Sports Dad, again

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco - The Philippine Star

It had been well over a decade since I’d been a sports Dad, since I’ve stressed behind the scenes for my child in practice or a tournament. With two sons who played basketball in high school and college, there was always more preparation to do, more shoes to buy, more groceries to get, more pep talks to give. It’s a constant routine of making sure your kid has everything he or she needs, within your means, to do well, protect them whenever you can. The rest was up to them.

Now, my 11-year-old daughter Alexandra was unexpectedly thrust into a swimming competition. Like me, she has always loved the water. In 2022, we moved back to Metro Manila from Zambales and tried to consistently continue her swimming lessons at the Bert Lozada Swim School (BLSS). Two weeks ago, we were surprised to find that Alex had been recommended to join First Plunge, a novice swimming competition slate for last Saturday. She was only learning the fundamentals for fun. Of course, this ignited a fresh round of excitement. It was going to be her first sports event of any kind. It also produced a bit of anxiety: will she be ready? Does she really want to do it competitively? Will she be able to handle the emotional rollercoaster of competing with crowds around her? And of course, swimwear is not exactly cheap.

Luckily, Kei and I are together in wanting Alex to get into sports, and are both driven to help our daughter the best we can. It provides a grounding experiences, a safe laboratory for experiences later on in life. Here, Alex can fail, succeed and learn, and apply those lessons out in the real world. Off we went. As a budding athlete’s support team, I’d forgotten that – even for just a while – you’re almost like an athlete yourself. You wake up much earlier, make sure everything needed is ready like food, gear, a change of clothes. Then you calm your kid’s nerves, drive to the venue exceedingly early, learn the lay of the land and stake out your spot for video recording. Unmindful of the heat and humidity, your only thought is to make things as convenient for your child as possible. When the time comes, the only thing you can really do is reassure, and promise that training was harder than the actual race.

Alex was entered in the novice races in each of the four strokes, starting with the butterfly, which the entire team disliked because of its difficulty. It was a sweaty, noisy, chaotic but organized event, with the swimmers excitedly lined up and ready for their events early. After their first events, the adrenaline tension was gone, and it became even more fun. For the parents, the cacophony of noise was drowned out by focusing on what your child needs. Is this experience going to strengthen her, or break her heart? A parent is often even more fearful than the child actually competing.

Then something magical happened, something I had forgotten routinely took place. Other parents, people we had just begun to know, started cheering for each other’s kids, as loud as they could. They were on their feet, shouting their lungs out. In every race. It released the stress, and buoyed each other’s spirits. We became one in the experience of gradually letting our children experience life, despite the potential for getting hurt. There was nothing else to do but embrace the experience.

At the end of the day, aching all over, smelling of our unified sweat, salt stains on our clothes, tired and happy, we were one. We had been through the common experience of seeing our children take a big leap forward as people, grow and become stronger of will and heart. They had learned about themselves, made new friends, widened their world, and realized that they could accomplish things they never thought they could. And we all slept deeply that night, blissfully fulfilled.

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