Staking A Claim
By Ani Karina S. de Leon
I suck. I laid it all on the line in my last race and still it wasn’t enough. I could make up all sorts of excuses why I didn’t do well but I won’t. I don’t even want to think of how much of myself I put into this one big event. It’s ridiculous how all year long I’ve been focusing most of my energies towards it and right now all I want to do is bury it at the back of my head. Hah.
I’m talking about the recently concluded Southeast Asian Games in which I took part. Why did I want to join this thing anyway? It seemed like a good suggestion at the time my friend convinced me into trying out for it. I really wasn’t prepared for that first qualifying race (and I paid for it) but it was mostly out of curiosity if I could hack it that I joined. Slowly, I gained momentum as the rest of the races progressed and what do you know, I did make the cut, which for me was a big relief.
Fast forward to the final lap of my run in the triathlon event of the SEAGames, wherein I felt like everything was happening in slow motion, but I guess that’s probably because I was actually going at the slowest possible pace you could ever imagine. My legs felt like lead and I have no idea how I was able to commandeer them to move. That’s when my last chance to medal was cruelly and quickly taken away from me. I couldn’t hang on to the girl who passed me even when I tried to get my form together nor when as a last resort I summoned all the spirits I could conjure up. As I eventually crossed the finish line I was in pain. Physically sore, definitely, but I think it was my heart that hurt the most, and I was crying a couple of minutes longer than I should have if the aching was caused only by my throbbing body.
Lying in the hospital bed (straight from the finish line stretchered via an ambulance), I was confused. What happened? Was that it? I was supposed to be fit wasn’t I? My entire year seemed like such a waste. I started to weep again in silence.
And then I stopped myself. What was I doing? I couldn’t wallow in self-pity now. I had done too much and my friends and family had gone through a lot only for me to end up in this state, and I couldn’t allow it. A voice kept ringing inside my head, and it was my teammate’s soothing words. It’s the journey, not the destination. That calmed me a lot.
This has proved to be a really colorful year for me in more ways than one. I ended a long term relationship, I won races and I lost races. My precious, precious custom-made titanium bike got stolen at a very crucial period in my preparation, and at different points during my training I had to ride my teammate’s bike when he wasn’t using it, a really heavy cruiser bike, a BMX bike (yes you read correctly), and an old seven speed racer, until I finally got my Vellum road bike right before my main race. Too many times we found ourselves in strange and uncomfortable situations, like locking ourselves out of the house and climbing over the balcony so we wouldn’t miss a workout, living like sardines in a box without proper food for two months, often pissing off our coach because of our stupidity, getting lost in a foreign country, always running out of money, heck, how I could go on. I had a couple of rough training patches due to injury and some pretty breakthrough performances. I crashed big time going down a slope in the rain, and I will always have an ugly mark on my face to remember it by. I have had a lot of good times and countless petty fights (which sometimes end up in brawls) with my teammates, whom I’ve had to contend with for the past couple of months, and whom I adore. I found out who my true friends were. I met new people and experienced new places. I acquired new knowledge and imparted what little I knew with others.
Looking back, it was one big rollercoaster ride. Throughout this whole thing though, I did feel loved. I have been the beneficiary of numerous kind and selfless souls who have shared themselves with me willingly and because of this I feel like I have, indeed, emerged a winner. And for the first time since I started competing, my family came out and watched me. Maybe they all sensed that they were going to be part of something big.
I do tend to forget it once in a while, but of course I realize that the Games is not about me nor my sport alone. Yes, me and my fellow triathletes do contribute, but we are just bit players in a major production. And what a lot of produce we had, the Philippine Team. I am thrilled to have been part of this particular delegation, which for the first time in the history of the SEAGames claimed the overall championship. The fact that the Philippine Sportswriters Association named no one athlete as Athlete of the Year and instead named the whole Philippine Team as the award’s recipient because of this overwhelming effort is an indication of its significance. Theo, a sportswriter pointed out to me that it was my prize, too.
Truth be told, I don’t feel like I have anything to be ashamed of even if I don’t have hardware of any color to show for it. Someone wise reminded me of a line in the movie A Few Good Men which says that you don’t need to have a medal to have Honor, and although it took me a while to accept this, I do agree. And naah, I don’t think I suck. I am aware that just to get into this level already takes a certain amount of attitude and ability. I am proud of what I do. I was able to serve and participate in such a hope-giving demonstration for this much deserving nation. I watched emotionally as our flag waved gracefully to the whole of Southeast Asia at the closing ceremonies. Oh I would gladly do it all over again in a heartbeat.