Only a few players had a year as great as 2019 like Jovelyn Gonzaga.
Podium finishes in the Premier Volleyball League and Philippine Super Liga, and a fantastic run with the national team in the Southeast Asian Games made for a great story, the perfect comeback year for the “Bionic Ilongga”.
Gonzaga was coming off an ACL injury, which she sustained a year before during a game. The accomplishments were fruits of a rigorous rehab process she underwent for her knee.
Though the feats were quite great, the manner in which she did them was likewise awe-inspiring. In one stretch, she was juggling two major leagues, which required her to play games in consecutive days.
And these were no ordinary games. In one tourney, Gonzaga was in a high-pressure finals battle against one of the best teams in the country, while on the other she was helping her squad get the best position to advance in the competition. Both were tough, competitive, and pressure-packed. But like a true soldier herself, she went to the battlefield without hesitation.
Those circumstances, though, didn’t surprise the volleyball community. In fact, it perfectly encapsulated Gonzaga’s true character on the court.
Many fans know about her will and determination, which is probably the reason why she’s described as bionic. But this kind of dedication to her work extends beyond the volleyball taraflex; it’s reflected as well in her service as military personnel.
Chance to make a difference
This year, as with everyone, has been rounding up quite differently for Gonzaga. After a stellar 2019, she has been taking on a different calling recently.
With sports activities ultimately put to a pause because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many players channel their energy on different things.
As a member of the army, the 28-year-old has heeded the call to serve the frontline in this crisis.
About a few months in quarantine, Gonzaga and other athletes in the army were assigned to one of the busiest areas in the city.
“Nu’ng mga past months, nagke-cater kami sa LSIs or locally stranded individuals so lahat ng mga kababayan natin na nandito sa Maynila, na hindi nakauwi sa kani-kanilang probinsya, cinater namin ’yun dito sa Philippine Army Gym,” Gonzaga recalled in a “Spin Sidelines” podcast.
“So nagsimula ’yun almost two months na rin siguro and du’n kami nagsimula maging busy. Naging hectic na ’yung duty-han namin at the same time, nagiging toxic siya kasi labas pasok ’yung mga LSI.
“Like for example, mag-rerelease kami ng almost 100-plus LSIs, may papasok na naman na 100 plus so hindi talaga siya maubos ubos.”
But for athletes turned frontliners, it’s one such situation where they can apply their values off the court. As seasoned veterans, they were able to harness camaraderie and work as a unit in the frontline.
“Pero thankful pa rin kasi dahil sa teamwork, kasi lahat kami dito army gym mga athlete. Mas magkakaroon ka talaga ng extra push at motivation na makikita mo bawat isa nagtutulungan. So teamwork pa rin ang nangyayari dito sa amin,” Gonzaga said.
Leader on, off the court
Being an athlete in her situation proved to be advantageous in a lot of ways. One of them was learning how to communicate.
Known as a vocal leader on the court, Gonzaga shared how she put her ability to motivate others to good, but different use.
“Bilang naging athlete ako, na-improve ’yung personality ko and at the same time ’yung pakikipag-usap ko sa ibang tao. Kaya natuto ako makisalamuha. Good thing na lahat kami dito athlete. ’Yun siguro ’yung factor kaya mas nakaka-engage kami sa kanila. Mas nararamdaman namin ’yung pangangailangan nila and mas nabibigay namin yung pag-iintindi na kailangan nila,” she said.
The shift from being a volleyball player to a full-time frontliner wasn’t easy, but she has continued to power through. Her mindset as an athlete along with years of military training helped her prepare for it.
“Ito kasi ibang task. So kailangan mo mag-adapt at adjust. Na-training kami sa military training so lahat ng attitude doon, kailangan marunong ka maging flexible, dapat marunong ka magmulti-task. Thankful kami kasi meron kaming ganung training sa military. So kumbaga any time kakailanganin kami, kailangan dapat lagi kami prepared,” she added.
Being away from the sport and the life she’s accustomed to, Gonzaga acknowledged even the toughest people succumb to sadness and anxiety in these uncertain times. But she didn’t suffer completely.
Instead, she drew strength and inspiration from the different faces she interacts with everyday.
“ ’Pag may na-rerelease kami, nagre-release kasi kami ng mga tao every 12 midnight, sobrang sarap sa feeling. Tapos may group kasi kami, magme-message ’yung mga LSIs, ‘Ma’am, ang laki ng pasasalamat namin sa inyo.’ Mga message of appreciation. So nakakatanggal talaga siya ng pagod,” she said.
Same person, different game
With this, Gonzaga discovered a new perspective and “purpose” in life.
“Pero thankful pa rin kasi tuloy-tuloy pa rin ’yung papawis ko and at the same time, may mga dumating na mas nagkaroon ako ng purpose na nung dumating na ’yung mga LSI dito, na-convert na ’yung boredom, lungkot,” she said.
“ ’Pag mas nakita mo sila lalo, mas nagigising ’yung loob mo na paano na lang ’yung pinagdadaanan ng mga kababayan natin lalo. Tayo, may pagkain tayo, may tutulugan tayo. Sila longing for their family and loved ones. So mag-iiba talaga ’yung perception mo sa buhay. Kailangan maging grateful pa rin in spite of everything.”
It’s the same person in a different game. Like what she did in 2019, Gonzaga vowed to fight until the end for her kababayans.
“Kumbaga parang nasa laro kami na kailangan naming ipanalo ’yung laban na’to,” she said. “Ganu’n ’yung nangyayari sa amin. Ito ’yung court namin ngayon. Ito ’yung battle namin ngayon.”
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