On the plane home from the Philippines I spent a lot of time thinking. I didn’t know how bad my knee was, but I knew worse case scenario I would need immediate surgery. This was a gut check moment for me: if I did need surgery did I still want to keep playing and if the answer was yes what was my motivation. So how did I find the answers to these questions? I wrote myself a scribble, not a letter, just my thoughts about how I felt and what I wanted in life.
When I started college at UNCG I took English 101. My teacher, Ms. Whiteside, encouraged us to write. Sometimes with a purpose and sometimes just to put our thoughts on paper. I started to do this and found that when making a decision if I put all my thoughts on paper I could re-organize them at a later time. During the class, I found that I often wrote my thesis in my conclusion and it was only by fully processing all my ideas did I get to the point. When scribbling to myself on the plane I found the same thing.
I wrote a couple of pages of scribbles in my rugby journal. I didn’t self-edit and let my ideas flow. I re-read my scribbles after a meal, a snooze and a couple of movies. The first line I wrote was ” It’s my passion. After Julie & Brynn, rugby is my priority. I want to achieve my dream of playing rugby at the highest level I can achieve.” and the last was “I play rugby because I love the game: the physicality, the strategy, the battle, the brotherhood, the opportunity to show out and the ability to conquer my fears (getting hurt and failure).” This is my passion.
So spend some time being honest and write your thoughts out. Read it later, you may be surprised about what you think.
So the squad for the A5N Division 1 tournament was released today. I was ecstatic that my name was on the list. We are due to meet back in Manila on May 25. I’m about to start looking for flights and it looks as though I may be leaving on Brynn’s birthday again. I am grateful that Julie and Brynn make these sacrifices so I can pursue my dreams.
The swelling in my knee has gone down and my range of movement has increased. I am focusing on proprioception and getting the muscles working to coordinate movement. Keeping the tasks manageable is important part of getting to my goal of facing Korea in June.
As for the other aspects of life, I have an exam and a project left before the end of semester. I will walking at the graduating ceremony on May 6, but won’t graduate until August. I’m excited to be a part of the ceremony, but I think the sense of accomplishment will happen in August.
After the post-match function, we headed back to the hotel. Most of the boys headed out, but a few of us had flights early in the morning. I stayed in, packed my bags and talked to Julie and Brynn. I wanted to go out but was wary with my knee still swollen.
Austin, Phil and I headed to the airport at 3am. I saw a couple of the boys returning from the night out. It always sucks to say goodbye, but hopefully this will only be a short time between training camps. The three old boys grabbed a cab and headed to an already busy international airport.
Fortunately, Phil and I were on the same flight to Beijing. We got seats next to each other but I’m afraid I was probably rather boring as I passed out on takeoff and probably slept for 3 of the 4 1/2 hours. When we arrived at the airport we went exploring.
The airport is massive and includes an indoor sitting area complete with pagoda and koi pond. Then it was a quick “Chinese fast food” experience. This is basically a buffet style counter with each dish being a certain amount. Fortunately, I could pay in dollars and received dollars as change except for a single 5 yuan note.
The rest of the flights were long but uneventful. The only interesting side note was that in China while passing through customs I had entertained a 3 year old who shared our flight by making funny faces. As fate would have it the child and her mother were also bound for Charlotte, so both in New York and Charlotte the little girl kept coming over to talk and play. The flights were on time and I arrived back to Charlotte tired but extremely happy to see Julie and Brynn.
It was so nice to see my girls. The hardest part about touring is missing out on family time. Brynn’s talking was greatly improved and she had grown. Julie looked worn out, I guess because normally we share the load of looking after Brynn.
When I woke up on Saturday morning, I was excited that the test was finally here. Although unable to play, I was excited to watch the boys in action and see the culmination of a weeks training. The morning started with team and unit meetings. The boys were looking focused and relaxed.
I headed to the mall for lunch with Lolo Austy, Phil and Nick Pineda. We reflected on the week of training. Meals and bus rides have been a grey opportunity to learn more about my teammates. Everyone has a unique story including Nick who fenced in high school and only recently picked up rugby.
Before we left for Nomads, the team meet one last time. Jared had put together a video presentation of the team’s trip to Smokey Mountain on Thursday. He set it to the song “We could be heroes” and exhorted the team to be heroes today. Many of the players were moved by the presentation and we left in a sombre mood prepared to represent everyone in the Philippines.
The boys looked focused in warmup and carried the intensity into the game. Te defensive pressure increased and feces Hong Kong into early mistakes. Unfortunately, the Volcanoes ran into the best Hong Kong performance in the coaches tenure. It seemed that each time the Volcanoes made a poor decision or mistake they were punished. Although the Volcanoes improved Hong Kong brought another level of intensity, precision and focus to the game. We were taught a rugby lesson and shown the areas of individual and collective games if we want to compete with the top dogs in Asia. However in true Filipino style, the lads worked hard until the last whistle and Oli went over for a try in the last 10 minutes.
Although we ended up on the wrong end of a rugby lesson, the game itself was a success. To think when I joined the Philippine Volcanoes in 2007 the team was dominated by expats and funded by the players. In those days we could not have commanded an interview with Hong Kong. Now we have played our first friendly against Hong Kong and both unions would like to see this become a regular feature on the rugby calendar. Thanks has to be given to the PRFU board for continuing to develop rugby in the Philippines and creating opportunities to showcase the sport.
Post match we headed to The Establishment to catch up with the lads from Hong Kong, grab a feed and a quiet one. Many thanks to Bea Zobel for hosting the event. It was a class evening with Jared’s video being replayed as well as a video that Chris Hettel put together of the Volcanoes training camp. The only thing left was to pack the bags, say good-byes and wait for the A5N Division 1 team to be announced.
I went to see Damo after the meeting this morning and was given some very bad news, I had been rules out of the test match against Hong Kong. Damo had made the call the night before and when I couldn’t do a straight let raise he knew that it was the right decision. The news devastated me. I worked hard in the lead up to the camp and was aware of the areas that I needed to work on to improve from the trial. At the moment, I can’t see the silver lining but everything happens for a reason.
After processing the disappointment by getting a haircut, we had jersey presentation for the test team at the Manila Polo Club. This is the opposite end of the spectrum from Smokey Mountain. The plush surroundings and good food provided a stark contrast and showed how prosperous the Philippines can be. The boys received their jerseys and it was great to see the players who earned their spot through a tough week of work receive their reward. A number of players will be making their debut and it is awesome to welcome them to the brotherhood.
After the jersey presentation, the PRFU board filled in the players on where the union is heading. From 2007 to the present, the board has dragged rugby from being a new sport to one teetering on the edge of national prominence. The board has done a great job of developing all levels of rugby in the Philippines with juniors growing, women’s rugby developing, the club competition improving and the national teams excelling. The changes have been positive and I look forward to more in the future.
Finally, we thanked our management staff. Expo finds Filipino players all over the world and binds them into a unit so quickly. He is an example of professionalism with the Pinoy spirit of pride in our culture. Jared connects with the players through expertise and positivity. The team responds to the pushing and prodding as he strives to force each player and unit to their potential. Damo keeps us on the field. The physio never stops working and Damo’s work ethic and knowledge is invaluable. He got me back on the field and he had my best interests at heart when he ruled me out. Finally, Chooky aka Matt. He drives the PRFU bus and is doing so much good work in the Philippines. He goes into the orphanages, keeps up relations with sponsors and is always ready for a good chin wag.
As disappointed as I am not to be playing, I can’t wait to see the boys take on Hong Kong. Everyone is ready to catch them unawares. We did not play well on Thursday, but the game meant nothing. We watched the video and understand where we went wrong and how we can fix it. This one is for all the marbles and I know the boys are prepared and are going to get the job done.
Game day was here and our morning team run was different. We started by going to Smokey Mountain to pickup orphans to train with us. We arrived at Smokey Mountain and I have no words to describe how overwhelmed I was by the poverty. Smokey Mountain is a rubbish dump that people live on and scavenge through to find scraps of glass, plastic and metal to sell. The conditions are absolutely appalling and yet we were greeted with smiles. We stood out there playing with the kids until we were chased away by the village captain.
The kids from the orphanage came with us to Rizal park. At Rizal we played touch with them and tool photos. It really put in perspective the contrast between Filipinos. On the one hand are the well off and very westernized middle and upper class and on the other is the extreme poverty and chaos of a third world country. I am proud of everything Filipino but this experience put a new perspective on things.
That evening we headed to the International School of Manila for a trial match against Hong Kong. The game was a little weird because it was four quarters and in each quarter we had a different team. I captained the second quarter and out combination did not do that well. It was difficult to get scored on and the Hong Kong team was very clinical. During the third period I took a good hit up but while being tackled I dislocated my kneecap. That was the end of my match. The trial as a whole showed the lads, new and old, the steps that we are going to need to take be competitive with the big nations in Asia.
Personally, I played alright. I gave up a penalty for a late shot that I’m not proud of. I thought I did some good things but I wasn’t really happy with my scrummaging, I’ve got to work a little harder on my technique & a bit of size wouldn’t hurt.