Keziah Marie Pestaño
Czarina Mae Arevalo, one of the most bemedalled tennis players in the Philippines, once thought she was a failure.
When she was still a seven-year-old girl in the province, her body would be littered with tiny scars and cuts she got from playing in the fields all day. Because she is an only daughter, her father did not sit well with this and decided to divert her energy and enthusiasm to a tennis court. Little did he know that this would determine Czarina’s fate.
Her talent blossomed and soon enough, she played and earned five gold medals in three consecutive Palarong Pambansa tournaments.
“Winning in the Palarong Pambansa gave me confidence. Dahil dito, nasabi ko, ‘Kaya ko pala.’”
The young star began rising through the ranks, proving herself worthy of the prestige and honor dangling on her neck. At the age of 14, she was chosen to participate in different international tournaments.
However, beneath the medals and trophies, she was just a girl from the province with barely enough money to pay for all the fees that came along with the humongous opportunity. Thankfully, there were people who believed in her and were willing to sponsor her throughout the whole event. It was a prayer answered for Czarina.
But without obstacles, there would be no triumph.
A loss followed another loss, and she rapidly found herself wallowing in a pit of self-pity and guilt. She was ashamed to face the people who helped her get to the top, only to see her fall to the bottom. All the hard work and optimism did not pay off and there was nothing she could do but apologize to her sponsors for wasting their money and faith, and try to forgive herself for not being the champion she envisioned herself to be.
Yet, as she looked back on all the family gatherings, birthdays, summer vacations, and friendships that she had to miss and sacrifice, she felt the need to fight again. She has already given too much for her love of the sport, so why should she stop? There was simply no need to beat herself up for something that she can fight for again. Life is just a series of chances; there is no such thing as a dead end.
“Madali lang magpatuloy kapag maganda ang nangyayari, pero kapag natatalo ka na, kapag subsob ka na o bugbog ka na sa laro, at pagod na pagod ka na, bangis lang ang natitira sa kabila ng mga hadlang at pagkadapa. I felt like a complete failure. Pero lumaban ako,” Czarina shared.
Slowly, she picked up her pieces and reminded herself of how far she has already gone and how far she will still go. She took the road less taken, armed with grit, discipline, and sacrifice. Eventually, she rose above everything that dragged her down, and became champion in her sport, and a hero to the young players who look up to her.
An athlete’s life is never easy, and sometimes it may seem that no amount of medals can give you back all the tears, sweat, and time that you willingly gave up for your sport. But sometimes, you just have to remind yourself why you picked up the ball, or the boxing gloves, or the bow in the first place.
For Czarina, it was the little girl holding a tennis racket for the first time and thinking, “Tennis…this is what I am.”