Connect with us


Soul sisters

Well, we can say that they are the trailblazers.



BIEN and Bambi Zoleta spearhead the soft netters’ quest for glory.

The list of sisters who made it big in sports is quite overwhelming.

Volleyball has Jaja Santiago and Dindin Manabat; lawn tennis has Tin and Clarice Patrimonio; and athletics has Kayla and Kyla Richardson.

But Bien and Bambi Zoleta are no different.

They pulled off a shocker when they delivered the first-ever Southeast Asian (SEA) Games gold medals of soft tennis, a sport that is not as popular as volleyball, lawn tennis and athletics, but has the potential to emerge as the country’s gold mine in various international tournaments.

In fact, the last time soft tennis was held in the SEA Games was in 2011 in Palembang.

Since then, it was left dusting in some oft-forgotten corner of Philippine sports with nobody paying serious attention to what its national team is doing in keeping the Philippine flag afloat in the international arena.

“Well, we can say that they are the trailblazers,” said Philippine Soft Tennis Association president Jeff Tamayo shortly after the Zoleta sisters clinched the federation’s second gold medal in women’s doubles event.

“Bien started it when she won the gold in women’s singles. Then, Bambi joined her in winning another gold medal in the women’s doubles. They kicked off our SEA Games quest with a pair of gold medals, the first-ever in the history of the federation. They started it all.”

Tough road
But the road to glory for the Zoleta sisters was never easy.

They grew up in Lucena City then left for Manila to chase their dreams of becoming lawn tennis players.

With the opportunities in the very popular lawn tennis getting scarce topped with the challenges of earning a living, Bambi and Bien shifted to soft tennis to continue their hunt for glory.
It was a love at first serve.

“I saw the willingness in them,” Tamayo said. “They are really in-love with tennis and they don’t mind playing a lesser popular brand of tennis like soft tennis. They patiently studied the sport and worked their way up until they won a gold medal in the Southeast Asian Games.”

Bien said winning the gold was no magic.

Weeks before the SEA Games, she suffered elbow and shoulder injuries that limited her on-court activities.

“That was really tough because I had to stop swinging and all I could do was to hope that it ends soon,” said Bien, adding that it has been a recurring injury.

“But thinking about moments like that made me hungrier to reach my goal. I always look back to those challenging times to motivate me to work hard and strive for gold.

Another challenge was the fact that they had to earn a living outside sports.

Bien works in the customer service department of Meralco while Bambi is using her knowledge in the hotel and hospitality industry by serving as receptionist at Shangri-La in Bonifacio Global City.

“It’s really hard to be an athlete and maintain a day job,” Bien said.

“But we have to do it to sustain our training. We have to do it because not everything is funded by the government.”

Bien stressed that their victory wasn’t for their personal glories.

She said they are hoping that it would open the floodgates for young athletes to take up soft tennis and continue what they started, making it as popular as its basketball, volleyball and, yes, lawn tennis.

“We have to introduce the sport to younger generation. We know that in the future, they would be the ones teaching this to the next generation as well,” Bien said, adding that the men’s team of Noel Damian, Mark Anthony Alcoseba, Joseph Arcilla, Mikoff Manduriao and Deo Talatayod also did a good job in the men’s side.

“A lot of young athletes know lawn tennis, but they know what soft tennis is all about. With our win, we want to inculcate to them the beauty and existence of soft tennis.”

“And for them to know that this sport exist, we have to participate in more competitions both here and abroad.”

Bien added that they would not rest on their laurels.

Instead, they would use the momentum of their win as a springboard to bag more glories to the country.

“Our training will continue and we expect it to be harder and more intense,” she said, stressing that they are more than willing to spearhead the search for their successors.

“We are optimistic that with the good feedback that the program got in the SEA Games, the organizers will continue fielding the sport.”

“For new players to come in, we need consistency and continued interest from the viewers.”