Pushing myself beyond human limits. That was me. The adrenaline and the challenge gave me a high from being physically active. I went hiking, explored the outdoors, and tirelessly rode my bike pedaling wherever my two wheels would take me to satisfy my craving for adventure. I joined marathons, played soccer, tennis, badminton, and became more serious in table tennis and track and field in the varsity teams in high school. But it was fencing that created a breakthrough moment in my life.
I’ve found that often, just when you think you’ve hit a wall, you experience a breakthrough that takes you to new heights in accomplishment – Stedman Graham
It was in 1989, in my 1st year in dental proper, that I qualified for the SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Although this was my second SEA Games, it was my first time to play in the individual event. Being considered in this event meant that a fencer is one of the top 2 best fencers in that specific sword (foil). The level of performance, expectations and pressure were much higher as compared to a team event. And these were the very reasons that caused me to bow out in the early stages of the competition. Ashamed and embarrassed of my performance, I broke into tears not wanting to come home. I let my team and country down.
The defeat became the wall I hit. It pushed me to perform better and to focus on training for the next SEA Games which was to be held in Manila in 1991. The thought of winning “at home” motivated me even more.
At that point, I reached a fork in the road. A decision had to be made between finding more time to train, to increase my chances of winning, or continue dental school with a full load for me to graduate on time with my 1993 batchmates. It was a very difficult decision. In the end, I chose to go for it, the chance to win in the SEA Games, Manila. School took a backseat. I dropped most of my subjects in dental school to concentrate more on training.
On November 25, 1991, with the support from family, teammates, friends, the dental community (Dean Natividad C. Gervasio called off classes that day to encourage everyone to cheer me on while I play), and with a rosary in my left hand, I won the gold.
That win and another in the region opened a window of opportunity for me to participate in the ‘92 Barcelona Olympics. To give way to months of training in Germany, I decided to take a leave from dental school in SY 1992-1993. The competition in the Olympics proved to be much stronger and an eye opener. I failed to bring home a medal. Bowing out early in the competition brought back the same feeling of “hitting a wall” in 1989 and wanting to do better in the next. Experiencing the Olympics gave me a better grasp of how high the competition was and the needed preparation. Though I had 4 years to try and hopefully make it to the next, the time I had was just not enough. With the maximum residency rule lingering, I had no choice but to focus on finishing dental school this time.
And suddenly you know: It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of new beginnings – Meister Eckhart
I retired from competition in 1995. That same year, I graduated with a degree in dental medicine and placed in the top 20 of the Dental Licensure Exam. This gave me a lot of confidence and energy to pursue a career in dentistry. I immediately went into private practice, attended conventions, seminars, assisted colleagues, and did almost everything to jump start my dental career.
During the first three years I was in practice, I found it difficult to stay in one place, most of the time waiting for patients. I had so much energy and I needed to put this energy into good use. There were times, I would get calls from parents not for a dental procedure but for fencing lessons for their children. As the days, weeks, months, and years passed, I began noticing that most of my time was spent not in the dental clinic treating patients but in the fencing hall teaching and coaching students.
Fencing became part of the UAAP in 1996 initially as a demonstration sport. And because of this development, various UAAP member schools started their own fencing programs, forming a varsity team, including fencing as part of the extra-curricular activity, and as a Physical Education subject. This was an opportunity for a career change because fencing coaches and teachers were needed. That same year I was called on to coach both the National Team and the Ateneo de Manila Fencing Team.
To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly – Henri Bergson
The career change needed reinforcement. It was necessary for me to supplement my athletic experience with the science behind coaching and teaching. I took up courses specific to fencing both locally and internationally. To broaden my understanding of sports beyond fencing, I finished a diploma course in Exercise and Sports Science (DESS) at the UP College of Human Kinetics. I may not be pushing myself as much physically, but the drive now is in pursuit of self-education so that I continue to grow and get a step closer in becoming the best I can be.
Being in the Ateneo de Manila University for almost 25 years as a full-time faculty at the Loyola Schools Physical Education Program, fencing coach, and as the Program Head of Fencing have kept me busy. Concurrently, I am involved with the Philippine Paralympic Committee and the Philippine Sports Association for the Differently Abled (PHILSPADA) as Secretary General and was recently elected as a Board Member of the Philippine Fencing Association (PFA). Being involved now in these organizations, is an added chapter in my life. And as I undertake these roles, the opportunities in creating myself continue endlessly. And despite this career change, I ardently renew my PRC Dental License…because after all, I am still a dentist.