With the release of the ARF jury list last week, I now can prepare for my assignments for this year. It’s quite a coincidence that I’ll be doing jury duties for two junior championships. From what I understand the Asian championships will also serve as the qualification regatta for the 2018 Youth Olympic Games which will be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Umpiring may not be an easy job, and often a thankless one too, but it is something that I always look forward to. The constant challenge and being around people who are driven, committed, and passionate about what they do make every stint a worthwhile experience.
IMPULSE PH participants have been busy in the past three months since the seminar. I have been trying to keep track of what my tribe mates/sports sisters have been up to as part of a project I will be doing beginning the second half of the year. Here’s something I made that provides a glimpse of what some of the IMPULSEPH ladies have been up to so far:
I welcomed March, which also happened to be Women’s Month, with a simple goal of doing something, no matter how small, for the women in sports advocacy. Somehow, along the way, small milestones just piled up. I couldn’t think of a better way to end it than how it did – being with like-minded people who inspired and re-energized me to dream and do more.
As far back as I can remember, Holy Week has always been a time of quiet and self-reflection in our family. My childhood memories include hearing my devout Protestant grandmother telling us to refrain from making noises and instead use the time to reflect on the meaning of Lent. She also taught us to respect Catholic traditions during the Lenten season that may be different from our own.
I am not deeply religious like my grandmother or the many friends I have from different faiths. But Holy Week has become a time of slowing down for me. I often end up spending it in solitude, reading books, or writing in my journal. This week though, I find myself working on a Maundy Thursday and Good Friday just so I can take a few days off work next week to attend this seminar:
I was happy to see some familiar names on the email addresses in the communications I received in the past weeks. Giving up my off days from work may not exactly be how I planned my 2016 Holy Week would be. But it is a fair exchange for the opportunity not just to attend the seminar/training but also to see some of the athletes and sports leaders I have not seen for a long time.
There were several reasons I was looking forward to the 28th Southeast Asian Games (SEA) Games in Singapore last June. Apart from the prospect of seeing colleagues again, some of whom I have not seen since the last SEA Games in Myanmar in 2013, I was also excited to perform international technical official (ITO)/jury duties in Singapore — which I have not done before.
All of us rowing ITOs received our personalized Letter of Identification, which would help facilitate our entry to SG and access to the Games Transport, about a few weeks before our scheduled departure. The letter contained other information including details about our accommodation, which to our surprise was at Marina Bay Sands (MBS) hotel. MBS is one of Singapore’s iconic tourist attractions. Its SkyPark® alone is famous for its Infinity Pool overlooking a scenic view of the city state’s skyline.
I arrived in Singapore on June 9 via a direct flight from Davao. I was pleasantly surprised to see a female SEAG liaison officer patiently waiting for me as soon as I came out of the plane. I think it only happened twice before. I often meet games airport liaisons just before I head to immigration in the most recent events I have been to. The gesture was a welcome surprise since it made it easier for me to proceed quickly to where I was supposed to go.
After completing immigration procedures, the liaison brought me to the Transport Desk. I only waited for a bit before we left for MBS. I traveled to the hotel with a lady ITO (for waterskiing) from Taiwan. With the evening traffic, it took us about 20 minutes to get to MBS.
The first thing that hit me was the number of cars arriving in front of the hotel. Tower 1 lobby was busy with all the arrivals. There was a dedicated check-in area for SEA Games delegates, but since there were only hotel staff in charge in it, checking-in was not as smooth as I hoped it would be. I was expecting that a SEAG staff would also be there to assist us. Thankfully, the hotel’s receptionists were efficient.
The foot traffic in Tower 1 (where I was booked) was overwhelming. I could not wait to get up to my room and rest. Finding the correct lifts going to my room’s floor was initially confusing for me. But I liked the security given that only those with keycards can operate the lifts.
I loved my room at first sight. It was big that not even the king-sized bed could dwarf it. There was a huge Philips ultra slim LED TV. The bathroom was likewise spacious with an enclosed toilet and a separate bath area with a massive bathtub. I liked their choices of toiletries. I rarely use all toiletries in hotels where I have stayed (except at the Grand Prince Hotel New Takanawa near Shinagawa station in Tokyo where the complimentary shampoo and conditioner were divine) but I enjoyed using all the toiletries at MBS including the lotion that was not the usual greasy stuff in some hotels.
Everything about the room was tasteful. I had everything I needed there. I also liked that there was an iron and ironing board conveniently hidden inside one of the closets. There was also a small in-room safe. I likewise enjoyed the selection of TWG teas that include my favorite Jasmine green tea, chamomile, and English breakfast tea. The room also has a balcony with a view of the Gardens by the Bay across it. Most of my colleagues who were given rooms in Tower 3 even had a good view of the rowing venue from their rooms.
Our breakfasts were served at the Heliconia Main Ballroom at Level 3 of Sands Expo and Convention Centre. The building sits across the street from Tower 1. The were plenty of delicious food. And there was a separate room for Halal food. I have never seen the place crowded in all the mornings we were there for breakfast.
I ordered in-room dining my first night in MBS since I was the last to arrive and it was already late. Since I was still was still unfamiliar with the lay-out of the expansive hotel, I opted to just eat in my room. The following night, I had dinner with a fellow rowing ITO at the MBS shoppes food court. I was also finally able to explore the place which was home to several luxury brand shops. My colleagues from Myanmar and Vietnam and I also watched the impressive water fountain show.
What I heard about MBS being pricey is true. But I now understand why many still choose to stay there not just because of the casino. Staying there was really an enjoyable and relaxing experience that I did not even want to go anywhere after coming back from our daily jury duties. I was perfectly happy hibernating in my room or buying treats at my favorite place — the Cold Storage — which is a supermarket located at B2 of The Shoppes in MBS. The Infinity Pool was also a pretty as the pictures I have previously seen of it. But it was often crowded to the seams so I preferred being there early in the morning as soon as it opened at 6:00AM. Unfortunately, we always had an early start so there were not many chances for me to enjoy some peace and quiet in there. But visiting it a few times was enough.
So if someone asks me if I would splurge on a luxury hotel like MBS, I would say yes, IF I have the money to spare. I had a great time there. Thank you for the hospitality, MBS and the Singapore SEA Games Organizing Committee!
[This recently concluded SEA Games was easily one of the most memorable events I have been to. I was grateful to be given different assignments including challenging ones. It was the first time I got assigned as Responsible Judge at the Finish (chief judge). I was also assigned as Judge at the Start on that race day when the weather turned bad towards the end of the races, which made the process of aligning and starting quickly more challenging. I also appreciated the chance to serve as umpire 1 during the 1000m Final races under not so perfect-weather conditions. I was happy that the difficult lightweight women’s coxless four (LW4-) race finished without any incident despite the unfavorable weather and the difficulty all the LW4- crews had in steering and staying within their lanes from start to finish.]
“Competitive Rowing is an undertaking of extraordinary beauty preceded by brutal punishment. Unlike most sports, which draw primarily on particular muscle groups, rowing makes heavy and repeated use of virtually every muscle in the body. Rowing makes these muscular demands not at odd intervals but in rapid sequence, over a protracted period of time, repeatedly and without respite. When you row, the major muscles in your arms, legs, and back do most of the grunt work, propelling, the boat forward against the unrelenting resistance of water and wind. At the same time, scores of smaller muscles in the neck, wrists, hands, and even feet continually fine-tune your efforts, holding the body in constant equipoise in order to maintain the exquisite balance necessary to keep a twenty four inch wide vessel – roughly the width of a mans waist – on an even keel. The result of all this muscular effort, on both the larger scale and the smaller, is that your body burns calories and consumes oxygen at a rate that is unmatched in almost any other human endeavor. Physiologists, in fact, have calculated that rowing a two-thousand-meter race—the Olympic standard—takes the same physiological toll as playing two basketball games back-to-back. And it exacts that toll in about six minutes.
A well conditioned oarsman or oarswoman competing at the highest levels must be able to take in and consume as much as eight liters of oxygen per minute; an average male is capable of taking in roughly four to five liters at most. Pound for pound Olympic oarsmen may take in and process as much oxygen as a thoroughbred race horse. While 75-80 percent of the energy a rower produces in a race is aerobic energy fueled by oxygen, races always begin an usually end with hard sprints. These sprints require levels of energy production that far exceed the body’s capacity to produce aerobic energy, regardless of oxygen intake. Instead the body must immediately produce anaerobic energy. This, in turn, produces large quantities of lactic acid, and that acid rapidly build up in the tissue of the muscles. The consequence is that the muscles often begin to scream in agony almost from the outset of a race and continue screaming until the very end. And it’s not only the muscles that scream. The skeletal system to which all those muscles are attached also undergoes tremendous amounts of strains and stresses.
Without proper training and conditioning – and sometimes even with them – competitive rowers are apt to experience a wide variety of ills in the knees, hips, shoulders, elbows, ribs, neck, and above all the spine. These injuries and complaints range from blisters to severe tendonitis, bursitis, slipped vertebrae, rotator cuff dysfunction and stress fractures. The common denominator in all these conditions is overwhelming pain. Pain is part and parcel of the deal. It’s not a question of whether you will hurt, or of how much you will hurt; it’s a question of what you will do, and how well you will do it, while pain has her wanton way with you.” ~ Daniel James Brown, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
Serving as International Technical Official (ITO) for Rowing at the 17th Asian Games Incheon 2014 from September 17 to 25 was the best experience I have thus far since I got my international umpire badge. I have had my share of good memories in past umpiring stints, but my Asiad experience improved my confidence in carrying out our various duties. All of us rowing ITOs likewise developed a camaraderie that far exceeded the usual ones I have experienced in the past. I felt the pressure of performing at my best easing off on our first day. It is truly much easier to accomplish things when you are enjoying every moment. While I have always known that, I used to worry about what my next assignment/rotation would be in the past. I was anxious about commiting mistakes in critical posts. This time though, I did not think much about what my next tasks would be. Stoic acceptance of whatever comes my way. I think it is one of the things Kendo honed in me. And it worked in keeping me grounded and focused.
The Asian Games is the biggest sporting event in the region, second only in scale and prestige to the Olympics. This year’s host, the Republic of Korea is highly experienced when it comes to hosting sporting events having previously hosted the Asian games, an Olympics, several World Championships for different sports, and more. Despite knowing that they are quite experienced in organizing these events, I was still impressed by the efficiency by which the host city ~ Incheon~ handled the preparations. Both IAGOC and the Rowing Organizing Committee handled the communications and all preparations smoothly thus ensuring that we have our accreditation (AD) cards and etickets on time.
The trip was filled with unexpected but pleasant surprises since Day 1. I read somewhere that the organizers aimed for a more cost-efficient Asian Games that could be used as a model moving forward. I do not know if they managed to make it the cheapest Asian Games hosting, but I can say that whatever measures they have taken to keep the games simple and cheaper did not diminish the beauty of the various experiences anyone can get from it. And I for one could stand behind any initiative that would make multisporting events more cost-effective to encourage more nations to host the games in the future.
The long road to Naypyitaw, literally and figuratively, just about sums up my trip to Myanmar last December. A myriad of things happened before it, which could have given me plenty of reasons to rethink my plans of going. But I am not one to back off from a challenge once I have set my mind on something.
All of my trips are memorable to me. Myanmar was no exception. It was where some of the craziest things occurred, enough to potentially ruin the entire trip for me. But if there was one thing I learned in the few days I was there, it would be the importance of choice in happiness. Dealing with the unexpected, annoying, or bad things is like traversing at the edge of a slippery slope. The best thing to do is to be mindful of your steps, keep yourself focused in that moment, and hope for the best. That way, you can either get past that particular path unscathed or have the wits to grab on to lifelines that can save you from making things worse.
So here are some of the things I love about the trip:
1. The Southeast Asian Games Volunteers
After over four decades, Myanmar once again opened its doors to its neighbors to host the 27th Southeast Asian Games. Hosting the biennial event is not an easy feat. Having been a part of a SEA Games organizing committee in the past taught me that it is a most challenging job. So I was not daunted by the initial hiccups, especially concerning communication. Emails do tend to get buried by the amount of correspondence organizing committees have to deal with.
My itinerary was a bit tricky because I opted to take the shuttle from Yangon to the new capital city instead of taking the 50-minute flight. This previously caused a lot of concern to my contacts at the rowing organizing committee who pointed out that it is a 6-hour trip. But the prospect of traveling for that long was a non-issue for a nervous flyer like me. I think the hometown-Manila-Kuala Lumpur-Yangon flights were already enough flying time for me. Besides, I enjoy traveling by bus so I quickly assured my hosts that I would be fine on my own.
When I landed in Yangon, I was prepared for anything. I trusted the people I was communicating with have done whatever they could to ensure that I reach Naypyitaw on schedule. I was also on no-expectations mode. Given past experiences in event airport reception, I thought it best not to expect anything.
As I walk to the airport arrival hall, I saw a volunteer wearing a uniform standing at the side near the Visa on Arrival booth. I approached to confirm if I do not need the said visa and showed him my SEAG accreditation card. He welcomed me warmly then led me to the airport reception area where a group of volunteers were manning a long table with computers and all the equipment they need to activate the AD cards. They quickly checked mine, validated it, and put the sticker that now made it an official ID for my entire stay in Myanmar.
Everything was so efficient. I was happy with the thought that I now can proceed to immigration and leave the airport early for my long road trip to Naypyitaw. To my surprise, the lead person from the airport reception walked with me to a special lane in the immigration counters. He waited with me then accompanied me to the baggage carousel. He then grabbed my luggage and walked me out of the airport arrival hall to another building which serves as the SEAG arrival/departure lounge. There he introduced me to the transportation committee and made sure I was taken cared of before going back inside the arrival terminal.
The transportation volunteers were equally welcoming and nice. They settled me in a seat informing me that the bus to Naypyitaw leaves at 6PM. Less than 30 minutes after, a group of them escorted me to a car that would bring me to the bus station. Another volunteer, this time a liaison officer, introduced himself and hopped in the car next to the driver. A group of transportation committee volunteers then waved us goodbye.
As we reached the bus terminal, the liaison officer asked me to sit at the waiting area while he purchase the ticket. He waived off my money saying that the organizing committee will take care of it. We waited a few minutes before we were told to get on the bus.
I was happy to find out that I am on the window seat at the first row. There was a lot of leg room, the bus was huge, and there was no overpowering smell of freshener that usually makes me throw up. The volunteer then sat beside me. By this time I was wondering when he will get off since the bus is about to leave. When I asked, he told me that he would be traveling with me to Naypyitaw. Now THAT was totally unexpected.
I found these first encounters with the volunteers heartwarming and impressive. Being a volunteer at the games is hard. And they have been at it for several days. The mix of efficiency, warmth, and sincerity was one of the best welcomes I have experienced on these trips.
The trip only took less than five hours. Another set of volunteers picked us up at the bus station. As I settled in for the night in my room, I marveled at how there were so many I could be grateful about since I arrived.
2. Rowing at Nga Laik Dam
The host country poured a lot of resources in preparing the venue for the canoe-kayak, rowing, and traditional boat race events. New structures were erected to meet the requirements of the three water sports.
The resort sits next to the dam. This was the first time that us umpires stayed that close to the venue. This meant a later start for us in the mornings since we did not have to leave early to get to the site.
Getting around Naypyitaw is not easy if you do not have a car. There are no buses or subways that tourists can use to navigate the city. I heard that there are motorbikes for hire but I have not ventured far enough on foot from the resort to find any. Thankfully, our hosts arranged a sightseeing trip one afternoon after we were done with our umpiring duties.
5. The unexpected challenges
This was one trip where I had the most health-related issues:
Eye infection. My left eye got infected because of my contact lens. It was a stupid mistake on my part. I usually do not wear my contacts when I travel. But I wore it just before I left for the airport at 3AM and was only able to remove it when I got in my room at Nga Laik Kan Tha at past 11PM. I woke up around 2AM and got scared out of my wits because I could hardly open my left eye. I was alone in my room and in so much pain that I really thought my left eye’s going blind. Since I could no longer sleep, I spent the next few hours crying hoping that the tears would help clean the affected eye. I immediately left my room at 6AM to look for the medical team that I knew would be in the area. The reception staff told me that the doctors were not there yet and promised to call me in my room as soon as they arrive. Someone personally picked me up mid-morning and brought me to the medical area. I was given antibiotics and pain relievers. Despite the pain, I couldn’t help but notice that once again, I was in the hands of able and kind volunteers. My eye got better the next day.
Stomach problem. Just when my left eye was healing, I suddenly had diarrhea. This was not entirely surprising since I have always had a weak stomach. But I could not figure out how I got it since I did not eat much given the previous day’s painful episode with the infected eye. It was probably because I was stressing out on how I could possibly perform my umpiring duties half-blind. Good thing I brought medicines so I only had to endure it for a day.
Throwing up like there was no tomorrow. On the third day, I threw up until there was nothing left to lose in my stomach. This happened soon after I came back to my room after a late dinner. But I saw this one coming since I was inside a hot van with a funny smell the entire afternoon going from one place to another on our sightseeing tour.
These unfortunate episodes were the worst I have had in my travels. It was crazy because accomplishing my duties as umpire hinged on me being in good health. I was grateful that I was able to get through each experience with my optimism intact. And for some reason, each problem lasted only a day. By the time we started doing our work, I was back to my normal self. Once again I get reminded that no matter how bad things seem to be, everything gets better if I just ride the wave without losing enthusiasm and hope.