AS the country’s official flag bearer in the opener of the 28th Southeast Asian Games, Alyssa Valdez is fully aware of the responsibility that rests on her young shoulders.
In her exact own words, “Magbibitbit ka ng bansa, literally and figuratively.”
Initially, the 21-year-old pride of San Juan, Batangas was at a loss when asked about her thoughts on carrying the flag at the head of a 700-strong Philippine delegation during the traditional march past of nations when the 2015 edition of the biennial meet formally comes off the wraps on Friday in Singapore.
“Hindi ko alam. Hindi ko rin alam kung ano ang ieexpect ko sa pagiging flagbearer,” she admitted.
The lady spiker who led Ateneo to successive UAAP championships and, just recently, won another V-League title with PLDT has always been immune to pressure, but she cringes a bit whenever her duty as PH contingent flag bearer is mentioned.
“Hindi kasi ako ‘yung mga pang ganito,” she said with a laugh. “Hindi nga ako pang-majorette lagi lang ako sa lyre, tumutugtog ako ng mga ganoon.”
“Hindi talaga ako ‘yung nagmamaganda. Nakahawak lang ako ng flag noong fellowship night (ng Asia Under-23 Championship), ‘yung normal na flag. Sa school naman may flag pole,” she added playfully.
But turning serious, Valdez said it’s definitely an honor carrying the country’s tri-color despite the pressure of being the face of the Philippines’ campaign in the biennial meet.
“Hindi ko talaga alam ano ang ie-expect ko pero sobrang honored ako. At the same time syempre talagang nakakakaba na nahahawakan mo ‘yung flag in front of everyone,” she said.
“Syempre ‘yung flag naman ang titignan nila. Pero syempre flag ‘yun ng Pilipinas kailangan mong dalhin 'yun ng may honor.”
The two-time UAAP Most Valuable Player will actually join a long, elite list of Filipino greats who at one time also served as flag bearer of the country in various international meets.
The list included then 18-year-old multi-titled swimmer Eric Buhain (1988 Seoul Olympics), pool great Efren 'Bata' Reyes (1999 Brunei SEA Games) four-time World Cup bowling champion Rafael 'Paeng' Nepomuceno (1994 Hiroshima Asian Games, 1997 Jakarta SEA Games, 2006 Doha Asian Games), and charming equestrian Mikee Cojuangco-Jaworski (2005 Manila SEA Games and 2010 Guangzhou Asiad).
Valdez however, will just be the second Filipino non-medal winner to be the country’s flag bearer next to boxing great Manny Pacquiao.
The volleyball star groped for words when told that, indeed, she’s in great company.
“Sobrang nakaka-speechless na ikaw ang napili na magdala ng flag,” she said.
“Makakahanay mo ‘yung mga, hindi lang sila names eh, hindi mo lang sila ina-idolize as a player but really as an individual, as a whole person ‘di ba? So definitely it’s really an honor to be part of that list eh,” she added.
“Eto nga ang nakakatwa. Naglolokohan sila na ako daw ang second na hindi medalist. Sabi ko sino ‘yung first? Excited pa ako kasi at least hindi lang ako ‘yung hindi medalist,” continued Valdez, recalling her conversation with her teammates.
But before she could finish saying her piece, the handful of sportswriters who gathered around her burst into laughter as Valdez acted as if she’s about to faint.
“Hindi nga siya (Pacquiao) naka-gold, sabi ko, oh my God ano ba ang napatunayan ko? Bakit ako ang ina-ano nila? Walang pressure no? Tawanan na lang natin to. Isipin ko na lang dala ko ‘yung flag ng Philippines,” she said.
“I’m really happy. Yung mga teammates ko naman super supportive nila inaasar na lang nila ako para mawala ‘yung masyadong serious note na (pag carry ng) flag, ng Philippine flag.
“Siguro they’re really trying to tell me na, 'Relax lang, Alyssa it’s a big event,' pero they’re really trying to calm me down. Sana ipag-pray ako ng mga tao sa pagdala ng flag,” she continued.
Valdez will try to lead the highly-touted PH women’s volleyball team that is making a comeback in the biennial meet after a 10-year absence.
The country won its last volleyball medal in the 2005 edition of the meet when the women’s squad settled for the bronze.