Sports Ruin My Life/Keep Me Sane.

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(N.B. I originally wrote this piece around the same time last year, but for some reason, it languished unfinished on my drafts, until I found it again this year. While I am doing much better now, the general sentiment remains the same.)

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“When someone talks about something/someone they love, let them. You have no idea how much that love has saved them.”

I posted that thought as a tweet many months ago, and it got a lot of interactions and positive replies.

I sit here right now in front of the TV, watching a Wimbledon match, and I was ramdomly struck by the thought: “How many years have I been doing this?”

The truth is that I am struggling right now. I shall not bore or burden you with the minutest details, but I am in that place where I am aware of how I am still fortunate and blessed in the grand scheme of things, but at the same time, I am deeply dissatisfied with myself and my current situation. Not somewhere you’ll want to be, I assure you.

Anyway, the sound of tennis balls rhythmically getting whacked got me into thinking how several sports have managed to not only entertain me, but also kept me (relatively) sane and cocooned (both positively and negatively) from real life throughout the years. Watching sports has become one of my self-care/self-preservation mechanisms, and here’s a (not-quite-so) brief rundown of my history.

I used to feel kind of…alone back then, when I realized just how unusual my coping mechanism of watching and following multiple sports was. Surely there were more people like me? Nobody I knew in real life could relate to this side of myself, and it was partly frustrating and at the same time, strangely satisfying.

Enter the Internet.

However, I am getting a little ahead of myself…

Tennis

A local government TV channel used to broadcast old Wimbledon matches at odd hours, and I remember watching them as a kid, when I refused to take afternoon naps and there wasn’t anything interesting/good on TV. Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi became my instant favorites, and when my family finally got cable TV installed, Wimbledon became my favorite Tennis Grand Slam. All throughout high school, I would stay up late watching the matches, and it continued until my university years and beyond. There is something soothing about the sound of tennis balls being whacked. The level of competition and fitness required to succeed and dominate is just insane. Of course now my absolute favorites are the inimitable Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic, and yes, I dedicated a whole blog post to explain why.

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Snooker

I’ve struggled with insomnia for a huge part of my life, and I suppose my schedule and workload in university exacerbated it. I’ve often seen Snooker matches on TV when I channel-surfed, but ignored them because I was more of a 9 Ball pool fan back then, aside from the fact that I had no clue how the game was played. A good friend from university managed to convince me to give it a watch, and when I researched and understood the rules, I could not stop watching it. Hooked was an understatement! There was something about the sound of the snooker balls colliding that calmed me, and I loved mentally calculating the points and anticipating the tactics/snookers (yes, I am such a geek at times). Coincidentally, back then most Snooker matches were televised after midnight, so my parents often found me sitting in front of the TV during the wee hours of the morning, watching men in bow ties with long sticks skillfully hiding balls. Every now and then, my Dad used to join me, and I had to explain to him all the rules, after which I often found him asleep after around half an hour of watching. Turns out Snooker was too soothing for him.

P.S. I was beyond heartbroken when my then-favorite snooker player Paul Hunter passed away. A few years after that, my sports cable channels ceased televising snooker matches altogether. I still miss it.

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9 Ball Pool

Filipino players are extremely good at it. Efren Bata Reyes is a legend of the sport. My father and brother plays it recreationally, and that’s why I gravitated towards watching it. Cable TV enabled me to watch many international matches, albeit at strange hours. I loved the technicalities and the trick shots and watching Physics in action. I even became a bit invested in the Mosconi Cup, 9 Ball Pool’s version of the Ryder Cup, as well as the World Cup of Pool. I’m not sure why but my cable sports channel somehow stopped televising pool competitions.

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Golf

Speaking of the Ryder Cup, I had a Golf Phase. I think it was partly because I chat with a lot of British Football fans at that time, which influenced me to check out the Ryder Cup. Of course I was firmly Team Europe. I despised those “In the hole!” screams from American fans every time their player hits the ball. I had (/have) a soft spot for Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald, and I was so pleased when Garcia finally got the Masters he deserves.

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Rugby

It was the year 2003. I couldn’t escape the coverage of the Rugby World Cup, so I thought, if you can’t beat them, join them. Even before I watched my first match, I’ve already chosen England to support, to match my Football Team, and for consistency’s sake. Being a newbie, I had no idea back then that England wasn’t highly-fancied to go far, let alone win the World Cup. But I didn’t care, the more matches I watched, the more I enjoyed the sport. Fast forward to the Final and I couldn’t be more pleased that England made it. By then, I was already far too emotionally-involved. I prayed to the Rugby gods to let England take the cup. And that amazing Jonny Wilkinson tournament-winning drop goal? It still gives me the chills. Post-WC, I went full-geek and learned about the sport, the history, the Rugby Union vs Rugby League thing/rivalry. I managed to maintain being up-to-date on it for several years, but the decline in coverage of it in my country gradually lessened my passion for it, too. I still faithfully watch the Six Nations and the World Cups, and yes, despite not being able to sustain their level or even equal their 2003 campaign, I still have a very soft spot for the England Rugby Team.

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Basketball

I became a basketball fan at the age of two, mainly because my Dad used to watch it a lot. We supported different local teams, and had a “friendly but heated” rivalry. Basketball was, and is, still quite huge in my country. I remember rushing home after school just so I can watch the local league matches on TV, and buying stacks of local basketball magazines just to get to know my favorite players and to further understand the sport. My moods sometime were influenced by how my teams fared. As I grew older, my interest expanded to the NBA, and Michael Jordan became the Ultimate Basketball Player/Demigod in my book. Basketball was IT for me back then, until, one day, serendipity made a certain sport permanently dislodge it from my heart. Which brings us to…

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Football

Where do I even begin? I suppose I can (partly) blame Michael Owen for igniting my interest. I randomly chanced upon the highlights of the Liverpool vs Wimbledon match where he scored his first-ever goal for Liverpool FC, and for some reason (other than overactive teenage hormones), I had the feeling that that fresh-faced boy–just a few years older than I am–will become a worldwide superstar. A few months and some heavy-duty research later, I was a bona fide Liverpool FC fan, and the World Cup 1998 started. That World Cup changed my life. It was the first World Cup I’ve seen on free TV thanks to the official Philippine government channel. It was the first time I watched match reruns over and over again. Owen’s Spectacular Goal vs Argentina cemented my prediction that he will become Football’s Golden Boy. I literally cried when the England players shed tears after their penalty shootout loss. It was the first time I foregone sleep to watch the France vs Brazil Final, and finally understood why it is the most popular sport in the world. I used to save my allowance to buy the ridiculously expensive magazines. When my parents decided to get cable TV, I had my fill of highlights shows and the UEFA Champions League. When I finally got coverage of the English Premier League, I felt as if Life had finally begun (insert singing cherubs here). I joined Football forums, Football chat rooms, Football groups, the whole nine yards. I learned about formations, tactics, player backgrounds, club histories and rivalries. I wrote to players (cringe) to get autograph cards. I attempted to stream cup finals on dial-up internet. I made friends from all over the world because of Football. I’d be so engrossed discussing Football with fellow fans that I’d go to sleep at 9AM and then wake up at 1PM to go to university. I’d stay up to do my architectural drawings with the Spanish Primera Liga matches in the background. I learned the jargon and the songs and the inside jokes and got the latest transfer news and gossip straight from the most unlikely sources. I could probably write a dissertation on all the ridiculous, silly, hilarious, and juicy things I have done/found out all for the love of Football. But, perhaps those should be discussed in another blog post altogether.

P.S. Here is a sample, if you’re interested.

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MotoGP

MotoGP and I didn’t start off so well. While I’ve already loved F1 for many years, back then, I couldn’t fathom why anyone would choose to watch motorcycle racing over car racing. Oh, and MotoGP schedules at times interfered with my Football matches back then, which annoyed me. But then one day I watched an ESPN Sports Center special where they talked about this up and coming Spanish racer called Dani Pedrosa, and I got curious enough to check out one of his 250cc races. The rest, is history. I was converted. I finally got what the fuss was all about. I knew Valentino Rossi was the main man but I didn’t care. Dani Pedrosa became THE rider for me. He had that intangible something that spoke to me. The lean angles, the engine debates, the constant tussling, the tire wars, the rider rivalries–I relished them all. There’s hardly any boring or unremarkable MotoGP races, and that says something about the quality of its talents. There’s a quote by F. Scott Fitzgerald that goes, ‘There are all kinds of love in this world but never the same love twice’. I’m so glad I opened my mind enough for me to realize that my heart is capable of loving more than one racing series.

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Formula 1

If you’re not new to this blog and/or you follow me on Twitter, then you most probably already know that it’s Michael Schumacher and the scaled model of his 1994 Benetton car that got me into F1. F1 is THE racing series for me. My love for it is at times beyond explanation. I’m fascinated with the cars and the science and the technology and the ingenuity and the characters and the history and the glamor and the grit involved. It is the sport that made me throw caution into the wind and got me to travel alone. I drained my bank account when I was new to the workforce just to see my first F1 race back in 2009. I had to hold back tears the moment I first heard the roar of an F1 engine in person. I have often waxed poetic about F1 in this blog, and briefly touched on how it has helped me cope throughout the years. Not a day goes by without me thinking about returning to the race track so I can add more items and anecdotes to my list of ridiculous/hilarious/awesome experiences during a race weekend. I am not blind to its faults and shortcomings, there have been plenty of times where it has disappointed me and pissed me off beyond belief, and yet I keep coming back to it. I will defend Michael Schumacher until my dying breath. He is my all-time favorite and always will be. One of the best memories of my fangirl life is finally getting to meet Schumi in person. I bleed the red of Ferrari and legitimately shed tears when I saw a Ferrari double podium in the flesh during the 2015 F1 Night Race. I know far too much about F1 for my own good and yet I still feel as if I have barely scratched its surface. F1 has enabled me to meet many wonderful people and has given me opportunities and experiences that I will always hold dear to my heart. Is it any wonder that twenty-four years later, I still love it with the intensity of a hundred suns?

The car and the driver that started it all…

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I can honestly go on and on for much longer.

I don’t necessarily want to be the people I watch; I just find pleasure, escape, and I suppose a form of therapy and catharsis in being a spectator. For a certain period of time, “real life” is suspended and you get to be in a world within another world where you don’t have to be or do anything but watch, and yet, you are somehow included in an extraordinary communal experience that sometimes defies explanation.

All the times I have cried due to sports–whether out of agony or euphoria–I can still very clearly remember. The times I have bargained and prayed to the universe and all entities that will listen–hilarious in retrospect but no doubt will happen again. And again. It’s astounding to find out the spectrum of emotions you can go through in such a short amount of time. My empathy and sympathy levels have been vastly improved because of sports. Sports teach you how to win, how to lose, and how to be…human.

I could have had a different life had I not fallen in love with sports. I could have been…something. I could have become someone else.

But, sports have given me far, far more than it has taken away. And for that, I am grateful.

Regrets? None. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Now, excuse me while I go find a sport to watch on TV…