Wednesday, December 20, 2017

"Failure is required!"

A lot of coaching clinics ask the question of coaches, "What percent of volleyball is mental?" and follow that up with, "So how much do you teach on the mental side?" 

Traci Statler has made a career out of answering that question and making this statement: "Mental health impacts everything. If your mental health isn't functioning where it needs to be, then your performance isn't going to be where it needs to be."

She is a professor at Cal State Fullerton and has worked with USA Volleyball's athletes in the past few years. Her resume' which you can see here is impressive and her talk with us highlights how connected she is to today's athlete and her willingness to help today's coaches. 

In this hour long interview, Traci shares with us her knowledge on working with "this generation," how to handle certain issues like kids that don't work hard, lack confidence or are in slumps and other issues that might affect their performance.

Sometimes she will surprise you! 
She tells us that we can't inspire our athletes.
She tells us that being an athlete at an elite level isn't very mentally healthy.
And she tells us that if we want to get better at sports psyche...start "digging deep."

Enjoy this hour with Sports Psychologist Traci Statler as she answers your questions, confirms what you may already be thinking and takes us into a world we all should know more about

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

"We have this paradox..."

Dr A. Mark Williams is the Professor and Chair of Health, Kinesiology and Recreation at the University of Utah and is one of the preeminent Sports science minds in the world.

He is currently the editor in chief of the Journal of Sports Sciences and the executive editor for Human Movement Science. He is a frequent guest on podcasts and the sport science lecture circuit and is often cited in books and articles spanning all levels of sports science.

Williams' path of knowledge and science of sport has travelled through the University of Liverpool, Liverpool John Moores University, Florida State University, the University of Sydney and the Brunel University London before coming to rest in Utah. 

Dr. Williams was kind enough to give the Arizona Region a few minutes of his valuable time to offer up his research on practice management, blocked v. random training and along the way answer several questions from coaches across the country.While predominantly a soccer and rugby researcher, his knowledge of all sports science makes this a value for any coach wanting to get better.

Monday, November 27, 2017

"One focus at a time..."

It's been a few years in the making. An interview with someone too humble to call attention to her incredible career as both an exceptional indoor player and now AVP and FIVB Champion on the sand.

Betsi Metter Flint, (Just Flint these days) came up through the Arizona club and sand system, starting with the YMCA and progressed to an indoor and outdoor career at Loyola Marymount University in California. Along the way, she has been a role model to many of Arizona's younger players: her talent, work ethic and humility and now shares that as a Coach with the sand team of LMU Sand team.

With her partner Kelley Larsen, Betsi was the youngest winner of an AVP event in history in 2015, won two FIVB tournaments this season and medaled in another and is on course to give a run at being one of the two women's teams to represent the USA in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

But as you'll hear, the odds are long and just the discussion of their daily grind would stop most people at the description. Both Betsi and Kelley are committed to each other and more importantly, the process which has taken them around the world and just a few days after this interview, to Australia.

Enjoy this interview with Betsi as she talks about her career, her partner, the struggle of qualifying and the transition from player to coach to player and coach.

Friday, September 15, 2017

"Let 'em go..."

If you don't follow Men's volleyball very closely, you haven't heard of Pete Hanson.

And while you are missing out on one of our profession's best resources, he's probably just fine with that.

Humility defined, Hanson is heading into his 34th season as coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes. He is coming off two National Championships, both sweeps over talented BYU teams. 

As his trophy case continues to overflow, he side steps questions about himself and deflects credit and praise to his athletes. Hanson is beloved by his guys and in the Coaching world for his candor and his ability to change his sails depending upon the wind of his current team. At the moment, as his opponent's will tell you, it is a hurricane.

Hanson, has taken the guesswork out of serving. "Let 'em go!" is his mantra and his team has responded. OSU's opponents find themselves out of system much of their matches a direct result of the Buckeye's onslaught from the service line, a factor Hanson correlates with his team's recent Championship success.

To read more about Hanson, click here. But please enjoy this 30 minute chat with one of the country's premiere Coaches in any sport.

Thursday, August 31, 2017


She stood off to the corner. At 5-9, this freshman looked strong and capable but she was standing away from the court, as if scared of the speed of the game and the off chance the ball might come to her. She was new, she was the tallest girl on the freshman court and no one knew anything about her. One of the girls on the court asked her to play. She sauntered uneasily to the service line, drew back and piloted the ball from an underhand fist toward the other side of the net. It landed in the bottom of the net. Some of the girls on the court rolled their eyes, others snickered. The tall freshman moseyed back off the court, defeated and embarrassed.

Sometimes it’s hard to see the finished product in a snapshot.

In 1946, a man by the name of Korczak Ziolkowski was commissioned by a Lakota Elder, Henry Standing Bear to build a monument in the side of a South Dakota mountain known as Thunderhead, sacred to the Oglata Lakota tribe. Standing Bear wasn’t comfortable having four American presidents staring down at his people. Just 17 miles from Thunderhead lies Mount Rushmore, and Ziolkowski worked on that project years before. 

He accepted Standing Bear’s offer and after two years of building a house, water lines and a way up to the mountain, Korczak officially began in 1948 to build a monument of epic proportion to the Lakota Chief Crazy Horse. 

He had learned a lot on the Rushmore site and wanted no government money or interference. (Korczak twice turned down multimillion dollar government offers to help fund the project) He started with $174 at the age of 40, buying used equipment and selling other sculptures he crafted during the winter and rainy months. His vision coming to fruition, he struggled with all the little things in a project you can’t see in a snapshot. He averaged only 5 working months a year of full time drilling, exploding and sculpting working around the weather. Sometimes the drills would break, equipment would go bad. At one point, he created his own cable car made of a box he nailed together strung precariously on cables he set into the monument.

Ziolkowski built a 741 staircase to the top of the mountain and bought a 24 year old generator and constructed 2,440 feet of piping to help him drill into the rock to set the dynamite and coring and chiseling he needed to do. The generator would often stall and Korczak would have to descend the staircase, start the generator back up and climb back up. One day, he was up and down 9 times. (13,338 steps in just one day!) As perhaps a joke or maybe documentation, for a while he had a sign on the mountain that simple said, “Slow. Man at Work.”

Undeterred, he continued on. He divorced and married on the project and found time to have 10 kids, one of which he delivered himself. The family continued work on the sculpture and built a tourist friendly museum to see the progress and learn more about Crazy Horse. When the face began to take its final shape, he had to blast a hole through the middle of the mountain and not disrupt what was above. That alone took three summers. 

Korczak’s vision was of the Chief riding his horse, hair and mane blowing behind them and Crazy Horse pointing forward. The Chief, who was never photographed and died in Nebraska at the hands of the US Cavalry in May of 1877, once said he had no home, that “My home lies where my dead are buried.” Ziolkowski’s vision was Crazy Horse’s remark; explaining why the Chief is pointing out into the Black Hills of South Dakota. 

Her name was Hannah and she was in the middle of a divorce and living with her Dad. She had played volleyball in the 7th and 8th grade but the teams were, by her admission, not very good and she didn’t learn much from the coaches. She didn’t know anyone at this new school and it showed in her lack of confidence and body language. Her underhand serve, as it is with many high school coaches, was as good a reason as any to cut her and be done. But this coach saw something in this project and worked with her. She resisted often, not wanting to come out of her comfort zone. She didn’t want to do approaches, she just wanted to hit. She wanted to hold her passing hands the way she did in 8th grade. Why couldn’t she underhand serve? When one skill was too tough, she asked to do another. Some of the girls became frustrated with her even more. In a competitive drill, she was the outcast no one wanted. Many water breaks, with the girls doing a cheer, Hannah would lag back, not wanting to be the girl everyone was whispering about.

But a couple of the girls- perhaps realizing she could one day be a valuable asset to the team in the future- started to help her. Hannah came in early the second morning to work on her overhand serve and it got better. She came back early from lunch, stayed after camp. She started to do her approach and the timing started to click. On the third day, she came in again and launched a serve 30 feet, ½ inch and it crawled over the net for what would have been an ace. Hannah’s arm shot up in the air, as big a gesture as her smile was.

Korczak Zioklowski spent the next 34 years making his vision a reality. He died in 1982 at the age of 74 and his wife and children promptly picked up the vision and continued his work. To this day, the visage of Chief Crazy Horse can be seen heading north on state route 385. Of course tours and closer looks are available in the monument’s visitor’s center, run by the Zioklowski family.

Before he died, Korczak said in an interview, “When the legends die, the dreams end. And when the dreams end, there is no more greatness.” He always called himself a “storyteller in stone,” a title he relished. He is buried somewhere on the site of his life’s work; he wanted his remains to be unknown like those of the mountainous Chief he spent his life honoring. 

Korczak’s Crazy Horse is jarring in its scope. His head measures 87 feet high. For a dose of perspective, the president’s heads on Mt. Rushmore are 60 feet tall. When all finished, which one tour guide suggested was probably within the next 50 years, the Chief from flowing hair to the tip of his finger will measure 641 feet and a height of 563 feet. Zioklowski’s project never wavered in its possibility or its necessity and it continues today.

And tomorrow…

Hannah spent four days at camp. She went from unskilled and cautious to a player not just better but more confidant and one that enjoyed her teammates and the game more. Will she ever become an All-State player? At this point, no one can say. We do know that if the coach had seen this project based on her snapshot on day one, she’d been jettisoned: left to float into the sea of all the others we let go because as coaches we lack the vision, the patience or the work ethic to see what’s past that snapshot.

Drills and bits, dynamite and explosives, patience and a kind word, some extra time or just an idea of what they can be, projects are built and defined by more than just the first snapshot we take. We work, and look a little deeper…

“Beauty can be seen in all things. Seeing and composing the beauty is what separates the snapshot from the photograph.” –Matt Hardy

Sunday, July 30, 2017

"If you can't say anything nice...."

Travel the coaching journey for many miles and you hear stories, from players, former and current.

(In total paraphraseology…)

“Holly, you are never going to be a setter. You aren’t fast enough and your hands are terrible.”

(She was 12)

“Chandler, if you are playing soccer for your high school during club season, you aren’t an athlete.”

(She was 15)

“Chandler, you only played one year of club and you can’t pass.”

(She was a college freshman)

“Landon, you will never be a setter or a hitter. Just go pass.”

(She was 14)

“Adrianna, you aren’t tall enough to be a hitter.”

(She was 15)

“Ashley, you will never play back row.”

(She was 15)

“Mac, you are too big boned to get to the ball. Love your hands but you aren’t fast enough to set.”

(She was 16)

These are examples of bloviating Coaches who put walls up on young athletes, in most cases before they are grown, out of puberty or have played the game very long.


Is it to show the level of internal expertise they think they may have? Is it to nudge a player into the direction that best fits their club team and program? Is it just a need for the coach to flex their ego?

Tough to say but there are enough walls in adolescence for young athletes, especially young women.

Holly went on to set for her college team.

Chandler is now the starting libero for her college team having set dig records her junior year.

Landon will start her college career this season after being named her state’s player of the year….as an outside hitter.

Adrianna will be starting her junior season with her high level high school team…as their OH1.

Ashley, at 6-1, played back row her final year of club.

Mac will be the starting setter on her high school team this season as a senior.

Too slow, bad hands, not tall enough, too ‘big’, can’t pass, can’t hit, can’t set, can’t block…..

We seem to forget one thing in this equation.

We are coaches. We should be helping them get faster, better hands, better passers, better attackers and better blockers. Why do we just look at an athlete and think this is the finished product and their entire career is based on how that club coach or high school coach or club director sees them at that moment?

Our mothers used to tell us the old adage, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything.”

Coaches need to take this to heart. Don’t tell your athletes what they can’t do, lead and coach them to what they can do.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

High heels...

It is a small sorority.

Women coaching Men's collegiate volleyball. You can count on one hand the coaches that fit this bill. It is a daunting task with so many eyes and opinions on everything you do.

Add to that coaching the Women's collegiate program at the same school.

Oh yea... your two kids and a personal life to balance.

Nickie Sanlin, the head coach of the volleyball programs at McKendree University  in Lebanon, Illinois, does just that. Every day. At one time, she was also coaching club in the St. Louis area and continues working summers with USA Volleyball, coaching High Performance and Junior National teams. 

In this 30 minutes interview, Coach Sanlin talks about her volleyball career as both a player and a coach, the influences in her life, how she manages her time and commitments and answers the big question from the front line: What IS the difference between coaching men and women?

Enjoy this interview with Coach Sanlin.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

"Caught the bug...."

The University of Arizona hired Steve Walker to lead the unknown. A beach volleyball program in the desert. Since his hiring in 2013 and 4 years of PAC-12 competition, Walker has seen his program rise from an unknown to one of the elite programs in the country.

Last season, Walker's Wildcats earned their first 20 win season and their coach the PAC-12 Coach of the Year. He has helped guide several players toward the pairs championships in the last few seasons including Madison and McKenna Witt. As the sport continues to climb, Walker talks about his past, the beginnings of the Wildcat Beach program and where the sport is going.

He also offers up sage advice for those that think coaching Beach volleyball is an easy gig.

Monday, April 17, 2017

"Shrimp tails...."

Lifelong Learner. That's a phrase tossed around like shrimp tails at a Benihanas. What is a lifelong learner and are they actually?

Lifelong learner is a student for life. They still get spring break off and they might blow off reading that chapter for a quick coffee with friends. But lifelong learners figure out, in their own way, in their own time frame what works for them to continue to learn more about what they are passionate about. In our case, volleyball, our athletes and coaching.

Lifelong learning has to be the comfortable jeans you slide on and feel good in. They can't be too constricting, too uncomfortable. Sometimes it's something that by pure accident you come upon and share. It's a tiny light that is always on, waiting to glow a little brighter. 

Follow the path below and perhaps some of these articles, videos and podcasts will get you to think a little bit more about the coach you want to be, the way you want your team to play and the way we want our sport represented. In no particular order and following a recommendation of several, please enjoy the following. 

The Secret to Coaching Success: How Long Is A Piece Of String? by Wayne Goldsmith.

Emotional Agility by Susan David and Christina Congleton.

How I stopped Dealing with Parents by Nate Sanderson

Growing the Love of a Game blog.

The Perception and Action podcast hosted by Rob Gray. 

Echoes beyond the game: the lasting power of a coach's words by Coach Reed. 

Regression to the Mean, or Why Perfection rarely Lasts by Adrian Barnett.

Derek Sivers Book Notes: where an Internet billionaire has jotted down the notes of the last 200 books he's read. Ones that you might pay particular attention to are Daniel Khaneman's "Thinking Fast and Slow" and "Ego is the enemy" by Ryan Holiday.

The Max Potential Playbook by Reid Priddy.

The Headwinds Paradox, or why we all feel like Victims by Jonah Lehrer. 

4 Career Lessons Bill Belichek wants all Millennials to Know, (Including his own kids) bySuzy Welch. (Watch the accompanying video too!)

Why Facts don't Change Our Minds by Elizabeth Kolbert

Coach your Brains Out podcast. Recently guests have included Hugh McCutcheon, Andrea Becker, Tom Black, Reid Priddy and John Dunning. It is hosted by John Mayer, Billy Allen, Andrew Fuller and Nils Neilson

How to get better at the things you care about by Eduardo Briceno.

A Note to my Fellow Working Moms as I near the End of My Life by Rachel Huff

The Confidence Gap by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman

To Raise Brave Girls, Encourage Adventure by Caroline Paul. 

Why Young Girls don't think they are Smart Enough by Andrei Cimpian and Sarah-Jane Leslie

The Sitting Happens podcast hosted by Jon Aharoni and Dan Mickle. 

Tell us what you listen to, watch or read and help us continue our lifelong learning. We appreciate any and all feedback always and look forward to yours. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

There ARE little things....

For nearly every other day during the two weeks of the 2016 Rio Olympics in Brazil, on the sidelines of the Ginasio do Maracanazinho in Maracana, Mike Wall took his seat as the Assistant Coach of the USA Men's Olympic squad and watched the previous four years of work, research and instruction unfold before him. It's a long two weeks, one that drains everyone involved to the last drop each day, requiring a prodigious revitalization of both body and spirit. 

There are no off days in the Olympic Games.

Mike has signed on for another quad and will be one of John Speraw's confidantes through Tokyo 2020. In this exclusive interview with the Arizona Region, Wall talks about his beginnigs with the sport, his Hall-of-Fame Coaches and what he took from them, his work with Gold Medal Squared and his recollections of the Bronze Medal winning Men's team from last summer.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

More value...

Twenty some years ago, the Az. Region travelled a squad to find out what was up with this "High Performance" program. Very few showed interest but many Region were asked to come and check it out, see what it was all about. At the Colorado Springs airport, a van with USA Volleyball emblazoned on the side pulled up and the most affable of men welcomed them to Colorado Springs. He spoke with a deliberate southern drawl and the Arizona contingency thought this kind and pleasant young man must be one of the best drivers USAV had in their vast motor pool.

Twenty years later, a coach from Arizona was driving athletes from the Sitting A2 program in Edmond, Oklahoma. Arriving the day before in 88 degree heat in late February, the van heaters were on full steam in the 26 degree morning air. Welcome to Oklahoma. The athletes ranged in age, in size, in disability but all relished getting on the court. They loved sitting volleyball.

The twenty years in between saw the young affable driver, Bill Hamiter, take a sport so reclusive in its popularity it was the Howard Hughes of mainstream volleyball tweaks but made it into a culture of growth, science and as only a story like this can end, world domination.

Yes, the Oklahoma Kid, Bill Hamiter, with little to nothing to work with as far as tangible evidence based training or statistics used his education, his coaching prowess and the many lessons winning and losing teach us about life along the way and this past September, his USA Sitting Women's Team dismembered an empire. The Chinese team had beaten the USA in the previous 3 Paralympics, stopping them the last two times with the gold medal at stake.

It took 8 years. Nothing comes easily when you are reinventing a sport. He added speed, he added wrinkles, he out smarted the Chinese who adjusted their game to the adjustments the USA made year after year. This time, the USA women had the answer. This year, they would not be denied.

Sit back and listen to the journey, as Bill Hamiter takes you on his: as a coach and administrator to simply answering a call no one else would and how that took him back home and then world wide. Listen how he utilizes the harshest team culture imaginable and uses it to his advantage. Most of all, listen to a pioneer of a sport that grows in popularity with each passing season. 

Twenty years between drivers, and he is still the same affable Oklahoma Kid. He just has a longer resume' now.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

"Nah...that's a girl's sport!"

From the corner of your eye, you could see it. Bright pink, the size of a softball and it came fluttering across the crisp morning air and plinked softly into the sand right next to an ASU Sun Devil beach player.

With that, Coach Keenan gathered his six foot eight inch frame and strode across the court picking up the mini volleyball where he had chucked it. He saw something he needed to give feedback on and managing three courts is like being the ring leader at Barnum and Bailey. This was a way to garner attention and not lose his place. Eighteen sand players joining Keenan and his staff in an effort to turn a program in its infancy into a National powerhouse.

The stories surrounding Brad Keenan are to say the least, unconventional. He was the stabilizer and at times comic relief in an indoor season gone awry. He has orchestrated and been in the thick of Nerf gun battles and Super Soaker wars with his team. He is quiet and reserved and as you will hear, somewhat superstitious. But what Brad Keenan is most is a Beach Volleyball Coach.

Here is his interview with the Arizona Region on his past, how he got to ASU and how he intends to coach the Sun Devils in the midst of the country's beach volleyball tsunami.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Place of Becoming...

The Phoenix Suns were demolishing the L.A. Lakers. They were up by 30 points in the fourth quarter. The Suns, mired in the conference cellar were on their way to just their 18th win in 57 games. The Lakers would add this 39th loss to a season that now saw them just a dribble ahead of the Suns in that cellar. If ever there was a “why bother” game, quarter, moment, this had to be it.

But first year Lakers Coach Luke Walton, a branch from the Golden State Warrior’s sapling dynasty doesn’t understand “why bother.” He called a time out with three minutes left, another a minute later. The score was out of hand and the Suns won by 36, the largest margin in the 302 times these teams have met since the Suns inception in 1968.

After the game, Walton scolded his team for their lack of competitiveness but when asked why he was still taking timeouts down by 30 or more, Walton became introspective. “I told them we don’t waste opportunities, whatever the score is. There is a reason we play a lot of young guys. We want them to experience these things, to learn from and to be able to grow individually and as a group.”

He went further, saying, “If we’re just going to go out there and just do that, even if we are down 30, what’s the point? We’re not learning anything from that. The timeouts were just a reminder that these are still opportunities we can use to get better and not to waste them.”

Walton spent 2 years with the Golden State Warriors who won the NBA Championship his first season there and lost in the finals last year. In this short time, they have reinvented the way basketball is played and Walton has learned much from his former mentor Kerr.

“His overall view of the way coaching should be done and taking in the human element of what’s going on here,” Walton said in an interview after his first year with Kerr of what he's learned. “I think that’s been incredible for me to see and learn from. A lot of people think, this is sports, guys are being paid millions of dollars, so you bring them in every day and grind them and make them into the best top-shape athlete they can be. But the reality of it is these guys have families, there’s pressure, there’s stress that goes, so Steve does a great job of making practice fun and making it competitive.

“His whole thing is playing loose, playing fast, but playing disciplined at the same time. We’ll play music at practice. We’ll do all sorts of different activities. A lot of it he got from Phil Jackson and Greg Popovich, but just working with it every single day has been a great learning experience for me.”

Now with his own team, a collection of talented youth, he focuses on learning with the intent that the winning will come. He has standards that he adheres to, mainly being competitive and giving 100% effort when on the court, but he understands that these multi millionaires, who still have no reason to shave every day, are still learning the game. One year of college, high school where they were mythological in their abilities over their peers and even before that, in AAU programs where they were coveted and coddled, they have lapsed into bad habits that Walton sees to daily.

At the 2017 HP convention in Colorado Springs, USA National Team coach Karch Kiraly said this amazing quote: “I’m not good enough, we’re not good enough. But that’s okay because this isn’t a place of being; it’s a place of becoming.”

As the big qualifiers and tournaments come up the calendar quickly, lest we forget that for most of our athletes, this is still a learning process. Even in the NBA, the world’s greatest athletes, they are never done learning and the coaches never done learning AND teaching. It is constant, it is relentless.

And it’s why we get up every morning!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

"Everything happens for a reason..."

It started many years before but came to fruition with this...

A man she had known told the 7th grader she was thinking pipe dreams if she thought she'd ever make it to the Olympics.

She proved him wrong...three times. It's what she does.

And on the journey to her fourth, she died. She told the campers this weekend, "That was the Stacy Sykora that died." The two camps looked puzzled when she said it, but after her 3 hours of court time had come to an end, she told them her story.

She told them about the American Dream: a small town girl makes it big. How hard work and persistence and extra effort can make up for where you were born or how much money you have.

She told them how she died and some parents wiped their eyes, some campers too. And she told them when she died. That she died when she was at her zenith, the best libero in the world, USA Volleyball's Player of the Year, one of the highest paid professionals in the world. She was headed to a fourth Olympic games in London.  But it came crashing down on her, literally.

The day before the February clinics, on Super Bowl Sunday, for over an hour, Stacy Sykora poured out her life. She talked about her Olympic coaches, her experiences, her philosophies and yes, her death.

She is open and shares with everyone. She is high energy and is a people magnet on overdrive. You can't help but smile as she talks and coaches. She is USA Volleyball, she is Burleson, Texas, she is America all wrapped up in one dark, thick braid that bounces off her back as she moves and coaches and teaches, her trademark since she started in the pre libero era.

She and the libero position became synonymous because they grew up together. She learned from Japanese masters of defense and serve receive and after a pinnacled career, she was told she had to change again to stay with the USA team.

And she did. Because this is what Stacy does. Things that aren't probable. Things that aren't supposed to happen. Curve balls, high and tight. She handles them, gets through them. Survives them. She exhorts often, "Everything happens for a reason."

She painted a picture in 7th grade, tears running down her cheek,  because a man said she was living in a dream world.

Stacy is. Now well into her second.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

"Never Meet Your Heroes.."

"I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people." Maya Angelou

It was described as apocalyptic. The entire town of Tacloban was leveled. Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest in history, swarmed the Philippine Islands on November 8, 2013 with 115 mph winds and left in its violent wake a destruction only seen in video games and Schwarzenegger movies. Over 200,000 homes destroyed and 6,300 people dead with another thousand missing. The end of the world had come to life.

Just 100 days after the tragedy, a young woman came to Tacloban and began the process of healing the city using what she herself had used in her own life: sports. Geraldine Bernardo, part of the Global Sports Mentoring Program, brought a program she developed called RePLAY, ReLIVE, ReNEW to the teachers and students of Tacloban using sports and games to bring this battered coastal city hope and purpose. 

ReNEW. ReLIVE. RePLAY. They weren’t just catchy words on a pamphlet. They are Bernardo’s ethos. They are what she speaks of, lives and sweats, under the relentless Philippine sun.

Geraldine Bernardo, Dina, grew up a self described “chubby kid” who was steered away from sports as a youngster because it would take her focus away from her studies. She idolized Bruce Lee growing up and would dabble in martial arts along with biking, swimming and skating. Her high school years she began to redefine herself by following fitness guru Jane Fonda’s aerobic workouts and cutting out sweets. She went into college studying physical therapy and found interest in exercise physiology and biomechanics which got her interested in weight training. 

It was at the University of the Philippines she also met the most important person in her life, her soon to be husband Jay. They have been a true team ever since. Thanks to her husband’s encouragement, Dina got involved in the performing arts: dancing and singing, skills which would serve her going forward as a gifted public speaker and completely at ease in front of audiences. She added to her burgeoning resume by graduating from the Asian Institute of Management with a Masters in Business Management. After their marriage in 1994, Dina and Jay began a series of small business together along with helping take care of her family’s interests as well. Years later, the couple hit a professional rough patch culminating in layoffs, lawsuits and the feeling of being burned out. Dina searched for answers.

In Chinese mythology, a subject Dina immersed herself in as a young student; Qu Yuan was a trusted soldier, advisor and poet for the state of Chu during the Warring States period of Chinese history. He was slandered by jealous officials in his own party and was put on trial for treason and exiled. He wrote poetry in his exile of his love for his country. A few years after his exile, his country was conquered by the Qin State: the very enemy he had proposed fighting against before his party had turned on him. Overcome with grief, Qu jumped into the Miluo River on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month which caused the rest of the townsfolk to jump into their boats and paddle up and down the Miluo, banging the water with their oars and beating drums to keep evil spirits away from him. They even tossed lumps of rice into the water to ensure the fish would eat the rice and not Qu. He was never found.

From this legend, the idea of Dragon Boating began. Imagine a supersized 40 foot canoe with 20 paddlers on each side of the elaborately carved vessel, a dragon’s head at one end and a dragon’s tail at the other. A lone steersman sits at the rear of the boat and a drummer at the front beating out a stroke count for rower unity. In Southeast Asia, it is a celebrated and honored sport tradition going back 2000 years.

Dina saw it as the ultimate team sport: rowers working in unison for a common goal. She decided at the age of 37 and with no previous sports experience, to give it a try at the local club in Manila. Her muscular frame and long arms lent herself perfectly to her new found passion. Three months into the Club season, Dina saw the Philippine National Team was having tryouts. She missed the age cut off by 10 years but with Jay’s insistence and her perseverance, she went anyway.

She tried out for two months but failed to make the first cut because she couldn’t finish the running criteria of a mile and a half in 12 minutes. She grabbed a book and began to learn how to pare her time down. She would try out in the morning with the team, go to work the rest of the day and then run in the evenings. On June 14th of 2003, her perseverance paid off and Geraldine Bernardo put the Team Philippine jersey on her back. Two months later she was named the Captain of the team.

She put her business acumen to use and helped organize and consolidate her diverse team into a functioning and thriving unit. She delved into the science and the math to help her team reach their potential. A few years into her National team stint, with four hour practices five days a week and on top of that cardio and weight training, her teams work paid off. At the age of 39 years old, Dina and her team captured a gold medal in their first Southeast Asian Games, adding to their 10 medals in the China Circuit races the previous two years.

In this amazing story, Dina also saw a different side of sports. She saw the athletes who worked so hard just following their passions. She saw what sports can do and how it can be used as a vehicle for social change and she saw, through her own eyes, how far people can take themselves if just given opportunities. She has also seen the side most of us don’t get to see. Abuses in leadership and the treatment of athletes; a part of sports she has been warring with ever since.

And so it began. Dina worked with the Philippine Olympic Committee and the Philippine Sports Commission. She was the first Filipina to be accepted into the 2012 inaugural class of the Global Sports Mentoring Program for emerging women sports leaders through the U.S. State Department which lead into her work at Tacloban after the typhoon. She has started the Sports for Women’s Empowerment and Employment Program (SWEEP) and the Sports Management Council of the Philippines, hiring young men and women to pay forward her ideals that sports can heal, can encourage and can inspire. 

The past couple of years, in conjunction with the U.S. Embassy in Manila, Dina has organized a program for U.S.A. Volleyball to reach out to coaches and communities around the Philippines. She has touched the deaf and disabled communities along with player and coaching clinics in elementary, high schools and colleges around much of Manila, Cebu and Baguio. In every clinic, she makes sure the participants are fed at the end and are given shirts that they wear proudly. She also leaves volleyballs with the programs so the ideas of the day are continued forward. None of those things are assumed in the Philippines.

If you read the blogs about J.P. Maunes and Adeline Dumapong, you should know that their work with USA Volleyball is through Dina. She is the nucleus of this atom and has no intention of slowing down. 

On a Sunday afternoon in late September last fall, Dina came to Bahay Mapagmahal, a school for disabled children. For an afternoon, the kids played sitting volleyball in an activity room the size of your kitchen and laughed and smiled, competing for hours. Dina acknowledged that she worked in the orthopedic hospital that this facility was attached to by its parking lot but never knew it was there. She smiled and entertained the children, talked to the schools administration and as she does with all of her outreach, left an indelible mark on so many. When she climbed back into her car, she began to cry. She wanted to do more.

There is an old adage: “Never meet your heroes, they’ll disappoint you every time.”

That’s not always the case. Heroes heal, encourage and inspire. They find ways to the light when the paths are dark and full of obstacles. They know how to say yes when the rest of the world says no. They promote inclusion and opportunity and they wrestle with their own demons to further their humanitarianism.

Geraldine Bernardo is a hero. And everyone who has met her is better for it. 

"Nothing is given to man on earth - struggle is built into the nature of life, and conflict is possible - the hero is the man who lets no obstacle prevent him from pursuing the values he has chosen." -- Andrew Bernstein

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

"Pain is a part of....."

“A hero has faced it all: he need not be undefeated, but he must be undaunted. “ Andrew Bernstein

Find a hero. Start looking. It is the fireman who races into a building to save somebody’s life? Is it the police officer who disrupts a robbery? Or is it the middle-schooler who steps in between a bully and his mark? Or is it still the Mom who leaves early every morning to catch the bus to work so she can pay for her children’s clothing and schooling, without complaint, self pity or anger, and still has the time to read to them before bed?

Heroes are found in different shapes and colors and sizes and places. They are among the shoppers on line in the 18 items and less lane. They are next to you in the traffic you sat in this morning. They are all around us- we just need to look with better eyes to find them because chances are, they don’t think they are heroes and certainly don’t want to be thought of in that way.

Adeline Dumapong is one of those heroes.

You might know her because she is the first Filipino to win a Paralympic medal. She won the Power lifting bronze medal in 2000 Summer Paralympics in Sydney, Australia.

You should know her because of all the work she does with persons with disabilities in the Philippines.

And you should know her because she is the kind of tireless and humble role model our young athletes should know more about.

But chances are you don’t know anything about her. Yet….

Born December 13, 1973, Adeline Dumapong grew up in a town called Kiangan in the province of Ifugao. She was one of six children and at the age of three, she was diagnosed with polio and lost the use of her legs and was confined to a wheel chair. 

“From what I can remember,” Adeline says, “My family has always treated me 'normally'. No special treatment. At home, there was division of labor and my parents would always give me chores that I could do like washing the dishes, folding clean clothes from the laundry, cooking rice or arranging shoes. Those chores didn't require walking, so they would be assigned to me. Looking back, I am sure that my parents gave me considerations, of course. I just didn't feel it then, which was exactly the point. I remember that there was a time when I asked my parents why they were not treating me 'special' and my father said that although I am special, like all my siblings are, I still have to do my share in the household chores.”

But Adeline’s father who was a mid-level public servant didn’t have the resources to care for his daughter. At the age of 6 years old, Adeline was sent to a school for children with disabilities called Bahay Mapagmahal which translated in the Filipino language of Tagalog is “Loving Home.” This dormitory was located behind the Philippine Orthopedic Center in Quezon City, seven driving hours south of her home.

Adeline recalls her time there as disciplined, run by Sister Roos Catry of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. “Bahay Mapagmahal dormitory during my time, we had a very strict structure to adhere to, from waking up at 5 am to lights off at 8 pm. We had written rules and regulations and we had duties which we had to do. Discipline is enforced. Failure to comply had a consequence ranging from no food, no television, temporary removal of wheelchair and, or isolation up to 12 midnight depending on the gravity of the offense.” Sister Roos is entering her 39th year at the helm.

“As a child of 6 up to around when I was 9 years old, I just accepted the situation and adapted to it. Every start of the school year, after spending 2 months with my family, when my mother would bring me to Bahay Mapagmahal, it would take me 2 weeks to adjust to the Bahay Mapagmahal way of life.”

But for a young girl who missed her family terribly, she began to question her situation. “When I was around 10, I started resenting my parents for bringing me to Bahay Mapagmahal. I even asked them if was really their child and when they said yes, I asked them how come they could stand sending me away to that 'horrible' place.”

One of the things that helped was the facilities adherence to learning musical instruments. Bahay Mapagmahal has developed a constant among their students called the “Rondalla on Wheels” which is the kids playing stringed instruments for concerts and fund raising functions, helping to keep the school afloat.

“Life in the dormitory was not easy but it was there that I was formed.” Adeline notes. “I was there for 10 years. I looked up to other alumni that would come visit us and told myself that I would also make something of myself. They were my role models. There were also a lot of fun and laughter and friendship.”

Adeline has always been a lover of sports. “Being an Ifugao, one of the indigenous tribe of the northern Philippines, and with a stocky build, I would always be part of a physical activity. I was into everything; racing, basketball, swimming, discuss throw, javelin, shot put, anything. It was a way of getting out the compound of the hospital where our dormitory is. Only athletes were allowed to go 'out' for training.”
This new found freedom translated immediately into her idea of “making something of herself.” As is the case with many of Bahay Mapagmahal’s alumni, they come back to the school to pay it forward: teaching music to the new students or just to help out in the dorm. Adeline, at the age of 23, and already graduated from a University and employed, married and yes, found power lifting.

“In 1996, a friend from the hospital asked me to try power lifting, I said why not. It was also a legit way of showing my male friends that I am stronger than them. It started as sort of a joke but I joined a national competition and I fell in love with it and the rest is history.”

“Part of a prize from a local competition was 2 months free training in the gym that my coach owned. In 1999, I was sent to Miami, Florida to compete in the qualifying tournament for the Sydney Paralympics 2000. I got a gold medal which qualified me for the Paralympic Games. It was the first time that our country would participate in the Paralympic Games. Nobody had any expectations.”

Adeline didn’t realize she had won a medal in her first Paralympics, right away. “I was just happy that I made that 110kg lift. It was only when my coach approached me and hugged me that it dawned on me. I have no video of my lift that time because the person taking the video jumped for joy when they saw that I was going to get a medal and the camera fell off the ground.” 

She won the bronze medal, the first Paralympic medal in Philippines history and the only one they would win for the next 16 years. “When I was at the podium and looking at the flags, our flag, being raised, I had goose bumps and I started crying. There was also the realization that winning that medal was not just for myself but for the whole country. That Paralympic bronze medal felt like a gold medal for us. Everybody was happy about it. It opened doors not just for me but more importantly for the Disabled sport in the Philippines.”

Two years after her medal winning performance, she gave birth to Alyssa Mei. “Alyssa changed me.” She says candidly. “When I didn't have her yet, I was not particularly fond of children. I didn't hate them but I did not long for them as well. When I didn't have her yet, I was very driven and hard on myself and on others. I remember my young self as fearless and fearsome I guess. I was a champion for the underdogs; I was a voice for the others who were afraid to say what they wanted to say. I fought hard for my ideals, for the things I thought were right. I pushed myself to become the best wherever I was so that I can back up my ideals. Then I fell in love and had Alyssa. Slowly but surely, Alyssa changed me. I became more human because of her. She taught me to be afraid but she also taught me about patience, gentleness, simple joys and unconditional love. She continues to do so now in more ways than one. There are times when I look at her and I just go 'wow', she's my daughter. She really made me a better person.”

Adeline continued to train and took 7th in the 2004 Athens Summer Paralympics. She ran into some adversity where she was injured just before the 2008 Beijing Summer Paralympics and took 6th in the 2012 London Paralympics. She is currently ranked 9th in the world at the age of 43!

“The London and Rio Paralympic Games were supposedly my last games.” Adeline confesses. “Before London I thought it was going to be my last Paralympic games but I continued training and I still won competitions and then qualified for the Rio games. Then, I had the same thoughts before the Rio games; that I will retire after that. However, it's been 5 months but I am still training and my coach said I can still do another cycle up to Tokyo 2020. So, I gave up on giving up. I figure, I'll just do this while I still can and when I don't win anymore, I'll stop. I really enjoy being with the national team. I am one of the most senior athletes there both in age and experience and I like that I can reach out to the younger athletes and share with them my journey; I still like being part of a team even if at times it can be challenging as well.”

In her normal deflecting way, Adeline spends her life spreading the gospel of Para sports to the Philippine Islands and beyond through her work and her ascension as a role model. “I am most proud of being part of our sport organization, Philippine Sports Association for the Differently Abled, the National Paralympic Committee (PHILSPADA-NPC Phils.) When it started in 1997 and when I won the 1st ever Paralympic medal for the Philippines in Sydney 2000.” She says. “It was only a bronze medal but it truly felt like gold but even more as it opened doors not only for me but for the whole disability sport population in the Philippines. Disability sport in the Philippines has come a long way since year 2000. Today, we have 74 athletes on the National Para Team, playing 17 different sports and participating in major IPC competitions around the globe. Aside from being an athlete, I have worked as a volunteer for PHILSPADA NPC Phils. during the off season. Just last November, I was invited to help them reorganize and revive the organization and again I have accepted.”

In the fall, Adeline used her contacts in the Para community to teach both coaches and athletes sitting volleyball in their programs and facilities. She watched the training as some Para leaders were helped out of their wheel chairs and others would ease to the ground and toss their crutches and canes aside and for a few hours, became athletes. She watched as a ribbon was strung across the rec room of what was once her home, at Bahay Mapagmahal and the children, squealing and laughing, played sitting volleyball for hours. She had a hand in these events and in growing the sitting game in her arena, but to ask her, she was barely there.

Her work with these organizations is purely to grow the awareness and outreach of Para sports in the Philippines. “Our organization has no money and they are only giving me allowance for gas now but I am happy. On the practical side, I do need to earn a living to provide for my daughter and me, so now I am taking my masters in Community Development at the University of the Philippines so I can teach and/or become a consultant. A friend of mine gave me the start up money for my studies; hopefully I find a scholarship soon. I am proud, too, of the fact that I am going back to school after 22 years to better serve the community through sport.”

On that humid Sunday in late September, as Adeline sat in the room of Bahay Mapagmahal where she grew up, she couldn’t have imagined the events that would bring her back but as is the tradition there, she is back. Sister Roos is leaving in March to head back to Belgium and the school’s music group, called the Rondalla On Wheels has a new president. “I have many organizations but I have temporarily said goodbye to them so I can concentrate with Bahay Mapagmahal’s Rondalla On Wheels and PHILSPADA NPC Phils.” New President Adeline states. 

In an Advil commercial, Adeline Dumapong puts her life into one sentence; “Pain is a part of life, we have to be able to rise above it.” While there are many who can follow that script, very few do. But Adeline lives it every day, in and out of her wheelchair, training and advocating for those like her; those born with or having developed a disability but that still want, need and certainly deserve opportunities.

They are out there. Sometimes in the shadows, sometimes behind the scenes and a lot of times you don’t know who they are but they can affect your life; veer it into a direction you couldn’t have imagined. The everyday heroes who populate our planet but get overlooked because they are quiet and keep their head down and do good work and never think of themselves as heroes.

We have to look with better eyes to find them and tell them, “thank you!”

If you would like to help the Rondalla on Wheels you can follow them on facebook or you can make a donation on their website

Monday, January 23, 2017

"The Impact of the Ripples...."

“A hero is somebody who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.” Bob Dylan

Capes are uncomfortable in the tropical rainforest-like temperatures and humidity of the Philippine Islands. Even if they were more comfortable, it is a given that John Paul Maunes wouldn’t wear one.

He doesn’t see himself as a hero: he’s just sharing his gifts with the community. A promise he made to a friend many years ago. His work with the deaf and persons with disabilities has been far reaching and ever evolving and it started as a young boy.

John Paul, or J.P. as he prefers, resides in Cebu, an island and surrounding others of over four million people, where he grew up with a brother and a sister. “All my life I was raised by people with disabilities.” J.P. says. “My Mom has a disability. She was a doctor and was working in the community and one day, on her way to the community she was on the bus and the bus got into an accident and she almost lost her two legs. I also grew up living in the same house with my Uncle who has a mental illness. Growing up among them you can hear a lot of negative things and that was hard for me as a child to grow up in that environment.”

“When you go to school and there’s a family day and you can see all the kids and their parents playing the games together and you just sit here with your parent; it’s hard because you cannot do the same things as your classmates because your Mom has difficulty moving around or she cannot do physical activities. In the neighborhood I was often teased by my friends about how my Mom would walk. It was painful.” He has struggled reconciling how he and his Mom and Uncle were treated now he is working as an advocate for people like them. “All I saw was a loving mother; I was raised by a loving mother: a Mom and a doctor who was taking care of poor patients in a community and by a loving Uncle.”

J.P. was a normal boy in Cebu. He loved soccer and basketball and played as often as possible around school but beginning high school, his world became a prison. “When I was 14 years old I was diagnosed with chronic granuloma. They told me there was a lesion in my head and they had to remove it and I had to take medication. I was 14; I loved to play soccer, I loved to play basketball, I loved to go out and then suddenly they tell you that you can’t go out and play and do what regular kids do.”

His condition gave him seizures and often landed him in the hospital. “The first time I can remember I was sent to the hospital, I felt my Mom’s finger in my mouth and she was trying to resuscitate me. She told me I was not breathing anymore. The next thing I know, I was already in the hospital and then there was a Doctor in my room telling me, ‘You are not a regular kid anymore. You have to take medicine; you can’t play your regular sports. You can’t play basketball; you can’t play soccer or swim. You have to just stay at home.’ That was the most disenfranchising moment of my life.”

It was out of this darkest time in his childhood that J.P. would befriend someone that would inspire and revise his life forever; his deaf neighbor Peter Paul. “It was my entire childhood in high school. I was second year in high school and so I had this medication and I had difficulty adjusting it and a few months after I met this deaf guy, Peter Paul. We were the same age and he was playing basketball and he invited me: ‘C’mon, lets’ play, let’s shoot some balls.’ I told him I couldn’t play and he said, ‘No, what’s your problem?’ That’s the time I started to play after so many months being confined to my room, I started to play basketball and he told me he’d give me a sign name and he gave me the sign name of ‘Michael Jordan’ when we played basketball. He told me, ‘You’ll be my playmate every afternoon here,’ so that was the most empowering moment I had after being diagnosed with that medical condition.”

J.P. credits Peter Paul with teaching him sign language and getting him back on his feet once again. “He taught me how to take life positively and knowing also he was there and had a permanent disability I had a reflection: How could I feel so sorry about my suffering? Here is this guy with a permanent disability who was disabled from the first place so I think it’s only a matter of mentality and how people see you.”

J.P.’s new inner strength was tested right away. ‘When we were 17, Peter Paul had an accident and passed away. The day before he passed away, I saw him. It’s still quite mysterious. I ran home and my house was empty and our neighbor told us that my parents and family were in his house and when I arrived at his house, I had the surprise of my life when I saw his mother crying and my parents crying and I said what’s happening and she told me that he passed away in an accident.”

Peter Paul’s influence in J.P. was deeply ingrained already but J.P. recalled one of the last conversations he had with his best friend. “Just days before he died, he was telling me I needed to volunteer in the community and that people were needing help and how I was one of the few people who know how to communicate in sign language. For me, I did not really want to, I just wanted to sign with him and communicate and he said no, you have to. It’s a God-given talent; it’s a gift and you have to share it with the community and I told him I would think about it. So after that happened, the day of his burial, I told myself… I promised myself, I promised him that I would serve the community. That was the first time I engaged myself in the community and I was looking for communities and organizations and I found one community in Cebu which introduced me to the deaf community in Cebu and that started my journey.”

J.P. became a registered nurse and tried to balance his advocacy for the deaf community with his workload. When he finally decided to give up nursing and work full time for the deaf and persons with disabilities, his family reacted badly to his decision to walk away from a career and follow his passion. “My dream was to become a doctor to follow in the positive footprints of my parents but later I realized that you don’t have to really study medicine and heal people to change people’s lives. It’s only a part of it. Healing the lives of people is more of a spiritual thing and being able to give impact to them. That has been the journey I have been through. Half of my life I lived with people with disabilities and I realized that every person has their own purpose and I think when I started to search for mine, I found myself. I ended up here in this advocacy and maybe everything has a meaning and everything has a reason that it’s happening in your life and I think that’s one of those things that had me engage in this purpose.”

For the last decade or so, J.P. has spread himself throughout the deaf and disabled community. He started a foundation and worked with local governments to bring attention to the widespread sexual abuse among deaf women and children. He was instrumental in putting sign language interpreters on the evening news in Cebu and his help in making polling places easier for the deaf and disabled to access lead to a large uptick in that population’s voting in the 2016 Philippine presidential election. He launched a program called PADS (Philippine Accessible Deaf Services) and has used that to bring sports into the lives of the deaf and persons with disabilities. He has started a ‘Dragon Boat’ program with the help of others that allows his deaf and persons with disabilities to row, side by side, working together in an ultimate team environment, propelling a 40 foot wooden canoe through Cebu Bay. Male, female, deaf, blind, disabled: are having and continuing to compete and practice going forward. 

In October, J.P. was also instrumental in bringing in sitting volleyball to his groups. Teachers, coaches and athletes participated and learned the basics. As he watched the persons with disabilities start to play and laugh and compete, he became very emotional.

“I can still remember it like it just happened yesterday. Since I started working for people with disabilities, I had never had the chance to see them really play and engage in sports. There are times in festivals and things that they get invited to play basketball but not as a serious sport, as more of just entertainment of people with disabilities. It was like a circus show and I really don’t like that, I don’t like seeing that. When we started to organize sitting volleyball, that was the first time I saw them by themselves being human beings, being able to fully participate in a sport where people see them not just as a person with special needs but as an athlete.”

“That was so empowering to witness that particular moment in my life and hearing them laugh, I think that laugh came from the heart. I have never heard them laugh. That’s why I couldn’t contain myself because it was the loudest laugh I heard and I think they felt so dignified playing a sport. I think I was so thankful to give them a chance to become a bridge in restoring their dignity of the people we have trained in sitting volleyball. Even up to now, I still see them and most of the guys are now part of our dragon boat team. There’s this burning fire in their eyes every time we see each other. That’s something that you don’t see every day. It’s an opportunity we don’t want to miss and thinking about that day.”

The planning that goes into J.P.’s programs is voluminous and so many of the people on the planning side of things never got to see the fruition of their labor. “I think it’s a rare moment from the planning and then to see how it unfolds and being able to feel the feedback; the impact of the lives and how we were able to change lives of people, it’s a once in a lifetime experience that for me, not all people will be able to experience and I was just so grateful for that moment.”

Leo Tolstoy once said talking about charity that people who think they can’t make a difference are short sighted: “Add your light to the sum of light.” He said. For J.P., that is what gets him through the struggle he faces each and every day. “It’s so challenging, like walking in empty halls. It’s so lonely out there; being able to talk to people, trying to convince them. If only I had more skill I could do more. It’s so difficult, so hard. Every day I always think about this mission of being able to set up the sporting programs. My great motivation was when I was able to come to the United States a few months ago and able to see with my very own eyes how things are going out there and then saying yes, I can do this in the Philippines. How people there started from the ground up and if they have done, I can do it too. I may not be able to see the bigger picture later on because I have to pass it on but something has to start somewhere else and it’s so challenging right now.”
But the light continues and sitting volleyball has become a lynchpin in getting persons with disabilities involved in sport. “In Mandaue City where we had our first sitting volleyball clinic, I am so happy they have allocated the funds for a clinic and a tournament this coming summer of 2017. Also, the department of education and particularly the city of Mandaue has communicated to us and wants us to conduct more clinics for the students. So they are very eager to integrate sitting volleyball here. Also a few weeks ago we organized a small clinic for sitting beach volleyball.”


“One of our participants, who broke her leg a few months ago, was sitting there on the beach watching us. We were able to get her to play and she was another reason we realized why we play adaptive sports. One of the participants who was in Washington D.C. works for the Sports for Change program and she told me that while there are a lot of discussions in the U.S. about where this is going, it was the first time she saw it unfold with her very own eyes: the impact of sports on the people, on the members of the community, There’s a lot of discussions in the U.S. where they are doing it and you can literally see that happening here.” Because of this, J.P. has been invited to a conference in Florida over the summer to talk about his programming and share his successes with his U.S. colleagues.

“I was so happy to hear that and to share with her the different experiences, the stories of the people that we engage through our sporting program; it drew a lot of interest. It’s so nice to see people talking about adaptive sports, more people getting involved in these disability programs and the growing interest here in what sitting volleyball looks like. Since we inaugurated it here a few months ago, there has been a growing interest in our community about how are they going to engage and learn about it. I am trying to fix my schedule right now to organize a few more sitting clinics. We are talking to the guys who provided us with the volleyballs and maybe they can invite more people to come here to Cebu and organize a volleyball clinic for the officials and for the volleyball stations so we can collaborate with them and their sporting programs to include sitting volleyball. I’m really excited about 2017 and just so happy about the acceptance of people with disabilities working program. I hope to do more and I hope to provide more engagements of people with disabilities and programs where we can work together.”

For J.P. sans cape, he continues his work tirelessly. “My motivation is in the faces of the people we have been meeting in these past few months. If I turn back on this mission, I turn back on them. That keeps me going, thinking about them, thinking about the smiles and all the laughter that we have experienced the past few months. It motivated me to do more. The feeling is so good that you get addicted to it, no matter how difficult it is.”

His work requires him to knock on hundreds of doors a week, looking for help, looking for volunteers and venues and taking constant steps to grow the advocacy. “Financially, when the person or the organization would say no to you, it’s just another person but I know there are thousands more out there for me to get connected and to hear the stories of these amazing people. It doesn’t matter if they cannot help financially but we tell the same story and they feel ripples, the impact of the ripples. I still think that someone someday will knock on my door and tell me hey, let’s work together and start something from what you started. I’m waiting for that day to come. I also know I cannot do it alone. I need people with me, my team, everyone. They say it takes a community to raise a child and I believe that philosophy. It’s not about one person; it’s about the community taking ownership. For me, I try to plant the seed and convince people. Convince more people to play this sport and share this beautiful moment and the experience I have. I think our world here is sharing a really good feeling and it’s just one step at a time.”

While he is driven by promises made in his youth, and by the faces and the ripples, J.P. is not without sadness at times, thinking about what he has sacrificed to follow his passion. When he faces those demons, he looks into the eyes of his newest motivation: his son. “Being able to work in the community doesn’t really have a lot of financial support, it’s hard. You live by the day. And being around 30 and I’m already in the middle stages of my life, the reality is that I may not be able to give him the luxuries compared to that of other parents. But I think the legacy that I can give him is a better future for him regardless of what happens to him. The thing that I am doing now, he’ll be able to recognize it. If something would happen to me tomorrow, am I sure my children would have a better future compared to what I went through when I was a young boy? The people I meet and the things that I see will happen to my child and my children’s children and that’s the main motivation.”

“It’s the purpose of why I am here right now.”

“Once a man has made a commitment to a way of life, he puts the greatest strength in the world behind him. It's something we call heart power. Once a man has made this commitment, nothing will stop him short of success.”
—Vince Lombardi (1913-1970)   Athletic Coach

If you would like to help J.P. and his work, you can donate to his organization P.A.D.S.