I CONFESS I still have a SEA Games hangover.

It was mind-boggling, to say the least, to cover the biennial multi-sports meet for the Philippine Daily Inquirer as a student correspondent. Now, every time I hear “Posible” and “Pinoy Ako,” it is like I am reliving the dream again: I am back at the Cuneta Astrodome watching Toni Rivero demolish her opponent in the women’s taekwondo lightweight finals or cheering on RP fighter Roland Claro as he kicks and punches his way to victory in the Muay Thai ring.

The invaluable experience opened my eyes to realities I failed to recognize before. The world of sports is not all fun and games. Some lessons:

(1) All athletes, whether Indonesian, Filipino, or Singaporean, step into the competition area with the same game face. They may look and speak differently, but they grit their teeth for a reason. They want to win.

(2) A sports competition is not just a test of one’s brawn. To win, an athlete must push the limits of his physical as well as mental strength. Never mind that of his opponent.

(3) No matter how clean an athlete intends to enter the competition area, there is bound to be rule-breaking, rule-bending, or worse, blatant cheating. There will always be accusations, finger-pointing, and intimidation. The trick is to stay focused and to fight on.

(4) Despite fair officiating and transparent records, the losers will always believe there is foul play.

(5) The real winners are those who remain truthful and resolute in the face of adversity. The real winners are those who do not yield to defeat, but persevere and eventually triumph.

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(6) And finally, in every defeat is a sound even more deafening than the high-decibel cheers of a frenzied homecrowd. It is the sound of hopes and dreams of triumph falling, crashing to the ground. This is when the losing athlete struggles to pick up the pieces. But he eventually learns that he always has a coach, a teammate, and a fan, ready to support him as he recovers from the slump.

***

When I ticked the sports section box in my Varsitarian application form two years ago, I was wondering whether I made the right choice. I was concerned about whether I would get the all-around training I hope to receive from a school publication as a sports writer.

Being a sports writer, editor, and spectator for the past years taught me a lot about life in general.

People say life is a sport. It is true. We are all athletes in this game, but not all of us know how to play it, much less grasp the rules of fair competition.

Winning in life takes long hours of training and mastery of the various tactics we must employ. But we all need time-outs every once in a while, if only to avoid injuries, and re-assess our strategies.

Along the way, we may have the unfortunate fate of meeting a bad promoter or a dastardly agent. But as long as we remain level-headed and critical, we will avoid being duped.

Bad falls, wrong moves, injuries, and other mishaps are inevitable. Their visible manifestations—scars, wounds, and gashes—remind us not to make the same mistake again. All in all, these misfortunes tone and shape us to be better athletes in the future.

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Lastly, in life, we are forced to make errors or sometimes, even give up deliberate fouls. But that’s okay; it is how we make up for it in the homestretch that determines the outcome of the game.

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