My Papa and the (Original) Athlete’s Foot

(I wrote this piece in Nov of 1999 for my column ‘The Athlete’s Foot’. I was writing for the Scoreboard Sports Magazine then. This piece is in honor of my Papa, who died 14 years ago today.)

I GOT MY by-line, The Athlete’s Foot, from my Papa. He used to say: “I used to be an all-around athlete. Now the only athlete left in me is my athlete’s foot.” Which fit me to a T. So I decided to borrow it from Papa when bossman Ricky Gargantiel offered me the privilege to write for SCOREBOARD.

When I was about 7, I got diagnosed for having weak lungs. My Papa encouraged me to join the neighborhood sports activities just so I could strengthen my lungs. I was a skinny little inconsequential pest then, and that’s probably the reason why I always tried to make my presence felt.

Oh yes, I can still vividly remember the neighborhood in Iriga Street in Dapitan, Quezon City. I remember being cajoled into my first boxing match there. We used to have boxing matches among the young kids. The gloves smelled so much from overuse, but we didn’t give a damn. We kept at it until that one set of gloves expired, finally giving up on us for all the abuse it was taking. That virtually TKO’d our dreams of doing a Flash Elorde.

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Learned to box in the streets of Dapitan.

Just a corner away, there lived one of the legendary sports figures whom we all idolized at that time. Jose Sumalde had just scored back-to-back wins in the Tour of Luzon, and he was gunning for an unprecedented third! That summer, we all stayed glued to our transistor radio, praying for Joe to accomplish that singular feat. But it was not meant to be. Despite the torrent of encouragement and instructions bellowed by my Papa over the radio, Joe could not stave off the challenge posed by the youthful Cornelio Padilla Jr. What a disappointment it was for us. A year later, Padilla would capture a second crown, duplicating our Joe’s record.

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Followed the Tour of Luzon every summer.

My frail health condition led my Papa to push me into joining the neighborhood games. Because of the immense popularity of cycling and horse racing then, foot races became a fad in our area. We would stage foot races pretending that each one was a cyclist or a racehorse. The more popular names among the cyclists then were Padilla, Sumalde, Virgilio Delin, Jesus Garcia, and Domingo Quilban. I remember the more popular horses then were Muscles and Iron Man.

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“Into the homestretch, it’s Iron Man on the lead…” Dreamed of being a horserace announcer as a young kid.

One Christmas evening, my Papa took me to a jeepney ride to Quiapo. He brought me to Raon Street where I would always take time to look at the stores’ sports equipment on display. This time, however, he ushered me in and told me he was buying me a basketball. Imagine the surprise and the joy that lit my face when he said that!! Yup, he got me my first basketball – a Pointer it was – for a princely sum of 25 pesos. Truth was, I felt rather guilty that we were parting with 25 hard-earned pesos – which was a significant amount then – but my Papa insisted.

That started my love affair with basketball. Long before I could spell excitement, I knew the names of Narciso Bernardo, Adriano Papa, Edgardo Ocampo, and that upcoming college star, Robert Jaworski. We didn’t have any TV then, but the radio was spinning the sports stories for us.

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Learned to play basketball in the sandlots.

I remember racing for the morning papers. My Papa would get the front page, while I’d go for the sports section. Yup, while all the other kids then would go for the comics or the movie page, I was already trying to decode the unfamiliar jargon used by our sportswriters in the Manila Times’ Sports section.

As I grew up, Papa was always there to give me encouragement in my sports activities. Maybe he wanted me to be a sports star. And I tried, too. I really tried. In high school, I was into basketball, volleyball, track, ping-pong, chess, etc. The Ali-Frazier Thrilla got me to try on my boxing mitts once more.

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My first bet. Lost P20 when Ali lost to Frazier in their first bout.

When I went to college in Baguio, I tried practically all the sports offered. Played guard for our varsity cage squad. I was a member of our varsity track team. Got knocked down in a boxing bout against a gorilla 10 pounds or so heavier than me. Had a brief stint with our soccer squad before I finally decided to stick with basketball.

Over the four years in our school intrams, I played boxing, wrestling, judo, karate, fencing, table tennis, badminton, pelota, basketball, softball, soccer, swimming and track. Yes. You name it, I’d play it. I also tried tennis, but my table tennis coach told me to desist from doing so as I was playing competitive table tennis then.

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Dazzled them with my defense.

It’s been years now since my graduation, and I’ve tried other sports as well. As I advanced in my chosen career, I noticed that I’ve become less competitive in the contact sports. Golf is now getting to be an interesting option. I used to look at golf with disdain, believing that the sport was a sleeper. But now, I’m starting to eat my words.

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Thought it was a boring game at first.

My early introduction and initial fascination for sports eventually turned into something short of fanatical involvement and commitment. And all this would not have been made possible without the inspiration provided by my Papa. He was always there to give me encouragement and coaching, particularly with those frustrating defeats that also came my way. He was there to guide me, and he taught me sportsmanship and many more virtues in man’s basic wisdom. He was there to imbibe in me the discipline and character that would nurture me, not just in sports, but in life in general.

Papa passed away last Sunday, November 14. He was 72. Without him, the Athlete’s Foot would not have been born.

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