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Focusing on your passion: Learning from world–class young athletes
Ofelia C. Empian

ROLE MODELS -- Japan Karate Association practitioner Gerald Felipe, future Olympian and Philippine Archery Team member Kareel Meer Hongitan, Philippine Triathlon Team member Joshua Ramos, and Bardilleranz calisthenics member Ortis Tindaan Jr., all student-athletes, exemplify character and leadership serving as role models for the youth in this generation. -- Contributed/Ofelia Empian photos
A research made by the Consumer Insights team of Microsoft Canada in 2015, cited by TIME magazine, noted that people in this digital era are generally losing concentration after eight seconds into their task. Thus, people now beat the attention span of a goldfish, known to last for nine seconds.

Whether this is true for you or not, maintaining focus is not easy especially with the distractions brought by the advancement of technology in the last decade. This smartphone-dominated world has caused changes in people’s lifestyle and behavior, leading to the increasing demand of instant results.

However, there are still things that need to be given enough time and dedication before arriving at the desired result. One of these is getting into the good ol’ sports. Delving into sports is not easy, more so if one is juggling other responsibilities at the same time.

The following homegrown athletes are examples of young individuals who have dedicated themselves in pursuing their passion focusing in their respective sports, at the same time balan-cing their time for family, studies, and advocacies.

The triathlete

Every day, triathlon athlete Joshua Ramos dedicates three to four hours to practice in preparation for a big race. In February, the 15-year-old triathlete trained under the helm of international coaches, along with 29 others from different countries, in the Asian Triathlon Confederation Development Team training camp in Bangkok, Thailand.

This was his second time to be accepted in the grueling triathlon training camp as he was also sent last year by the triathlon association of the Philippines in Malaysia and Indonesia.

It will be a full schedule for him, as he will be sent to Portugal in May where he and other young Pinoy athletes will undergo strict and rigid training in preparation for the Youth Olympic Games Asian qualifying race in June.

Ramos found himself trying out different sports at age five, getting first into taekwondo, basketball, swimming, and eventually venturing into triathlon at age 11, where he is now focusing on.

“Although he was always involved in basketball, his athleticism was not exceptional. He also has an inclination towards music. What stood out, however, was his patience in the things he would do. That, I think, set him up for the tough sport of triathlon,” said his father and mentor, Jet, who leads the Ramos triathlon family.

The archer

For bemedalled archer Kareel Meer Ho-ngitan, it takes her Monday to Saturday to practice shooting arrows or conduct bow training to get to her maximum performance during competitions.

Hongitan, a bronze medalist in the team event in the 29th Southeast Asian Games and recently represented the country in the just concluded Asia Cup Stage 2, went back to training mode again.

“In archery, you really have to train every day because if you miss training, you’ll be back to zero,” the 21-year-old Hongitan, who started archery at age nine, said.

Hongitan, together with Philippine Teammate Mark Javier, placed fourth in the recurve mixed team event of the competition recently held in Malate, Manila.

Although she failed to bring home the bacon, with the expectation high up on the PHL Team due to home court advantage, she said there are certain factors that affected their performance such as having little time to train at the playing venue and wind control.

 “I felt sad but overall, it motivates me to train and strive harder. It was an opportunity to play in the bronze medal match. I learned that even when times are bad, God is still so good; we should accept God’s will because He has a good reason for everything and His plans are always greater than ours,” she said.

The karate kid

Tublay, Benguet native Gerard Felipe, a Japan Karate Association athlete, is so much more than a student-athlete. As a representative of Australia in international JKA meets, he allots one and a half hour of practices on Monday and Friday and on Wednesday evening and Saturday morning if he has time, as well as a compulsory state squad training once a month for five hours on Saturdays.

This is because he fulfills his duties as the first youth mayor in the town of Frankston in the state of Victoria, Australia where his family resides. Felipe is also a freshman student at the Monash University taking up Criminology and Political Science.

“So far, I have been actively engaged in the community by speaking to the youth, partaking in regular meetings and attending local events. Because the role requires much participation, I had initially found it challenging to keep up with training, but as I settled into my new role I have regained the momentum to keep up with regular and personal training session,” said the 19-year-old Felipe.

The calisthenics athlete

Ortis Tindaan, Jr. could not believe that following his passion for calisthenics would someday be recognized and even shown on national TV.

His team, Bardilleranz quickly became a household name after joining the latest season of the TV talent search, “Pilipinas Got Talent” where they introduced to the audience the virtually unknown sport of calisthenics.

Calisthenics workout, also known as street workout, uses bodyweight movements and has benefits which include increasing strength, creativity, balance, power, endurance, and of course, aesthetics. Tindaan and his team has been joining and winning calisthenics competitions in Manila, where the sport has a strong following, prior to their exposure to PGT.

To maintain their physique, Tindaan said they are practicing an average of three to five days doing body weights, other core movement’s handstand, pull-up, and bar tricks “to help maintain their stamina.”

The 19-year-old BS Education, majoring in MAPEH, student of University of the Cordilleras, said he manages his time well, always carving time for training when not in school.

“For me going to school is not a hindrance to do trainings so what I do during enrollment is that I fix my schedules. I make sure there’s time for training but of course my priority is still going to school,” he said, adding the school is supportive of his sport.

Success, failures, lessons learned

Being an athlete is rewarding but oftentimes there lies challenges that either makes or breaks them.

It was because of bullies that Felipe, a migrant in the land Down Under, started learning karate at 11 years old.

“I was quite small compared with the other kids back then, so I was bullied by many of those older than me,” he said, adding his parents, Edralin and Jacqueline of Acop, Tublay urged him to try karate.

Learning karate proved to be a discipline for him that helped shape his life for the past eight years.

“Karate has taught me to become a better person and to seek perfection of character which is one of the four major principles we follow. It has taught me discipline and to cultivate a peaceful mind. I would definitely say it has helped me cope with my environment as a migrant, giving me confidence, but humility at the same time,” he said.

All these, he has brought to his school and home life where he was recognized for his leadership skills, as the 2016-2017 chairman of the Executive Committee, Victorian State Student Representative Council, when he graduated in high school. He took this role while representing Australia in JKA competitions, placing 5th in the 2017 JKA World Karate Championships held in Limerick, Ireland.

Ultimately, he found his love for public service and thus took the chance when the youth mayor role was published in a local newspaper, which he was fortunately chosen for his outstanding background.

Dividing his time as a youth mayor, a student, and an athlete was challenging that’s why he reduced his training hours to pave way for public service and his studies.

This “putting first things first” dictum has never been so real to Hongitan than when she reached college.

Baguio’s most decorated female archer said when she entered college, taking up B.S. Tourism Management now as a senior student in the University of Baguio, she wanted to prove that athletes can excel in their studies too, contrary to notions that student-athletes are “dumb.”

“I want to prove that athletes are smart too (but) I got stressed in proving myself. It wasn’t that easy,” she said.

Making a point, she made it to the dean’s list level 3 with an average of 93 to 94 in her freshman year. In 2014, she was recruited to the Philippine Team where she committed to attend all training camps locally and internationally as well as World Archery Philippines-sanctioned tournaments. Then she lost control of her grades. 

“I got thrown off from level 3.My grades went down to level 2 to level 1 until I’m already enrolling just one subject per semester. My grades dramatically went low because some of my teachers can’t really provide completion activities because those I missed were hands-on activities,” she said.

It was practically a sacrifice for her, since she and her trainer-coach father John, chose to be based in Baguio. That’s why she spends four to six hours travelling to Manila whenever she is needed in competitions or trainings with her team.

“I cried to my dad and told him I don’t want to play anymore. He consoled me and said that school is just there, there’s even an 80-year-old who just graduated from school. But the opportunities in sports like this will not give me assurance that they’ll come back if ever I missed them now. And of course you will lose your strength if you get older. That pushed me to continue playing,” she said.

“Eventually, I enjoyed the sport and just accepted that God will not give you a skill and talent without a purpose,” she added.

Being on the Philippine Team also gives her the opportunity to travel abroad during competitions – giving her the firsthand experience of the culture and tradition of other places – something she cannot learn inside the classroom as a student taking up Tourism.

Finding flexibility in schedules to fit the unique lifestyle of student-athletes is not easy and is something that the Ramos family thought hard for Joshua when his triathlon career started to take flight.

Jet said it was a joint decision for his son Josh to switch to homeschool since the “advantages are countless.”

“But the one that stands out is he is able to balance schoolwork and his sport much better now. It is also advantageous to him physically because he is able to get the needed rest after his training sessions,” he said.

The younger Ramos spends four to five hours a day doing schoolwork.

Joshua started without formal training, running alongside his father and family during competitions and as a family bonding activity as well.

Because of Joshua’s exceptional performances in the triathlons he joined, particularly winning gold in the mini sprint category of the National Age Group Triathlon in 2016 at 13 years old, it was then that various sponsors approached him.

It is every athlete’s dream to be given sponsorships and every aid extended to them is greatly appreciated. But with or without sponsorships, many local athletes still manage to get by because of the passion they have for the sport.

For Tindaan and his team, they got by from their own pockets to produce bars and mats for practices. They were allowed to use the open space near the Athletic Bowl swimming pool area (a stone’s throw from the archery range) where they set up their exercise equipment. They are still hoping for a more permanent space they can call their own, in order to have a complete setup of the pull-up bars they needed.

“Because of our dedication and commitment, we will continue to fight and work for our dreams as well as for our family. This is the area where we have started and we will always be grateful,” Tindaan said.

Making use of time wisely

With their busy schedules, they were asked how many hours are they spending on social media.

“Thankfully I actually don’t spend as much time on Facebook and Instagram as I used to, so I strive to minimize my contact hours on those platforms to one to two hours a day. However, I spend more time on Facebook’s “Messenger” mainly keeping up the communications with friends and family abroad,” Felipe said.

“In my case I study on social media, like we have this group chat wherein we talk about our projects and stuff with my group mates and even professors. I have my phone with me all the time so maybe it covers 50 percent of my day,” Hongitan said.

“Right now, I don’t do social media,” Ramos said.

With their busy schedules, do these student athletes still have time for anything else?

Hongitan: “Besides school and archery, I always make sure I have fellowship with my spiritual mentor in Victory (church). I want to make sure my spiritual life is healthy too.”

Ramos: “I do enjoy playing video games. I also enjoy joining my church group when I am in Baguio.”

Felipe: “Because I truly enjoy my studies in Criminology and Political Science, I have found myself studying out of interest rather than through a rigorous schedule. As a result, my contact hours for personal study differ from day to day but I usually reserve two to three hours a day at minimum. In terms of fulfilling my duties (as youth mayor), I have dedicated flexible hours throughout the daytime of the week, mainly dedicating my availability for Thursday and Friday, but confirming my reservation for family, training and church for Saturday and Sunday.”

When asked about their advice to fellow students on how they manage their time:

“You really need discipline if you want to manage your time properly. It starts with good habits,” Ramos said.

“Just believe in yourself. If you have time to worry, you have time to pray. Always prioritize and do the first things first. Eradicate procrastination,” Hongitan said.

Felipe offers a practical guide for students (or anyone for that matter) in managing time:

“In terms of time management, the best advice I can give is to prioritize and develop a suitable schedule/timetable by setting out and completing activities that are enjoyable and intrinsically rewarding to you first (e.g. reading, exercise, drinking coffee with friends, spending time with family, praying to God), then working around those measures by completing required tasks that are usually extrinsically rewarding, last (e.g. study, paperwork, attendance, duties).”

“By fulfilling and prioritizing your most enjoyable and intrinsically rewarding activities first, you are more able to find the motivation, strength and support to carry on with the required tasks. But most importantly, always give time and sacrifice to our Creator,” he added.

Focusing forward

“People perish because of lack of vision” but there is no lacking in vision with these athletes, pushing them to go for more.

Ramos’ ultimate aim is to join the 2024 Olympics hosted by Paris, France that motivates him when things get rough. 

“I always remind myself of 2024, the Olympics. I see myself as an Olympian,” he said.

Which is the same with Hongitan, but before that, to graduate from her course in December.

“After that, I will be a full-time athlete until I qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics,” she mused.

Taking on a slightly different route would be Felipe, who sees himself as a public servant in the near future while still actively pursuing JKA.

“I will continue to train in the art of karate until I die, and pray to be the best person I can be by continuing to be of service to others in the years to come,” he said.

Tindaan, who was inspired by his friends to get into “healthy lifestyle,” sees himself as an advocate of fitness and wellness, which he said, is the main aim of Bardilleranz. Currently, they are now preparing for their epic routine for the grand finals of the talent competition.

“We will start working on various advocacies like helping vulnerable children by doing community outreach, continue in educating the youth to keep away from vices/drugs and engaging them on sports or bringing them to group of fitness enthusiasts,” he said.

There is no assurance that every young people who play sports can make it into the “big league” but sports trainings are a way to open young people’s minds to failure and success, on how to deal with these experiences in a positive manner in preparing them for the reality of the world. Sports trainings not only make them better athletes but also better human beings too, inside and outside the game court.

Perhaps the life of a student athlete would be best described by the Instagram caption of Ramos, showing him and his younger brother Dash, doing their regular run at the Baguio Athletic Bowl:

“Most will say I’m not living a typical teenager’s life. But like what one of our athletes said, ‘normal life can wait.’ Or maybe this is my normal.”

As for you reader, you’ve reached the end of this article. You can keep your focus more than that of a goldfish.
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