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The Finish Line (25 July 2005)
September 22, 2010Posted by on
I wrote the following piece more than five years ago. I was a college junior back then. The memories of the team’s last place finish during my rookie year was still fresh. The team was in the midst of an upheaval. We were dead set on a single goal of redemption. Everyone was on the same page, as shown by our intense, often-times jovial weekly team meetings.
After finishing dead last in UAAP 66 and fifth place in UAAP 67 (thanks to masteral recruits from the national team), the Men’s Team missed a podium finish by a measly 4.5 points in UAAP 68, thanks then team captain Rob Sargan’s freak pole vault injury.
Season 2005-2006 was pivotal in reversing the team’s fortunes. A year later in UAAP 69, we won Ateneo’s first ever UAAP Men’s Track & Field trophy.
It was getting late and the team was anxious to get into the bus. However, the chartered G-Liner Bus was nowhere to be found. The Ateneo Track & Field Team was left idle for about half an hour in the dimly lit parking lot of the decades old Rizal Memorial Sports Complex, frozen in an unwanted moment.
The men’s team had just finished last among a field of seven schools. Such was the pallor of the gloom that every single one of my teammates felt embarrassed and helpless, albeit in varying intensities. Even our mightiest champion, Khole dela Cruz, the UAAP Decathlon Gold Medallist, exhibited signs of disappointment. What was the use of winning a gold medal for yourself when you cannot even help your team rise from the ignominy of finishing last, he questioned.
In that parking lot, I sat by myself staring blankly at the passing vehicles, insensitive to the noises of the busy Manila street. I failed to score even a single point by not qualifying for the 110m hurdles final. I could not hold back the pangs of despair, as the tears kept trickling down my face.
When a teammate of mine noticed my silent sobbing, I immediately muttered a hastily made-up excuse and went to the dugouts in search of solace. Walking towards the washroom, I wiped my face dry and dreamt of the moment where Ateneo would once again reign supreme in the college ranks, just like the 1961 NCAA Champion team led by Jorge Ledesma and the late Boogie Pamintuan.
I started those four days of UAAP Track & Field competition as a mere freshman, insulated by a false sense of invincibility. I emerged from the dugouts with wounded pride, ravenously hungry for redemption just like the rest of my contemporaries.
This year’s team is different from the teams of the years past. With a coaching staff composed of national team mainstays, well versed at the modern techniques of the sport, winning depends on the desire of the athlete. Finishing last is out of the question.
During weight training, my teammates and I follow the program to the letter and do extra weights and abdominal workouts afterwards. Such is the competition within the team that each one tries to outdo the other in terms of the weight that is lifted. Whenever one screams “Pagod na ako! (I’m tired!)” from doing the exercises, a teammate nearby will surely answer back “Ano yung narinig ko? (What did I hear?)” in order to push the visibly exhausted teammate to the limit. The one lifting the weight responds by saying “Sarap magbuhat! Hindi pa ako pagod (I love lifting weights! I’m not tired yet!)”
During oval workouts, the same brand of hard work (within the bounds of reasonable training and injury prevention, of course) is highly evident. No matter how difficult the workout, everyone strives to finish it, with the less fatigued ones cracking the usual joke during the lighter moments.
Each time before I race, I always look into the area of the bleachers where the team sits. Doing this gives me a boost of strength – a reaffirmation of purpose. Yes, I run for myself but I also run for my family, for the Alma Mater, for the greater glory of God, and for the bunch of guys wildly cheering my name from the grandstand – friends who wait at the finish line with a much needed bottle of Gatorade.
I am exerting the best of my efforts in pursuit of elusive triumph. When I feel the fangs of fatigue and the urge to simply give up, I picture myself at the end of the 110m High Hurdles finish line, raising my arms in victory. I think of the moment wherein tears of joy and not of helpless despair would slowly fall down my cheeks towards the hallowed track of the Rizal Memorial Track Oval – a moment I dream of day and night.