It was a Saturday afternoon, at the usual spot just outside Poblacion Park in Talisay City, about 30 children were eating porridge.
The noise from the 30 children in one place was chaotic, but it was a happy chaos. Everyone had food, even if it was only porridge.
Once the long table, a borrowed wooden skaters’ ramp, was cleared, half of the kids had to leave for their afternoon swimming lesson.
Marylane “Belen” Enrile, John Nino Palma, Rizangel “Zangel” Quijano, Klein Jay Cabrera, Jake Enrile and Lourdes Faith Valendez are among the fifteen Talisay Urban Swimmers, whose training ground is Poblacon beach.
The kids are among the hundreds if not the thousands in Talisay City whose families have no stable income. From this group, their fathers are either construction workers or pedicab drivers whose income is not enough to feed the entire family. The kids said there are days that they practice with empty stomachs.
That is just one of the many hurdles they have to face while training to become great swimmers. In one of their practice sessions, the kids were using makeshift swimming trainers made of flat PVC which they attached to their waste like belt bags. Coach Marichu Rodriguez said they could not afford the real trainer gear, they had to make do with what is cheap and readily available.
Their floaters and goggles were mostly hand-me-downs from other athletes. Some of the team’s gear were from the lost-and-found section of a resort, donated to them after no one showed up to claim them.
“That is how it is. If you’ve noticed, there’s not enough for all swimmers. Because these are just what we have. These kids don’t even have complete goggles. During the competition, they have to borrow each other’s goggles,” Rodriguez said in Cebuano.
Nino, 9, said he does not own a decent pair of trunks. What he had was also a hand-me-down that was torn due to regular use while practicing.
Zangel, 13, said he also had a similar experience wherein his trunks were ripped. He said he gets his trunks from friends or at the “ukay-ukay” shop.
“Ganahan unta ko bag-o akong trunks ug goggles kay nindot kaayo ilangoy kung sakto sa sukod imong gamit. Pero mahal man,” he said. (It would be great to have a new pair of trunks and goggles, as it would help me perform better if you have better, quality gears. But these are expensive.)
Belen, 11, said in her last competition late last year, her major problem was her goggles as these were broken. She said, no matter how much she adjusted them, water still got in her eyes causing them to turn red.
“Bisag unsaon og pahuot, mosud man ang tubig. Agwanta na lang kay wa may lain. Sakit kaayo sa mata. Namuwa gud to akong mata paghuman,” she recalled. (No matter how I tried to adjust it, water still seeps in. But that was all the team had, so I had no choice. My eyes were very red at that time, they really hurt.)
Belen said they had invitations to compete outside Cebu, the problem, however, is the transportation and food expenses. In their trip to Ormoc City, it was Rodriguez who spent most for the kids, and a portion of the transportation was sponsored by Talisay City Vice Mayor Alan Bucao and City Administrator Rudylyn Navarro.
Rodriquez said if only the city was supportive of its athletes, they could have easily brought in more pride to it.
“Katong didto mis Ormoc, gilibrehan ra gani mis SM ug Gaisano kay mga pobre man mi,” said Belen. (When we competed in Ormoc, we lived on the food from SM and Gaisano.)
Belen said in that same competition, she believed they only came second because their biggest rival were children from an international school.
“Kung datu among kontra, kulbaan na mi. Pildi na ta ani daan,” she said, explaining that rich kids get better trainings and gear, and they are also taller. (If we face swimmers who are rich, we already know they’re going to win.)
However, their coach, Rodriguez, believes otherwise. She said the kids fare better than most swimmers from private schools. She said their regular training and discipline are helping them. Although she also admitted that the Talisay swimmers can be easily discouraged considering that they are just kids.
Despite the broken goggles, Belen won three gold medals in that competition.
Rodriguez said that it helps that they can not afford to train in swimming pools (P50 per head as the cheapest entrance fee in a Poblacion pool) as the sea is better training ground.
“Mas maayo man sad nga naa sila sa dagat nag-train kay makusgan sila,” she said. (It is better that they train in the sea to make them strong.)
The group competed in Ormoc City in October last year, and won gold medals for individual swimmers and overall bagged the second-prize trophy.
The kid-swimmers were also winners in last year’s Department of Education Division and District Meets, each bringing home medals.
Rodriguez said every afternoon, at the same beach in Poblacion, Talisay City, the kids train to become the city’s greatest swimmers. She said she will bring them to their next competition outside Cebu in the hope of winning slots for another competition abroad.
“Bisag ingun ani lang ni sila, naa gyug chance nga makadaug. Basin na lang puhon, og mamaayo na gyud sila, makakuha sila og scholarship para sa ilang pag-eskwela. Makatabang pa nila ug sa ilang mga pamilya,” she said. (Even if they are just like this, they have a chance of winning. Hopefully in the future, they can bag scholarship grants for their schooling. This will greatly help them and their families.)