Floating pool future of PH swimming
PANABO CITY, Philippines – The smallest of voices are working to make themselves heard.
From the quiet but contemporary 174,000-population city of Panabo, one former national swimmer turned coach and his 57-strong pool of trainees are looking to shape the future of Philippine swimming with a grassroots initiative that goes straight to the source.
This year’s Palarong Pambansa host Davao del Norte kickstarted its grassroots sports development program last April with the completion of a floating swimming pool, which aims to train local kids living in coastal areas to become competitive swimmers.
The floating pool in Brgy. Cagangohan, a barangay in Panabo City, is the brainchild of DavNor swim coach Mustari Raji and was funded by the local government in line with Davao del Norte Governor Rodolfo del Rosario’s “Ugmad Komunidad” program, which includes sports.
The pool is standard Olympic size and is roughly 300 meters from shore. It is best utilized during high tide, when the water rises and makes the pool 6-feet deep. Compared to a controlled fresh water pool, the biggest difference is swimmers will have to deal with the sea’s current and waves. The theory is swimmers trained here are stronger and more resistant than those trained in a controlled pool.
The floating pool is relatively inexpensive to build as it costs around Php 400,000 and is made of readily available materials such as nylon, coconut tree trunk, plastic barrels and styrofoam. It took about a month to construct.
Visitors can see it up close using either a makeshift barge which the local kids pull from shore, or a motorboat.
Raji, the primary trainer at the floating pool, started teaching local children the basics of swimming just a week before Palaro — the country's largest annual multi-sporting event — which takes place in neighboring Tagum City.
A former national team swimmer in the 1970s, Raji used the sport to earn a scholarship and finish college. It is his firm hope that impoverished children living along the coast can find a way out through swimming, just like he once did.
“Maraming mahirap sa coastal areas, kasi galing ako sa mahirap na pamilya," said the coach who hailed from Jolo. (There are plenty of poor people in coastal areas, and I came from a poor family as well.)
He sees a great disconnect in Philippine sports, which he says fails to notice its many talented athletes from small towns.
DavNor’s entire sports development program is built on the concept of capitalizing on natural strengths. It is plucking potential competitors from their natural habitats and steering them in the competitive direction.
The floating pool project taps swimmers from coastal areas.
“We want to give them the opportunity because they are better in swimming because they are fishermen and the children are playing in the shoreline,” Del Rosario told Rappler.
“Palangoy langoy lang sila doon (They just swim there) without knowing that their resistance is better than the ones who learn in Olympic swimming pools.”
This initiative is not the only one of its kind in DavNor.
“Talaingod, one of my municipalities here, is in the high land,” Del Rosario shared a similar project involving runners.
“The population there is mostly Lumads and so, since the terrain is elevated, and yung dinadaanan nila (the road they pass through) are rolling areas, the children grew up going from one place to another using just the trails.”
Like swimming, this program reaches out to young ones who inherently possess the skills to excell in a specific sport because of their natural way of life.
“The children are trained to experience rough terrain so their resistance is more than the ones living in low lands. Doon namin dine-develop yung mga runners namin (That's where we develop our runners),” Rodolfo explained. “You put them on a flat running terrain like the ones here, they will outrun everyone.”
For the poor, for the future
Maryniel Bacus, 13, jumped at the opportunity to secure her future upon learning of the opportunities swimming can bring.
"Naisipan ko naman na oo nga, marunong naman ako lumangoy. Subukan ko kaya sumali," explained the vivacious 2nd year high schooler.
"Kasi baka makatulong sa pamilya ko, mahirap lang kasi kami. Sabi kasi may scholarship daw so hindi na magastos sa pag-aral."
(I thought that yes, I know how to swim. So I though I should join. It might help my family since we're poor. They told me there could be a scholarship so I won't have to pay for school.)
Dave Verallo, 14 and whose mother works in Malaysia to provide him with a better life, is likewise in it for the future.
"Sumali ako rito kasi sabi nila may libreng scholarship," said Verallo, whose father works at the fish cages. "Pag nakuha ako hindi na gagastos yung parents ko. Para hindi na kami maghirap."
(I joined because of the scholarship. If I get it my parents won't have to pay for anything. So we won't have a hard life.)
Bacus and Varello are the primary beneficiaries of the grassroots program. They train once every day either in the morning or afternoon, depending on the tide, for a chance to get their heads above water in life.
The bigger picture, Raji said, is that swimming can prevent lives from going to waste. In the process, he hopes to produce the next generation of legendary Filipino athletes.
"Ang objective, para sa mahihirap na bata (The objective is that it's for the poor children)," Raji said, adding that he already received information about a potential new location for a second floating swimming pool.
That location will be inland, however, and without waves.
For now, the initiative is commendable. The boldness is admirable. And the vision is sound.
So much so that other provinces are already seeking to replicate DavNor’s floating swimming pool. Among them are Cagayan Valley and ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao).
But as with anything else, the beginning is the easy part.
All eyes will be on DavNor, watching closely if they can sustain their grassroots sports initiatives and eventually take it to the next level. Only time can tell what the floating swimming pool can truly do for Philippine sports.
And it is up to DavNor to see their plans through.
"That’s my aspiration. I want to leave a legacy for our young people here," said Del Rosario.
"It’s really all up to them (kids) if they want to succeed in life. That’s our role, give them the opportunities and let them take advantage of it if they want. But it’s not only leaving it up to them. If you provide a continuing program and they know you are serious about it, then they will join." – Rappler.com
Video shot and edited by Franz Lopez