Jots (6 February 2009)

Culled from my old Multiply account. View the original post here.

Missing the 1st day of the UAAP was out of the question. Even if I did not have leave credits yet, I bravely asked my new boss for permission to leave work early, just to watch my old teammates compete. The 1st day harvest was bountiful, with the team bagging 3 golds, a silver and a bronze medal.

It was refreshingly nostalgic to see my old training buddies, Jotham Manlapaz and Mike Mendoza, in action again. Jots has improved a lot. He starts a lot faster and he snaps his lead leg quicker than the last time I saw him. Mike was his usual cool self: composed yet intense.

Seeing the other hurdlers run, it was obvious that Mike was in a league of his own. His form was just too fluid and his speed too overwhelming for his competitors. Mike was my hands down choice for this year’s gold.

But of course, my two sets of eyes were focused on Jots – my friend and former training partner. Amongst our hurdling group, I felt the closest to the big guy (literally, since I always hitched with him going home!). He was the closest I had to a protege. His faith in my hurdling and my qualities as an athlete was heartwarming. And the respect was mutual. Amidst my then volatile temperament, I looked up to my God-fearing training buddy’s calm demeanor and firm Faith. When he broke the 16-second barrier months before the UAAP, I felt ecstatic. I wanted him to win a medal, to go out with a bang.

But fate it seems, had other plans.

My friend clipped the 3rd hurdle with his trail leg, and fell badly on the track. He was out of the race. I could almost feel his pain and disappointment when I saw him lying face down on the orange track. If life really did have a rewind button, I would’ve clicked it in an attempt to reverse the day’s tragic outcome.

For the next 10 or so seconds of the race, I did not know where to look. On one side of the track, Mike was pulling away from the field. On the other, Jots was immobile. As I saw Mike raise his arms at the finish line, I immediately went to the bleachers near the 30m mark to have a closer look at things.

To my relief, both of Jots’ limbs were intact. Thank heavens, he didn’t fracture any bone (he had torn his hip flexor or some other hip muscle). But the moment he tried to stood up, I heard a scream of pain. It was obvious that my friend’s last UAAP had ended prematurely.

Photo from Karla Lim

It broke my heart seeing him lying on the track in pain and in tears. Why did it have to happen to him of all people? Then again, injuries are a part of sport. That’s just the way things go when you’re an athlete.

To be honest, I didn’t know what to say once I finally made my way to the track. I know for a fact that no words could possibly soothe the frustration that he was feeling. That battle is an inner struggle one has to face – alone.

We visited Jots at the hospital the evening after the accident. He was his usual bubbly self, albeit with a faint trace of gloom. He dealt with the abrupt and unwanted ending not with anger, but with faith. “Our job thereafter is to make sense of what happened and to learn, move on, and be someone better,” said Jotham. “Everything is planned out by Him above.”

Amidst the obvious physical and emotional pain, I’ve never seen a happier, more content man.

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