Everyday we are reminded of people we love dearly who have left us all too soon. It is at this special time of the year when we make that extra effort to visit them in their places of rest, reminiscing the past we have shared with them.
We remember even the painful experiences but it is special when we are reminded of the special people we have encountered, including those who are still with us and with which we have developed a special bond.
Recently there have been many reasons for my former teammates and colleagues to once again come together for a special purpose, which is to help the sport we all cherish. Even though some of us have not seen each other in many years, reunions are like stepping into a time warp. When we meet, it was like we are swimmers once again.
I guess all those hours we spent together through all the hard work daily and the years we went through good times and the bad proved we were like brothers and sisters.
I met Akiko Thomson when she was only 12 years old and we swam together for eight years. And when my wife and I had our first daughter, she became her godmother.
She was an exceptional swimmer who won her first SEA Games gold before she turned 13. I would consider her the toughest swimmer I have ever trained with as she never backed down from any challenge in and out of the pool.
Ral Rosario whom I first met when I was 14 years old under special circumstances on the day I broke his 200 meter backstroke record. We shook hands in the grandstands in front of the crowd, which was quite awkward. I thought he would never want to be my friend but to the contrary. He even coached me at one point and we became really close that he asked me to become godfather to his son.
Carlos “Pinky” Brosas and I met when I was 15. We spent a lot of time with him both as my mentor and big brother. He was the guy who knew how to truly challenge me in this sport.
Testing the very limits of my abilities, but at the same time, looking out for my welfare outside the pool were things he did. He said the things I needed to hear even if it was painful to hear. I became the godfather to his son as well.
Bob Palacios I met the first time during his freshman debut in the UAAP swim meet when Coach Pinky and I were watching from the grandstand. We saw this tall guy from Gen. Santos City swim the 1500 meters freestyle effortlessly and in record time. Coach Pinky decided to approach him and asked me to join him in convincing Bob to try out for the National team, which he successfully hurdled. He, too, was a tough swimmer to train with on a daily basis because he never ran out of energy. I became the godfather to his daughter.
The camaraderie we built through the years is something I am truly proud of. Once again, we are being called to help Philippine swimming catch up with the rest of the region. The common wish from everyone is that we don’t waste the achievements of the past on the politics of the present.
I myself have not been involved in the swimming community for 12 years and it was saddening to hear that as of today there isn’t a swimming association president being recognized by the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC). It was like hearing a very sad news about another loved one passing away, quite ironic as we observe All Souls’ Day and All Saints’ Day this week.
If there is no leadership, then who is giving direction to our current crop of swimmers? They need direction for them to stay focused. With all the distractions easily available today like the gadgets and social media, our young swimmers can easily be diverted away from the sport, eventually giving up all the hard work they have sacrificed.
Just recently in the talk I had with Coach Pinky’s team, questions about enduring expectations and pressure were brought up by the swimmers. The good thing is that Coach Pinky guides them and has friends like myself Akiko, Coach Ral and Bob to reach out and help him ensure everyone stays focused and patient. But my fear is that time may not be in our favor when we consider all the distractions.
These young swimmers need to be assured every so often that what they are doing will bear fruit in time. But what happens if there is nothing to look forward to anymore? Sadly, the answer is that they will seek it elsewhere. The effects will be devastating for Philippine swimming.
My friends and I all agreed on helping the POC rally the swimming community to support reorganizing the sport by having one truly respected leader who will embrace unity and provide the sorely lacking direction the swimmers need today.
Time is running out. The swimmers need to know where they are headed as soon as possible. They need to know their goals and be assured.
Today I shall light a candle for Philippine swimming not for its passing but for the hope that it is not too late to keep it alive.