Being on the other side of the fence is a weird feeling. On one hand, I keenly remember the stress of living through Sundays of hotly contested collegiate-level football. On the other hand, and on most days now, the most physically taxing thing I do is commute to Makati. This is “real life” and the application of years of rigorous training have rendered me ready to fight my way through the MRT during the rush hour. The skill of kicking a ball, however, matters little else elsewhere.
Indeed, this is change. It’s subtle in some aspects and more glaringly obvious in others. Subtle in the fitness goals that have steadily become less lofty. Glaringly obvious that one time a former teammate jokingly called me “Tita” from the other side of the barricade.
As part of the alumni and at games especially, I am ever more aware that I occupy a unique demographic. Jokes aside, perhaps even before the incident with the T-word, I’d always felt a little bit out of place from the stands. Neither just a bystander or supporter, and not a parent either. I’d actually been there. I was one of those girls. Wasn’t it just yesterday?
The answer of course is that it wasn’t. I stopped playing. I graduated. As they say, real life set in.
Season 77 of the UAAP has just wrapped up and it will be another full-year before individual athletes and teams alike showcase their talents once again. To the victors, the investment has paid off and congratulations. To the challengers, keep your head up, there will be a next year. However, for a smaller number of athletes, this has been their run, either a good or bad one though it’s probably been both, and the ride is over.
Welcome to retirement
I won’t be the first or last person to say it but the transition will be difficult. You will miss the certainty of training in the morning. You will question what you will do with all your new-found free time. “It’ll be hard” seems like an understatement but these are my only words for it now. I find that I have less words for it knowing I can’t possibly explain with enough attention to detail all that sport has meant to me in the same way I can’t relive certain moments.
As a newly inducted member of the work force, my day-to-day experience couldn’t be farther from what they had been when I used to be a student-athlete. I have more in common with soccer moms and dads now than I did a year ago—taxes, office life, career stuff—but at the same time, I still know half the team and the fence on a beautiful day for football brings to mind the weirdness of that transition.
Way forward and back
For the most part, I know that my playing days are over. I march to a different drum and its beat of articles, deadlines, paperwork, and I am lucky to find this a purposeful path. Through this new routine, however, I am still an athlete. It is both prospective and retrospective: that jock label I used to eschew is my way forward to other things and also my way back to an old self and all the things that used to make sense. On bad days, I know I am just a good workout away from feeling ready again for the grind. This is most important in unfamiliar territory.
I can’t possibly explain what sport has meant to me, but it continues to matter now even when I am doing other things. As the oft-said Mia Hamm quote goes “Somewhere behind the athlete you’ve become and the hours of practice and the coaches who have pushed you is a little girl who fell in love with the game and never looked back… play for her.”
With the addition of the years and circumstance, I can no longer play for that girl but I am here writing for her. I write sports because I believe the stories at the margins deserve to be told. In this country, those are the other sports, usually played by little girls like I’d also once been. I want them to have the world. Or at least have a better one than the one I’ve grown accustomed to. I only have my words to build it with but I’ll give it what I’ve got.
A lot can be said of the sacrifice athletic endeavors entail but few can argue that being part of a team is one of its best parts. Advocacy is similar. Pinay Futbol has been active since 2011 and they’ve taken on greater responsibility within the football scene by coordinating closely with the Women’s Committee of the Philippine Football Federation. Another group, Girls Got Game, is a recently founded non-profit that organizes training camps for young girls for basketball, football, and volleyball. They’ve all been led by former players.
To the athlete in transition, you are merely looking for other parts of you you haven’t found yet. Change is hard but it offers the opportunity to become other things.
I hope more of us find our way back to sport, not just as athletes, but as advocates.