When I learned that the Philippines finally has a representative to the Winter Olympics, in the prestigious and widely-recognized figure skating category no less, and that it was happening in my lifetime, I was elated. For a young man who not only comes from a tropical country where figure skating is nothing but a casual recreation in shopping malls, and who struggles against asthma, is nothing short of amazing.
Learning of your story through local and international news, and seeing your performances on YouTube, I cannot help but be inspired. Young as you are, no doubt you are an inspiration to many. This is the kind of news that we should be looking at. This is the kind of image children should be exposed to. With that picture of you proudly holding the Philippine flag in this year’s Winter Olympics in that stadium in Sochi, I feel nothing short of blessed.
Each bit of news I have read has opened my eyes to certain realities with regards to your struggles. The Philippines is very far from the ideal of having the government support artistic and athletic endeavors — and yet we are no different from industrialized and developed countries, in that we have the blood of champions, and that we can produce the brightest talents. I am blessed and inspired by the unwavering support of your family for you to pursue your passion. I am touched in knowing that the Filipino community worldwide is supporting you in any way they can — a great illustration of our bayanihan culture.
Yet, I cannot help but feel a bit of bitterness. Our government has not shown their support as they should, and I doubt they even know you represent our country in the Winter Olympics. I doubt that they appreciate the honor and prestige you bring to your motherland by holding that flag. My jaded heart expects that they will not hesitate to jump in the bandwagon and take credit for your victories without them lifting a finger. What I wanted to tell you, and what I wanted to start this letter with was this:
“Skate for yourself.”
But that would be my bitter heart speaking, and that is not what I want to impart on a younger soul. Then I wanted to say:
“Skate for yourself, and for the people who have rallied behind you. You don’t have to carry that flag, because the Philippine government does not deserve that honor; because she couldn’t care less if you have asthma or if your family is up to their eyeballs in debt. Skate for your passion. Skate for yourself.”
Again, more bitterness, and this time with added cynicism. But then I think of your words, and what you want to do, despite the hardships you face. I then realize that I was wrong in my thinking. Seeing you hold that flag taught me something, and showed me something that I have thought long dead:
You have a noble heart, an unwavering spirit, and a loving soul — such as that you can still teach someone like me (someone who has literally seen more winters than you have) the value of honor, nobility, and patriotism.
It is one thing to engage in what you love for yourself. It is another to do it with passion. And yet it is a wholly different thing to do it for others — for your family, for your friends and loved ones, for those who support you, and for your country. You can certainly choose not to carry that flag (besides, it looks pretty heavy), but in doing so, you have made me feel proud, happy, humble, and blessed.
I would like to end this missive in letting you know that you are in my prayers: for our Lord God to bless you and everyone who supports you in their own little way, to spare you from injury, to keep you and your mother in great health, for you to have constant provision, for you to be blessed with friends and mentors, and for you to claim victory in its many forms.
I am cheering for you, Michael. Take care, and God bless.
~ Cielo Maaliw