Heather Cooke, a Filipino-American striker for the Philippine national women’s football team, has been training with the Malditas for the past month ahead of their stint for the ASEAN Football Federation Women’s Championship in Vietnam.
Part of the training involved staying at the dormitories at PhilSports Arena (formerly the ULTRA), where she got a first-hand look at the less-than-ideal living conditions of national athletes. In this post republished with permission from her personal blog, she reflects on these, and her appreciation of the opportunity to represent the Philippines.Well, we have all heard of the success of USA in the Olympics. I think a big part of that success comes with the resources all the athletes have available to them. For nations that don’t have those kinds of resources, I assure you it is more difficult to achieve success!
For four years I played Division I soccer. I had full scholarship, which included housing, food, and of course, an education. Though full ride or not, the team had its perks too. We were completely outfitted with gear including: two pairs of cleats, practice gear, two full uniform kits, travel outfit, warm-up jacket and pants, rain gear, winter jacket, duffel bag, travel bag, school backpack, team hoodie and sweatpants, and more! When we had away games, we took a coach bus and stayed in nice hotels.
We got allowances for food and snacks and had team dinners at restaurants like Olive Garden and Cheesecake Factory. Everything was provided for us. It’s almost sickening thinking of the money that goes into our program when I think about how things are different elsewhere, mainly the Philippines.
So here I am now playing for the Philippine national team. We certainly don’t have even close to the resources I had in college, but honestly for football I would do nearly anything (I just might complain a lot!). Though my time here really does put things in perspective, and it makes me feel grateful for all the resources I did have growing up. And while I whine about the few days we stay in the dorms at ULTRA, some of the girls are living there the whole time we train!
Right now we are preparing for the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) tournament in Vietnam on September 13 to 22. We will play Myanmar, Vietnam, and Singapore. The other group consists of Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Then there will be semifinals and a final. Because we have teammates coming in from all over the Philippines and the world, we are doing mini-camps where the whole team stays at one place: ULTRA.
ULTRA is a place where all national athletes of all sports can stay during times of training and for other reasons. Some of our girls stay there when we are preparing for tournament. Others stay at their college dorms or with their families. People also trying out for the team will sometimes stay here.
Last year, as well as this year, I stay with my teammate and her family, as well as some other teammates. It’s an AWESOME set up and makes me think I could definitely have a life here! Minimal stress! I am talking maids, drivers, home massage, home manis and pedis. I must admit it is very nice and I am so thankful for staying here. Then there is ULTRA.
I could not stay at ULTRA for more than I would ever have to! Anyone that does, I give them serious props! The dorms apparently used to be worse, but even now… I think I have just been spoiled! We have two rooms there for mini-camp, each with five sets of bunk beds (10 beds each room). We have a bathroom with one sink and mirror and three stalls of toilets/showers.
I think being told stories before my stay here also freaked me out. Apparently, it is haunted with a ghost. I do not do well with that! It also is apparently decorated with dog and cat crap… well the place is definitely infested with cats that are freakin’ creepy! They roam the hallways and stare and hiss or run away. I am not a cat person and now I hate cats more! Lol.
We do have closet space/cabinets, a nice lil rug, couch, and desk. The bunk beds are patriotically painted red and blue. I think if I could get over the cats and bathroom I’d be more comfortable, but there is also no fridge and microwave in our room. The other room does have a microwave and rice cooker and water dispenser, but imagine living there for three months with no refrigerator or kitchen. I forgot to mention that my laundry is washed and folded at the house! ULTRA… not so much.
Being on this team has probably been the best thing in my life. I am so blessed to have an opportunity like this. Growing up, I always wondered what it would be like to live in the Philippines. I wondered what it was like for my family here. Now I get a taste of it all. How lucky I am to represent a part of me and especially my mom!
The things I am learning and experiencing here are irreplaceable. I really am finding my whole self here and I love it. The people here are awesome and my teammates are some of my best friends. They teach me a lot about life and I notice all these similarities between us that I don’t always get in the United States as I grew up in a predominantly white town. Very few people get a chance like this, and I am making sure to make the most of it! A lot of my friends are settled in their jobs, applying for school, are in school, or looking for jobs. I am playin’ football half way across the world! This is insane! There is so much opportunity for me here and I am definitely gonna ride this out as long as possible :)! #philippineslove