“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.
The last time I saw Aishya was in the out pontoon as she pushes off on her way to the final lightweight women’s single scull race. She’s Singapore’s lone entry for rowing at the SEA Games. As if that’s not pressure enough, there’s the news that came out weeks before the Myanmar games that rowing’s not among the roster of events for the next SEAG which Singapore is hosting in 2015.
I’ve heard of Aishya’s personal training and her staying in Australia for a few months to hone her skills. As I watched her row to the start area I knew she was prepared to give her all to win the gold. She looked different from the last time I saw her in Jakarta. Fiercer and more determined. If I had put a(n illegal) bet on it, I would have won. Because I knew she’d win. And she did. Her first gold at the SEAG after settling for bronze in the past.
Reading her article made me admire her more. Rowers never fail to surprise me with their depth and insights.
The Philippine Rowing Team left early yesterday morning for the 27th Southeast Asian Games in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. Looking at the picture made me think of the team’s journey to earn slots at the SEA Games. It was not an easy feat considering the stringent criteria the Philippine SEA Games Task Force has in place in selecting athletes that will compete in the biennial event.
Seeing this photo reminded me that every competition is just a culmination of months and years of grueling training every national athlete has to go through. That each one leaves for a competition filled with determination to do whatever it takes to win for the country. And that every athlete, every team has a story of sacrifices and indomitable will to overcome challenges in pursuit of their sporting dreams.
Just this morning, Coach Ed shared that 3 of the team’s sweep oars broke in transit. This is heartbreaking news. I could just imagine the effect it has on the athletes. But I trust our rowers, who are professional and seasoned enough, to overcome yet another challenge in their bid at the SEAG.
Coach Ed said they already informed the rowing organizing committee and asked to borrow oars for the team to use.
On the upside, it was the kind of damage that is much better than undetected cracks or problems that may cause breakage during a race. At least the team still have a few days to train with the borrowed oars they will be using for the competition.
The oars were the only equipment the team brought with them. Unlike other teams that have the budget to ship their own racing shells, our rowers usually compete on rented rowing boats. This year, they have done so again. And managed to win in regional championships that helped them get their respective slots in the Myanmar SEA Games.
This is a team I am proud of. And I wish them and all the other Philippine athletes who will compete in Myanmar all the best.
What if more National Sports Associations (NSAs) develop a solid partnership with Local Government Units (LGUs) and Department of Tourism regional offices to promote their respective sports in cities and provinces across the Philippines through sports tourism? Imagine the possibilities that such relationships could bring.
Many cities around the world have been doing this for the longest time. Even here in the Philippines, some cities have already moved towards that direction. Some of them steadily making headway in reaching out to both the local and international sporting communities. To mention a few:
Subic gaining ground in sports tourism ~ Triathlon is one of the most popular sporting events held regularly in Subic. Over the years, many triathletes from the Philippines and other countries have flocked to Subic to participate in various triathlon events.
Camarines Sur: Water sports central of the Philippines ~ One can’t help but admire the city government of Camarines Sur for investing on what turned out to be a world class wakeboarding facility. Now, CamSur is becoming increasingly popular as a water sports destination. CamSur has also been hosting dragon boat events, which have attracted participants from the sport’s local and international communities.
Lanao ready for Dragon boat race ~ Like the other forerunners of sports tourism, Lanao deserves sports enthusiasts’ admiration for having both vision and ambition to make the province one of the water sports hub in the country. Let’s hope that more cities take a leaf off Lanao del Sur and the other sport tourism hubs’ book. Maybe it’s time for leaders of local governments and national sports associations to work hand in hand to design programs that would prove beneficial to both the city in particular and to the country in general.
Some might argue that it’s a highly ambitious project that would require vast amount of resources. After all, not all cities and municipalities are equal in terms of budget and revenues. However, some cities who have done it took risks that seem to be paying off. If there’s the slightest chance of success, wouldn’t it be worth a shot regardless of the odds?
To pick another inspiring example to illustrate the potential of sports tourism as a tool to promote sports development, allow me to share some highlights from my umpiring experience in Chungju.
What I liked most about what Chungju did was that it established a rowing school as part of its tourist attractions. It’s an effort that not only serves its purpose of promoting the city as a water sports destination. It also provides an opportunity for its people to learn more about the sport of rowing.
I’d like to believe that someday, one of the many cities in the country will establish its own rowing school and international rowing centre, too.
Reposting from my other blog (written on Saturday, May 1, 2010 at 7:08pm)
I think the value of something is often measured by the stories it weaves in our lives. It is about life-changing moments that come not with fanfare, but quietly in infinite seconds that touch and never let go. That is how it all started for me, my umpiring life.
I’m still not sure if it’s a good thing or not that I didn’t plan to be an umpire. It’s just one of those sheer luck that happened when I grabbed the chance to attend a seminar in preparation for a Southeast Asian Games (SEAG). I almost failed the national umpiring practical exam. But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I initially didn’t put much thought about the whole thing until the result jolted me into realizing that I wanted to do better.
My first umpiring stint was as a national umpire for the 2005 SEA Games. I almost passed up that chance to perform jury duties because I was swamped with my commitments with the Philippine SEAG’s organizing committee’s accreditation and Wushu Federation Philippines’ organizing group respectively. Then I remembered that I wanted to improve as an umpire. The only way I can do that was if I gain real experience outside of the simulated race we all took during the practical exam.
So there I was going through my own version of a hell week in December 2005. For days, I shuttled from Manila to La Mesa Dam in Quezon City then back to Manila again to attend to my seemingly endless responsibilities. There was no time to think about the soundness of spreading myself thin like that, there was only the focus and commitment I gave that somehow got me through, albeit often tired but definitely happy.
I learned a lot in those few days I was out on the water doing jury duties. National umpires, especially newbies, like me were given lighter responsibilities than the FISA umpires who served as international technical officials. I spent most of my time in my own little island at the 1000m mark recording the time of rowers as they pass by. My closest neighbors were on pontoons 500m up to my left and down to my right. Standing or sitting for hours on end on that pontoon made me appreciate a lot of things, including the value of being still and the inexplicable joy of drawing nature’s energy if I took the time to feel it.
Two months after the SEAG, I took the FISA licensure exam. I’ve heard stories that FISA exams are tough and the passing rates are frequently low. And judging from my last performance in the national umpiring exams, I was not very confident about my chances. Despite my misgivings, I took a chance. I guess it was the masochist in me that pushed me to go ahead so I could give it a shot.
The series of exams were tough for me. I’m usually good at exams excepting anything to do with Math, Chemistry, and Physics. The rest, I can breeze or squeeze through either with ample preparation or luck. But at that time, I couldn’t even hazard an optimistic guess if I’d pass
I remember that time while we were waiting for the results of both the written and practical exams. A co-national umpire suddenly blurted out that he swears he’s not taking the exam again for a while if he failed. It was surprising and funny when he said it. He always had been the one everyone thought to have the greatest chance of passing the exam. Hearing him say what he said made me breathe a sigh of relief.
I think it was then that I began to accept the possibility that I might fail. I was not being a pessimist about the whole thing. It was just that, everyone who takes the FISA umpiring exam only gets two chances. Failing both times means being banned from taking the test again, ever. Somehow, it was an experience I was not eager to repeat anytime soon.
The wait for the final results was filled with both relief and trepidation. Relief that it was all finally over and trepidation that I may soon hear that I didn’t make it.
I was the third to the last called for the meeting/interview with the two FISA umpires who conducted the exam. Everyone before me came back with the news that they did not make the cut. As each one came back, my confidence further took a plunge.
When it was my turn to go to the room I was more or less prepared to hear the worst. And I think that was the reason why I felt like I was in a haze when the interview began that I didn’t immediately grasp when they told me I passed. It was when they handed me the badge that I began to fully understand what it meant.
It turned out that the three of us left for the interview somehow made it through those series of tests. One of whom was the one who made the comment about not taking the test again if he fails. Thinking about our journey and what we went through made me realize the value of what I just got.
Four years after I got my license and badge, I still feel as passionate about this whole thing. We do long hours, spend money for airfares (for non-FISA sponsored events) and other expenses, and go through both the good and bad experiences that come with being an umpire. Still, I love what we do and what we aspire to achieve with what we do.
Being a jury/umpire makes me think of these things:
1. The roles we play. Each one of us has an important role to play in whatever it is that we do. Some excel in playing, some do their magic in organizing, some provide whatever help they can by volunteering, some provide the funds to make things happen, some like the spectators motivate everyone, and the list goes on. Bottom line, whatever our roles in life matter in the bigger scheme of things.
2. Passion. Belief. Faith. Three words that I live by. The passion to pursue what the heart desires regardless of how inane or grand it may seem. The belief in the inherent goodness of things and in infinite possibilities. And the faith that all things that happen somehow fit flawlessly into the tapestry of life I’m meant to live.
3. Safety and Fair Play. Every rowing umpire’s mantra revolves around those two goals. We take our role seriously in ensuring the safety of every competitor and giving everyone a sporting chance by promoting fair play. I think these two principles apply everyday regardless of what we do. Thinking of our personal safety and those of others as well as treating people fairly are simple but meaningful aspirations in life.
4. Admiration and respect for colleagues. Even until now it never ceases to amaze me how dedicated and professional my colleagues are. Umpiring is more often than not a thankless job. And yet, to see such passion and commitment from people I meet in my umpiring stints inspire me to always do and give my best.
Have you ever rowed a boat?
Have you dipped a paddle or an oar in calm, choppy, pristine, or sometimes dirty waters?
Have you marveled at the breathtaking beauty of nature that surrounds you?
Have you been soothed by the myriad of sounds you hear as you sit still or glide across a lake, river, or sea?
Have you watched the sun rise or set as your boat glides on the water?
Have you pushed on amidst headwinds, tailwinds, and crosswinds?
Have you felt the raindrops falling like tiny painless needles on your head?
Have you watched the waves crash with growing fury as a storm brews on?
Have you ever been in a boat alone
or with people whose movements flow seamlessly with yours?
Have you seen a body of water and thought you’d want to row there someday?
Have you ever watched a person row and wondered how it feels to be out there?
I’ve done a lot of things in my life
But I always come back to the water and everything it represents to me
There’s something about the water, shells, oars, rowers, dragon boats, paddlers that draw me
It’s in the places where I see them that I feel that all my senses are engaged
My heart swells with love, pride, awe, and wonder
Where everything familiar is new, and everything new feels like pieces of me coming home.
I think it’s finding these things that fills us
Makes the journey and everything it entails
Very much worth it.