ranks sidelined for the season – coming back to play with the same desire, discipline and dedication which has become a source of inspiration and hopefully of encouragement to many young people who refuse to allow setbacks to crush their dreams. 

From UST, the sensational Eya Laure and the lanky Milena Alessandrini brought down by injuries sustained during games; as well as, the brilliant Ateneo setter Deanna Wong, National University’s lone setter Joyme Cagande felled by a knee injury in the first game of her rookie year; UP’s formidable Isa Molde injured in mid-season; Adamson’s eventual captain Eli Soyud who had to overcome a meniscus tear injury, among others. 

They Also Stood Out Who Refused to be Sidelined by Setbacks

At this time of reflection occasioned by the disruptions on the courts and the playing fields, it is good to remember what some of our collegiate athletes have had to go through to recover from painful setbacks to go back to the courts.  Indeed, they stood out despite the blows; though side-lined by injuries, they refused to give up. 

Their stories of resilience will be remembered by fellow athletes and fans alike, and hopefully ignite a more resilient spirit among our youth today.  Watching their games live or on the tv screen, we only see sometimes the passion, the glamor and the glitter.  We sometimes fail to appreciate the sacrifice, the hard work and the tears behind the scenes that go into their games. 

As we pause from sports, it is good to remember the courage some of our collegiate players have shown: to recover from serious injury, to work hard on the rehab, to re-incorporate into the line-up and to continue to pursue their dreams!