2017 SEA Games rookie shuttler Alyssa Leonardo ready for the big stage
MANILA, Philippines – When Alyssa Leonardo learned that she, and not her senior teammate, was being interviewed, she exclaimed, “Hala! Uy, si Kuya Jopher muna – siya 'yung medalist (Oh no! It should be Kuya Jopher first – he’s the medalist)!"
A chuckling Philip Joper Escueta, a 2015 SEA Games badminton bronze finisher, said Leonardo should just go ahead with the interview. "Sige, Isay, ikaw muna (Go ahead, Isay). First timer!" he teased her.
Leonardo's reaction just about summed up first impressions of her personality.
Never mind that she has won multiple championships in different local and international tournaments like the Frederick D. Go Cup or the Prima Pasta Badminton Championship. The 19-year-old shuttler from Meycauayan, Bulacan, made it look like the wrong person had been approached in the historic Rizal Memorial Complex’s Badminton Hall.
Off the court, the De La Salle University (DLSU) student-athlete comes off as your typical shy girl. Let her hold a racket, however, and it’s a different story.
Only glimpses of her play were caught in practice, but it was more than enough to tell why she has been selected to represent the country at the 2017 SEA Games in Malaysia. Leonardo and her teammates, were in peak form when we visited on their 6th straight day of weekly training. The athletes now only rest on Sundays as they prepare to face off against Southeast Asian powerhouses starting August 19 in Kuala Lumpur.
Despite being admittedly exhausted at times, the AB Sports Management major knows how to deal with it and why it even matters.
“Nakakapagod siya kasi student-athlete din ako at siyempre sinasabay ko rin siya sa class,” she said. “Pero of course, time management lang naman ‘yan. Saka 'pag gusto mo naman ‘yung ginagawa mo, magiging madali na lang.”
(It’s exhausting because I’m also a student-athlete and of course, I train while taking my classes. But of course, it's just a matter of time management. Also, if you like what you do, it becomes easier.)
Leonardo’s love for badminton came to her by accident. As children go, she just wanted to play with others and watched her parents play. She recounts that she just joined someone who happened to be teaching kids how to play and the rest, as they say, is history.
Badminton then grew to be her first and only love in sports. It just so happened that the sport loved her back – a gift that not all are lucky to receive. At the young age of 8, she went from playing for fun to competing in a local tournament and immediately bagged a silver medal. That’s when she knew she wasn’t like the other kids.
DLSU saw this potential as well and sought her out. In 2013, the new recruit joined a stacked Green Archer squad that finished second place to long-standing powerhouse and rival Ateneo Blue Eagles in the UAAP Season 76 Finals.
Now en route to her first outing in the 2017 SEA Games, Leonardo is filled with joy to be a Philippine national team player.
“Siyempre sobrang saya,” she said. “Kasi ‘di naman lahat ng tao nabibigyan ng chance makapaglaro sa SEA Games. Mas nagiging motivated ako na mag-training dahil nabigyan ako ng opportunity na ‘to.”
(Of course, I’m so happy. Because not everyone gets the chance to play in the SEA Games. I get more motivated to train now because I was given this opportunity.)
Although she is honored to be a part of the country’s SEAG contingent, she faces the reality that other countries such as host Malaysia and Thailand are more skilled and that she may not come home with a medal.
However, coming from a dead-last outing in 2015 that yielded just a bronze medal for her teammates Philip Joper Escueta and Peter Gabriel Magnaye, the Philippine team has nowhere to go but up.
Despite the massive hurdles ahead, Leonardo gives her full trust to her coach, Arolas Amahit Jr, and to her teammates that they would do their best as a group.
Led by bronze medalists Escueta and Magnaye, Leonardo will head to Kuala Lumpur along with Carlos Antonie Cayanan, Sarah Joy Barredo, and her mixed doubles partner, Alvin Morada.
Realistic but optimistic at the same time, she knows that a medal finish means more than just adding more hardware to her award collection.
“Sa Pilipinas kasi, di pa naman sobrang sikat 'yung badminton parang sa ibang bansa like Malaysia,” she said. “Kaya sana nga po magka-medal kami sa SEA Games para mas ma-recognize ‘yung sport at para mas maraming ma-engganyong maglaro at mas sumikat pa yung badminton sa Pilipinas.”
(In the Philippines, badminton is not yet that popular compared to other countries like Malaysia. That’s why I hope we get a medal in the SEA Games so the sport would be more recognized and more people get enticed to play so that badminton may get more exposure in the Philippines.)
Alyssa Leonardo may be just a rookie in the SEA Games, but she is mature enough to realize what winning truly means on the biggest stage.
With that mindset, she’s already won. – Rappler.com