Hey, how are you?
You know what, they say that loving you is never easy. They say that it takes a lot to be with you, that you are too difficult and too complicated to love.
Don’t mind them.
For me you are more than enough. You are worth fighting for.
Our love story came as a surprise. As you know, you are not my first love.
But you accepted me with open arms. Despite being a struggling provinciano, you stayed in my life and a lot of happy memories with me. You changed my life more than once in our eight-year relationship as we stood the test of time, exceeded expectations and brought pride to our country.
And it’s all because of love.
Remember when critics were thinking that we would compete in the 30th Southeast Asian Games just for the heck of it? When they say that we are not good enough for you?
The noises even grew days before we left for training in Japan.
Talks were going around that supporting us was just a waste of money. They were saying that we wouldn’t go far as the Thais, the Indonesians and the Vietnamese were so strong, so talented and so experienced to upset.
Those discouraging words felt like a twisted knife into our hearts. We were trying to put up a brave front, but deep inside, we were crying in pain.
Again, we soldiered on. We used these harsh comments as a motivation to do well.
In Japan, everything fell into places.
We were like sponges absorbing every single lesson in skills, technique and tactical strategies from our mentors. We displayed discipline that we hardly showed back then. We learned a lot from the Japanese from taking good care of the equipment to using the perfect shoes inside the court. We had fire in our eyes. We were on a mission.
Right at that very moment, we knew that we were headed to something good.
Success wasn’t an overnight process.
But we were glad that we were off to a good start.
Back in Manila, we worked in silence – and humility – as we wait for the final battle.
The night before our first game against Cambodia, everybody was anxious. This is it.
When we stepped on the court, we noticed that the arena wasn’t full. Well, it was okay. It wasn’t our concern. We meant business and we would do everything to win our first game so we can build enough momentum to battle the giants of the region.
Cambodia was such a good team. That’s why when we won, we walked off the court in high spirits and ready to take on our next opponent in Vietnam.
Actually, we were a little intimidated to the Vietnamese. They were consistent bronze medalists and we knew they are capable of embarrassing us in our homecourt.
But luck was on our side. We had some last-minute change of roster that threw their gameplan in disarray.
Now, it’s time to face our biggest fear: Thailand.
Prior to that very crucial game, we were having fun at the hotel. But behind the laughter and jokes was our eagerness to overcome the defending champion. We knew that a victory over the Thais would completely change our fate and the way critics look at us. So we trooped back to the drawing board, carefully studied all positions, their players and watched films over and over again.
I’m sure you have noticed that we had a hard time in the first set. Well, they are the reigning supremos of this tournament and we were expecting them to come out firing.
We lost the first set, but we equalized in the second as they fielded their reserve players. Then, they buckled down to business and clinched the third set, but we came out with a strong stand in the crucial stretch of the fourth.
Our coach, Dante Alinsunurin, tapped me and Jessie Lopez to enter the game. I was nervous, seriously, but I managed to come up with some defensive stops to contribute in the four.
At that point, I couldn’t remember a thing.
All I knew was that the crowd was starting to step out of the arena, knowing that beating the Thais in the fifth set was like wishing for an oasis in a dry desert. They thought that our chances were zero to none.
The fifth set was like a pendulum that was swinging wildly on both sides. The crowd, which was already heading for the nearest exit, suddenly had a change of heart and cheered wildly for us. The entire nation was behind us. The rallies were so long and nerve-wracking that we ended up closing our eyes to utter a little prayer.
In the end, luck smiled on us and we emerged victorious.
Yes, we dethroned the mighty Thais.
We were advancing to the finals and assured of a silver medal.
We made history.
And it was all because of love.
Have you seen how the country rallied behind us? It felt like a dream. I still get goosebumps to this very day just by merely recalling how they rocked Philsports Arena. Everybody had tears in their eyes and was beaming with pride — even those who refused to believe.
Thank you for uniting our nation.
Thank you for changing our lives.
They may say that it’s hard to love you; that you are too complicated to be with.
Well, the hell I care.
All I know is that you didn’t let us down and you repaid our love with international glory. With that, rest assured that I will be fighting for you until the final drop of my blood, sweat and tears.
I love you, volleyball.