I think the value of something is often measured by stories it weaves in our lives. It is about life-changing moments that come not with fanfare but quietly in infinite seconds that touch and never let go. That is how it all started for me, my umpiring life.
I'm still not sure if it's a good thing or not that I didn't plan to be an umpire. It's just one of those sheer luck that happened when I grabbed the chance to attend a seminar in preparation for a Southeast Asian Games (SEAG). I did not do well in the national umpiring practical exam because I ended up on probationary status. But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. See, I initially didn't put much thought about the whole thing until the result jolted me into realizing that I wanted to do better.
My first umpiring stint was as a national umpire for the Manila SEA Games. I almost passed up that chance to perform jury duties because I was swamped with my commitments with the Philippine SEAG's organizing committee's Accreditation and Wushu Federation Philippines' organizing group. Then I remembered I wanted to do better. The only way I can do that was if I gain real experience outside of the simulated race we all took during the practical exam.
So there I was going through my own version of hell week in December 2005. For days I shuttled from Manila to La Mesa Dam in Quezon City then back to Manila again to attend to my seemingly endless responsibilities. There was no time to think about the soundness of spreading myself thin like that, there was only the focus and commitment I gave that somehow got me through, albeit more tired but definitely happy.
I learned a lot in those few days I was out in the water doing jury duties. National umpires, especially newbies, like me were given lighter responsibilities than the FISA umpires who served as technical officials. I spent most of my time in my own little island at the 1000m mark recording the time of rowers as they pass by. My closest neighbors were on pontoons 500m up to my left and down to my right. Standing or sitting for hours on end on that pontoon made me appreciate a lot of things, including the value of being still and the inexplicable joy of drawing nature's energy if I took the time to feel it.
Two months after the SEAG, I took the FISA licensure exam. I've heard stories that FISA exams are tough and the passing rates are frequently low. And judging from my last performance in the national umpiring exams, I was not very confident about my chances. Despite my misgivings, I took a chance. I guess it was the masochist in me that still pushed me to go ahead and give it a shot.
The series of exams were tough for me. I'm usually good at exams excepting those involving Math, Chemistry, and Physics. The rest, I can breeze or squeeze through either with ample preparation or sheer luck. But at that time, I couldn't even hazard an optimistic guess if I'd pass
I remember that time while we were waiting for the results of both the written and practical exams. A co-national umpire suddenly blurted out that he swears he's not taking the exam again for a while if he failed. It was surprising and funny when he said it. He always had been the one everyone thought to have the greatest chance of passing the exam. Hearing him say what he said made me breathe a sigh of relief.
I think it was then that I began to accept the possibility that I might fail. I was not being a pessimist about the whole thing. It was just that, everyone who takes the FISA umpiring exam only gets two chances. Failing both times means being banned from taking the test again, ever. Somehow, it was an experience I was not eager to repeat anytime soon.
The wait for the final results was filled with both relief and trepidation. Relief that it was all finally over and trepidation that we didn't make it.
I was the third to the last called for the meeting/interview with the two FISA umpires who conducted the exam. Everyone before me came back with the news that they did not make the cut. As each one came back, my confidence further took a plunge.
When it was my turn to go to the room I was more or less prepared to hear the worst. And I think that was the reason why I felt like I was in a haze when the interview began that I didn't immediately grasp when they told me I passed. It was when they handed me the badge that I began to fully understand what it meant.
It turned out that the three of us left for the interview somehow made it through those series of tests. One of whom was the one who made the comment about not taking the test again if he fails. Thinking about our journey and what we went through made me realize the value of what I just got.
Four years after I got my license and badge, I still feel as passionate about this whole thing. We do long hours, spend money for airfares and other expenses, and go through both the good and bad experiences that come with being an umpire. Still, I love what we do and what we aspire to achieve with what we do.
Being a jury/umpire makes me think of these things:
1. The Roles We Play. - Each one of us has an important role to play in whatever it is that we do. Some excel in playing, some do their magic in organizing, some provide whatever help they can by volunteering, some provide the funds to make things happen, some like the spectators motivate everyone, and the list goes on. Bottom line, whatever our roles in life matter in the bigger scheme of things.
2. Passion. Believe. Faith. - Three words that I live by. The passion to pursue what the heart desires regardless of how inane or grand it may seem. The belief in the inherent goodness of things and in infinite possibilities. And the faith that all things that happen somehow fit flawlessly into the tapestry of life I'm meant to live.
3. Safety and Fair Play. - Every rowing umpire's mantra revolves around those two goals. We take our role seriously in ensuring the safety of every competitor and giving everyone a sporting chance by promoting fair play. I think these two principles apply everyday regardless of what we do. Thinking of our personal safety and those of others as well as treating people fairly are simple but meaningful aspirations in life.
4. I just love them FISA umpires. - Even until now it never ceases to amaze me how dedicated and professional my colleagues are. Umpiring is more often than not a thankless job. And yet, to see such passion and commitment from people I meet in my umpiring stints inspire me to always do and give my best.