One doesn’t forget relationships, especially those forged by years, juxtaposing things mundane and extraordinary. Shared hardships, joys, successes, failures, and misunderstandings can build foundations of relationships that outlast the passing of years.
That’s how I see the relationship I’ve had with our former head coach in the national team, Mr Nestor Ilagan.
I first met him in 1995 when I joined a club team in UP. The sport already has a thriving community then. Stretchings at the car park, queuing at the docking area, meetings, and competitions made everyone know everybody else if not by name, at least by face. Mr Ilagan was harder to miss than most. He’s always there overseeing the training of the men’s national team as well as a permanent fixture in the regattas organized by the Amateur Rowing Association of the Philippines (ARAP). It was the time dragon boat was still under ARAP, before it organized its own national sports association in 2003.
In 1996, I began actively helping them at the national team as a volunteer. Then in 1997, Mr Ilagan was among those who encouraged me to try out for the pioneer team of the national women’s crew. Since then, he’s played the role of head coach, mentor, father figure, boss, adviser, and friend to me.
It’s hard not to get close when you spend at least 3 hours each day, 6 days a week on training. And that’s during off-peak periods. Then add the seemingly endless hours doing admin-related tasks for the men and women’s team. We couldn’t afford to hire someone to do that for us. He, the other coach, and I did most of the work.
As our head coach, he introduced me to the kind of iron discipline that would make the softhearted and the less committed quit. I may not have agreed with most of his decisions, but I cannot fault his dedication, love, and passion for the sport.
This is why I’m mourning his passing. I heard about it this morning. I immediately sought to confirm it with our Philippine Rowing Association (PRA) president, Mr Ramos. And he said yes, Mr Ilagan figured in an accident yesterday, in which he never recovered from his injuries. I first thought that maybe he had a car accident. But a former teammate told me later that the accident happened at the docking site. Mr Ilagan slipped and hit his head on an outcropping of rocks at the docking area. He passed away at the ICU of a hospital in Manila at 3:25 this morning.
Despite the sense of loss and mourning for his untimely death, I couldn’t help but think that maybe for him, it was not a very bad way to leave. He spent some of his last conscious moments at his beloved sport’s training venue. It seems like he’s always never truly far away from the sport he loved.
May you rest in peace, Mr Ilagan. I hope you are in a place where you can continue to love the sport you were so devoted to when you were alive. I’d like to believe that it’s a place where sports politics will no longer be able to cast its shadow on you. We may not have been as close as we used to during the latter years of your life, but I still value the time and memories I had with you. Good and bad, triumphs and travails, they all contributed in shaping who I am today.
Thank you for everything.