Tuesday, February 8, 2022

448. Capt. RUFO C. ROMERO: How A Kapampangan West Pointer Became America’s Betrayer

Capt. RUFO ROMERO, convicted military spy, Kapampangan

In late November of 1940, a West Point graduate was convicted of espionage-- at that time, the first and only alumnus of the prestigious United States Military Academy to be court-martialed and charged for attempting to sell classified maps to Japan, via an intermediary. The military officer, Rufo C. Romero, also happens to be a Kapampangan, the illegitimate son of a poor woman with an unknown partner, who, some tongue wags say, was a priest.

Nevertheless, Romero grew up an intelligent child, finishing his secondary education at the Pampanga High School, class of 1926, where he was also a top Cadet Officer. However, it was at the University of the Philippines that  his brilliance showed, leading to an appointment at West Point. He graduated in 1931 with flying colors,  ranking 17th in his class—an incredible feat for a Filipino who, lumped with African-Americans, were considered as minorities.

Armed also with a civil engineering degree from the University of California, Romero seemed bound for an illustrious military career. He found love in the U.S., marrying 17 year old Lorraine Becker of Bronx, New York, before being sent back to the Philippines to serve as captain to the Philippine  Scouts.

The commander of the Philippine Scouts 14th Engineer Regiment recalls that Capt. Romero  was among the U.S. Army's most knowledgeable experts on the topography, road and trail network and defensive positions on Bataan.

Romero would also have known the value of such information to the Japanese and other foreign powers even long before the 1941 Philippine invasion ; there have been several cases in the past where confidential fortification blueprints of Corregidor and Bataan where stolen, lost,  or copied, clearly for use in military espionage. There was circumstantial evidence to suggest that Romero could very well be a spy, thus, a sting operation was hatched by the U.S. Army to entrap him.

The Army drew up a plan where a supposed Japanese-colluding Mindanao sultan was out on the market looking for such maps and classified documents. Romero, along with alleged civilian accomplices Ignacio Agbay and Mariano Cabrera, had photographed copies of Corregidor and Bataan defense maps, which the captain then attempted to sell for $25,000.

It was in this dramatic way that Romero was arrested, and court-martialed at Fort McKinley in November, 1940. By the 24th, he was found guilty of giving secret maps related to national defense to unauthorized persons, a violation of the Articles of War 96.

Professing his innocence, he volunteered to undergo any kind of brain operation that would erase his memories and recollections regarding military matters,  a last-ditch effort to save his tarnished reputation. Romero  was dishonorably discharged, lost all his pay allowances, and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor at McNeil Island Penitentiary in Washington State. His wife, Lorraine, who had connived with him, was not charged.

After Romero served his time in prison, he left the United States to build a new career in the academe back in the Philippines. He taught engineering subjects at the National University  in Sampaloc, Manila, where students remember him as an amiable professor who likes engaging people in friendly conversations. Further distancing himself from his past, he went to Africa and Spain, where his tainted reputation was relatively unknown, and found some engineering jobs.

All this time, his notorious deed led his many fellow Filipinos to ask:  what makes a man of intelligence become a spy? What drives him to become a betrayer of his country, his family, and conscience? The world will never know as Rufo C. Romero  passed away in Spain on 3 January 1985, leaving behind his wife and 3 children in the U.S., remaining quiet about this one act of treachery that changed the course of their lives.


Scott Harrison;s Espionage Page: https://corregidor.org/crypto/chs_crypto1/sting1.htm

West Point grad convicted for attempting to sell maps of fortifications to a foreign power: https://militarycorruption.com/romero/

Time Magazine: The Philippines: Spy Trial, 2 December 1940

Board of Review Holdings, Opinions and Reviews, https://books.google.com.ph/


Wednesday, August 7, 2019

447. Kapampangan-American Equestrienne ELLESSE JORDAN TZINBERG, The 1st Filipino and Southeast Asian 2018 World Cup Dressage Qualifier

A RIDE TO HISTORY. ELLESSE JORDAN TZINBERG-GUNDERSEN and her horse Triviant 2, at the 2018 World Cup Dressage Finals,Paris France, Photo: Ellesse Tzinberg FB Page.

One of the least popular sports in the Philippines is equestrianism, the art of horseback riding. It is a competitive discipline associated only with the rich, the royals and prominent old families. Ask an ordinary sports fan, and chances are, he would be hard-pressed to name even 2 or 3 Filipino equestrians. Asian Gold medallist Mikee Cojuangco would probably be top-of-mind, as she was also an actress, visible on TV and the silver screen

Fewer still are the riding grounds and equestrian facilities, mostly located in elite clubs such as the members-only Manila Polo Club. That—and the expensive 'high fashion' riding gear: the white breeches, jackets, helmets, top hats, vests , gloves and knee-high boots--- only served to highlight the exclusivity and inaccessibility of the sport.

But one Kapampangan-American broke the mold by rising from a family of modest background to become a world-class equestrienne—Ellesse Jordan Tzinberg. Last year, she accomplished the unthinkable:  she became the first Southeast Asian equestrienne and the first Filipino to qualify in the FEI (Fédération Equestre Internationale) World Cup Dressage 2018 held in Paris, France.

In an event dominated by top athletes from first-world countries like Europe and the Americas, Tzinberg, riding on her horse Triviant and representing third-world Philippines, made history just by being there—one of the qualifiers from 20 countries to make it to the World Cup Dressage finals.

The daughter of Kapampangan Agnes Samaniego Tolentino ,  and American-Australian Sennett Tzinberg, Tzinberg was born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on 17 December 1991. She has roots in Lubao, where her mother was born, and in Bacolor and Mabalacat, hometowns of her maternal great-grandparents.

But it was in Malaysia that Tzinberg spent her growing-up years, where, at age 6,  she started riding lessons. Her mom would often tell her stories of her own grandmother, Generosa Morales Samaniego, who played tennis and rode horses—hobbies deemed too taxing for women in those days. Could she  have inherited her ‘riding genes’ from her maternal ancestor? Certainly, it’s a possibility not to be discounted!

In Malaysia, equestrian sports has more following than in the Philippines, introduced as early as the 1800s by British colonizers. By 8, Tzinberg began competing, and later focused on the dressage events—where rider and horse go through a series of “tests”, prescribed series of movements ridden within an arena, and evaluated and scored by judges.

At 12 years old, Tzinberg became the highest ranked dressage rider in the FEI World Dressage Challenge “under 14” age group in her region in Asia. Four years later, the 16 year old earned an NCAA equestrian scholarship at Kansas State University, and moved to the U.S.

Her promising career was sidetracked by a serious car accident sustained in 2009, which required her to undergo months of rehabilitation and therapy. After making a full recovery and finishing her collegiate studies, she  went to Paris where she was serendipitously discovered as a commercial, print and runway model. For two years, she set aside her beloved sport, but in 2012, Tzinberg resumed riding.

Tzinberg took a serious step in her  career by moving to Skane, Sweden in 2014 to train under husband-and-wife team Charlotte and Rasmus Haid-Bondergaard. The next year, she made her international debut  in U25 Grand Prix level with her horse Pavarotti. Soon she was competing and winning in several international events.

She became the first Asian to ride at the 2015 Adequan Global Dressage Festival in Wellington, Florida. There, she also became the first rider to place and ribbon at the festival in the CDI Grand Prix events. Back in Europe in 2016, Tzinberg competed in more  CDI events including Hagen, Odense, and Falsterbo where she placed consistently placed among the top 5. Her biggest thrill was winning her first Grand Prix at the Everlovs Midsommer Dressage Fest in Sweden.

While campaigning all over the world, Tzinberg never lost sight of her roots. In fact, she she made it her goal to ride for the Philippines at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. When that did not materialize, she eyed a spot in the FEI World Cup Final. She applied for a “domiciled athlete” place, and based on her excellent performance record, Tzinberg was picked to compete in the prestigious World Cup Dressage event.

When she landed in Paris in April 2018 for the competition, the Filipina trailblazer created quite a stir with the media  for her singular achievement as the first ever Southeast Asian--and Filipino--to make it through the World Cup finals. The experience led her to gush: “ It’s really incredible just to be around these riders that I looked up to my whole life and  never could have dreamt that being on the same startlist as them and going head-to-head with them—so that is really something I haven’t quite wrapped around”. 

It was thus a proud moment for Ellesse Jordan Tzinberg when she took her place in the arena with the Philippine flag displayed on her horse’s saddle pad for all the world to see.  She would place 18th overall, which was not enough for her to advance to the freestyle competition.  But, as the Fédération Equestre Internationale noted—“she would go home knowing she has made history in Paris”.

Many thanks to Agnes Sennett Tzinberg and Rey Tolentino, mother and uncle respectively of Ellesse Tzinberg, for some of her personal and professional background.

 Tzinberg Receives Second Extra Starting Place for 2018 World Cup Finals, http://eurodressage.com/2018/03/14/tzinberg-receives-second-extra-starting-place-2018-world-cup-finals

Ellesse Jordan Tzinberg Will Make History At the FEI World Cup Finals,by Justine Griffin, April 3, 2018,

Exclusive Dressage highlights from the FEI World Cup™ Dressage final in Paris | Equestrian World, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lu7bvsBhf3o

Saturday, March 2, 2019

446. Angeles’s Kick-Ass Olympic Taekwondo Jin: DONALD B. GEISLER III

KICK & SHOUT: Donnie Geisler, Taekwondo Jin from Angeles
Image: www.pinoybigbrother.com

Taekwondo was just an exhibition sports at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and the token delegation of jins sent to compete did surprisingly well—with Bea Lucero and Stephen Fernandez winning a pair of Bronzes. When the Korean martial arts discipline became an official Olympic sport in 2000, a Kapampangan jin from Angeles not only made it as a member of the 4-man taekwondo team, but also marched proudly at the head of the Philippine delegation at the Stadium Australia as the country’s flag bearer.

Donald “Donnie” David Geisler III (b. 6 Oct.1978) , at 21 years old, and 6 ft. tall had come to the Olympics arena armed with sterling national and international sporting credentials. The son of German-American Donald David Geisler, and Filipina Gracia Bayonito of Bicol, he grew up in Angeles, where his father, a former army colonel who served in Clark, opted to settle down to raise his family.

At age 7, Donnie  took up a course in taekwondo offered by his elementary school.  Mentored by a Korean trainer who taught Americans in Clark, the young Geisler was a naturally-gifted athlete, and soon became skilled in the sport. Later, he would practice regularly in a taekwondo school put up by his uncle in Pulungbulu. He seriously took up further training, and joined taekwondo tournaments along the way, even while coursing through Chevalier high school and later, in college, where he made it to the school's pioneer taekwondo varsity team.

By the mid-1980s through the early 1990s,  athletes like Monsour del Rosario, Arnold Baradi and Roberto Cruz helped  promote the popularity of the sport, through their podium victories at the Asian Games, World Taekwondo Championships and the SEA Games. 

In 1996, at age 18, Donnie was sent to Barcelona, Spain to compete in the very first World Junior Taekwondo Championships. The lanky jin pulled in a surprise by winning a historic Bronze medal. Two years later, he won a pair of Silvers---first in Asia’s premiere sporting event—the Asian Games in Bangkok, and at the 1998 World Cup Taekwondo Championships in Germany.

He would win the first of three Southeast Asian Games Gold, in Brunei Darussalam in 1999. At the star of a new millennium  he won a Silver in his weight class at  the Asian Taekwondo Championships in Hong Kong. In between, he managed to finish his Arts and Letter degree in Legal Management  from the University of Santo Tomas in 1999.

With such solid accomplishments, Donnie was expected to spearhead the debut campaign of the small Philippine team and do well in Sydney. He was entered in the Individual events (Men’s Welterweight 80 kg. class). In a tightly-contested first round match against Sweden’s Roman Livaja, both jins scored 4-4, but based on superiority, the Swede prevailed.

But Donnie’s Olympic dream did not end in Sydney. He would qualify again as one of 3 Filipino jins in the next 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece—where the hallowed Games began. This time, he faced the formidable Turk, Bahri Tanrıkulu, whose sister was an Olympian medallist. Geisler made a good account of himself, and fought like a pro. But like what happened in Sydney, the match ended in a tie—9-9, and once again, based on superiority, the Turk was declared winner (he would advance to the finals to win Silver). 

As the best-scoring non-winner, Donnie was called for a repechage—for a final chance to advance to the next round. His opponent was Hichem Al-Hamdouni from Tunisia. Bad luck hounded Donnie when, in the course of the fight, he dislocated  his ankle and suffered a double tendon injury, thus putting him out of contention and ending his quest for Olympic glory.

His post-Olympics career continued in the next few years with better results. In 2001, he was at the 21st Southeast Asian Games, where he won a Silver medal. In the succeeding editions in Vietnam (2003), and the Philippines (2005), he proved his superiority in the region by winning 2 Golds in a row.  At the 2002 15th Asian Taekwondo Championships in Jordan, he added a Bronze medal to his collection. His last competition was at the 2007 FAJR Cup in Iran, where he had another Bronze finish. 

Believing that  “all work, and no play” makes for a dull life, Donnie jumped into the showbiz bandwagon and joined the Celebrity Edition of the hugely-followed Pinoy Big Brother  TV reality show in 2007, along with his actor-brother, Baron Geisler. For the next  50 days, Donnie gamely joined in the fray, accomplishing strange tasks, making strategic alliances with fellow PBB members and surviving eliminations.

Unfortunately, on the 56th day, Donnie got evicted from the PBB house, concluding his brief showbiz fling.  But he stayed long enough to meet Jen da Silva who would become his wife and mother of his daughter, Frankie.  The young father also has a son, Robbie, from a previous relationship.

Donnie continued his love for the sport by founding the Donnie Geisler Taekwondo Training Center in 2009 which coaches and teaches children of all ages—including those with special needs. The center has a branch in Sindalan, San Fernando.

The national athlete, who is also a licensed taekwondo instructor and international referee, is also a respected coach. He was a former coach of the Philippine National Team, and currently is the Head Coach of Colegio de San Agustin in Makati, and the British School in Manila. His checkered career in taekwondo may have ended but his love for the sport that have earned honors for himself and the country continues with unabated passion.

Image: www.pinoybigbrother.com
Donnie Geisler Oly FB Page: https://www.facebook.com/donnie.geisler
Donnie Geisler Bio, Stats and Results/Olympics at Sports-Reference:
Donnie Geisler taekwondo interview video:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGCsb2B1_wY

Monday, February 11, 2019

445. The Tears and Triumphs of ELIZABETH PUNSALAN, Olympic Ice Dancer, Lubao

ICE QUEEN, Elizabeth Punsalan, 5-time U.S. ice dancing champion, 2-time Olympian, has a full-blooded Kapampangan father, Dr. Ernesto Punsalan of Lubao. 

When skater Elizabeth Punsalan stepped on the ice with her partner-husband Jerrod Swallow at the Hamar Olympic Ampitheater in Lillehammer, Norway, she was a picture of poise and grace. She had done this many times before--with the eyes of the world watching, she had danced, skated--and won, despite the intense pressure of  competition.  But this time, the feeling was different. Behind Elizabeth’s seemingly calm exterior, was pain and quiet grief for her father, who, less than two weeks before, had been stabbed and killed by her own brother.

Elizabeth Punsalan (b. 9 Jan. 1971, in Syracuse, New York) was the daughter of Dr. Ernesto and Teresa Punsalan.  Her father, a surgeon, had come to America from Lubao, as a medical student. The family eventually settled in Ohio, where Dr. Punsalan began a thriving practice. Young Liz, on the other hand, was drawn to the sport of ice skating at the tender age of 7. Soon, she was competing in skating competitions, and winning ice dance contests. Early in her career, she found a partner in Christopher Rettstatt, and debuted at the 1989 U.S. Championships. They stunned the field by copping 8th place in the country’s premiere sce-skating event.

That same year, Punsalan was paired with a new 22-year old talent, Jerrod Swallow. Their chemistry was apparent from the start. Under the watchful eye of their coach, Sandy Hess, the pair began training in Colorado Springs. At the 1989 Skate America, they placed 7th, but did even better at the 1990 U.S. Championships, where they finished 5th.  They capped their ice dancing campaign when they returned the next year, finally winning their first U.S. national title.

Coming in as the pair to beat at the 1992 U.S. Championships that also served as the Olympic team qualifier,  Punsalan and Swallow finished in third place, owing to a fall that Swallow made in the free dance. Disappointed at his performance, Swallow pondered about leaving the sport, but Punsalan encouraged him to continue. They would eventually marry in 1993 and become partners for life.

The tandem changed coach in 1992, and, under the help of Igor Shpilband, they again rose to skating prominence, rivaled only by the pair of Renee Roca and Gorsha Shur, who trained alongside them. But Russian-born Gorsha still had to meet another requirement to skate for the U.S.---an American citizenship. Punsalan and Swallow  waged a letter-writing campaign to Congress to delay the granting of his citizenship, as there was only one slot reserved for the U.S. at the 1994 Winter Games.  

This unsportsmanlike behavior was unwarranted as Punsalan and Swallow were uncontested all the way to the finals.  After Roca and Sur suffered spills, the beleagured pair eventually withdrew. Punsalan and Swallow thus, earned their second national title—and an Olympic spot --and began preparing for the Lillehammer event.

But just two weeks before they were set to go to Norway, a family tragedy befell the Punsalans. On the night of February 4,  1994, Elizabeth’s father, Ernesto,  was stabbed to death while asleep at his Sheffield Lake home in Ohio.  Worst, the assailant turned out to be Elizabeth’s third brother, Ricardo, who had been plagued with mental problems. The doctor was pronounced dead on arrival at St. Joseph Hospital and Health Center in nearby Lorain. He was just 57.

Despite her sorrow, Elizabeth Punsalan decided to continue with her Olympic journey, at the urging of her family. "My father was proud of my skating achievements and would have wanted me to go on to Lillehammer," the Kapampangan-American skater said. "I will try to skate my very best there in his memory." After her father’s funeral, Punsalan and husband Swallow, immediately flew to Lillehammer  to begin their quest for an Olympic ice dancing gold.

In the rounds leading to the finals, the pair skated through their personal pain, and secured 14th place. But they would eventually dropped to 15th position when Swallow fell during a lift, sending him and Elizabeth crashing down on the ice—along with their Olympic dream.

Beaten but unbowed, the couple bounced back at the 1995 U.S. Championships, finishing as runners-up to their arch rivals, Roca and Sur. They were on a roll in 1996, 1997 and 1998 championships, when they reigned supreme by winning 3 national titles—and another chance to redeem themselves at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano. This time, the pair finished strong in 7th place in the Mixed Ice Dancing event.

The ice has not yet melted in Nagano, when, at the 1998 World Figure Skating Championships held in March in Minneapolis, Punsalan and Swallow capped their sterling ice dancing career with a 6th place finish.

After retiring from competitive ice skating, Punsalan and Swallow continued to skate in ice shows for a number of years. Punsalan became an ice dance coach at the Detroit Skating Club in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Once off the ice, Elizabeth also found a new interest and became an interior designer, while raising two sons, Gavin (13) and Alden (6).

When the 2019 U.S. Figuring Skating Championships unfolded in Detroit in late January, Punsalan and Swallow—five-time American champions themselves-- were there to welcome America’s best skaters to their city, which had become a prominent  international training ground for some of the greatest Olympic skaters on ice. The couple’s presence and their skating legacy would have certainly provided inspiration to the many young skaters who, just like young Elizabeth 2 decades before, have come to begin the realization of their Olympic dreams.

(POSTSCRIPT:  Younger brother, Ricky, was charged in the death of their father, but was found mentally unfit to stand trial. As of 2016, he remains in a mental health institution for at least the next two years. Punsalan’s mental health state will be reviewed again in December 2018.) 

Skating squabble plays to soap opera background, by Milton Kent, THE BALTIMORE SUN,
Why do so many international Olympic figure skaters train in Michigan?

Thursday, January 3, 2019

*444. Fil-Am Olympian ERIKA K. VON HEILAND, Ace Shuttler from Angeles City

It used to be that badminton was a lightly-regarded sport, more fit for leisure than for competition. Only a few athletes—mostly from Asian countries—ruled the sport.  It was first featured as a demonstration sport in the 1972 Munich Olympics, but it took 20 years for  it to be included as an official medal-worthy sport—at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

In a sport dominated by Indonesians, Malaysians, Koreans and Chinese, a Filipino-American of Kapampangan lineage,  led the U.S. Olympic Badminton team, in their quest for a podium finish for America. All eyes were on Erika Ann Kennedy Von Heiland, the 27 year-old shuttler who beat all odds to qualify for the Barcelona Olympics.

For a gruelling 18 months, she made the rounds of qualifying competitions around the world to secure a berth in the U.S. team, paying part of the tour expenses, taking out loans to finance her trip and even putting her college scholarship on the line. But, after a year and a half of competing, Von Heiland was stunned to learn that she had made it as the highest-ranked American badminton player for the Olympics.

Erika was born in Angeles City on Christmas Eve, 24 December 1965 to parents Theodore Leopoldo (Ted)  Von Heiland (b. 11 Jan. 1941/d.15 Sep. 2011) and Georgia Kennedy. She came from a pedigreed family, one of the richest in Pampanga. Her great-grandfather was Florentino Torres Pamintuan (b. 14 Mar. 1868/d. 12 Apr. 1925) who built the famous Pamintuan Mansion across the Holy Rosary Parish, for his first wife, Mancia Vergara Sandico.

The Pamintuan-Sandico union produced 5 children; the eldest daughter, Maria de la Paz Eugenia (or simply, Paz) went on to marry Leopoldo Faustino who died young. Paz married a second time to an Honolulu journalist, Frank A. Von Heiland, and they would have a daughter, Bunny, and a son TedErika’s father.

Ted graduated from Ateneo, and spent part of his married years in Angeles City, and in Manila, where his kids Frank (Chip), Debra (Babsie) , Erika and Trinity,  grew up in an extended Kapampangan household and went to school at the Colegio de San Agustin in Makati. But in 1985, he would eventually move his family to Anaheim, California  where his children completed  their education and later, pursued their own careers: Chip and Babsie  joined the military, while Erika stayed in college to take up Criminal Justice at  Arizona State University  on a badminton sport scholarship.

Erika had been fascinated with racquet sports in her younger years, taking up tennis at age 17. But when she learned that she could propel a shuttlecock up to 200 miles per hour, she felt the rush and shifted to badminton, considered as the fastest sport in the world. It is amusing to know that she once got hit in the right eye with a shuttlecock and couldn't see for a week. 

Eventually, she became so highly- skilled at the sport that in 1989, she was chosen to represent the U.S. at the 6th International Badminton Federation World Championships held in Jakarta, Indonesia (she would make the team as well, in 1991 and 1993). The next year, in 1990, Von Heiland made it as a member of the US Uber Cup Team, qualifying again in 1992, and 1996.

But it had always been the Olympics that she aspired for, a dream that was fulfilled in 1992. At the inaugural badminton games, Von Heiland competed in the Women’s Singles but her heroic efforts were thwarted by Canadian champion Denyse Julien in the first round. She ranked 33rd overall in a field that was ruled by Asians and topped by Indonesian Susi Susanti. Still, it was a good experience for Von Heiland , and vowed to come back stronger for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

In between Olympics, she trained relentlessly, and in 1995, she represented the United States at the Pan American Games in Mar de Plata, Argentina. Von Heiland was fielded in the women’s badminton doubles (with partner Linda French) and this time, she came home with a hard-earned Bronze Medal. She and Linda even fared better at the 1995 Bermuda International Open., winning runner-up honors in women’s doubles.

The rewards of joining these high-level international badminton tournaments were finally realized when, on 8 April 1996, the United States Badminton Association announced Erika Von Heiland’s nomination to the U.S. Olympic Committee for inclusion on the 1996 U.S. Olympic Badminton Team., along with Kevin Han and doubles partner, Linda French.

At this news, Von Heiland gushed, "Competing in my first Olympics in 1992 was awesome, but going to my second Olympics on home-soil is beyond words.” The 30 year old veteran then added, "This will be a great way to end my career."

Von Heiland marched proudly as part of Team America, during the opening of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics at the Centennial Olympic Park. When the badminton games got going, she valiantly gave her best to ward off  her Taipei opponent Jeng Shwu-Zen, in the Women’s Singles, but got eliminated in the first round with a score of 2–11, 6–11. Von Heiland ranked last in a field of 33 female shuttlers. In the Women’s Doubles where she and Linda French were ranked 38th best in the world, they did slightly better, finishing in 17th place in a field of 19.

When the Atlanta Summer Games drew to a close, so did the sensational badminton career of Von Heiland. Hounded by multiple knee surgeries, she knew it was time to hang up the racquet. At 30, she was ready to enjoy her married life while hoping to begin a professional career.

She didn’t have to look far—right in Atlanta, she was offered a sales job by the Coca Cola Enterprises and rose to become the Amusement and Recreation Business Development Manager for 4 years. She tried other companies but returned to the Coca Cola Company as a Senior National Account Executive. After 7 years, she was named as Director of Community Marketing beginning in  2011 to the present.  

It’s been a long journey for this Angeleña—who, despite her prominent background chose to do things the old-fashioned way: working her way to the top through sheer hard work. perseverance and dedication,. At her prime, she was named as one of the best 100 women badminton players of the world. Erika Von Heiland was also blessed with the unique experience of living her Olympic dream not once, and now, as a successful corporate executive, she is truly on top of her game.

Erika Von Heiland:
From Badminton to Coca Cola: 5 Questions With Two-Time Olympian Erika Von Heiland Strader: https://www.coca-colacompany.com/stories/true-passion-to-win-5-questions-with-two-time-olympian-erika-von-heiland-strader
For One Woman, the USO's Coca-Cola Connection Seems Fated, https://www.uso.org/stories/156-for-one-woman-the-uso-s-coca-cola-connection-seems-fated
HAN, FRENCH, AND VON HEILAND NOMINATED TO REPRESENT U.S. BADMINTON AT THE 1996 ATLANTA OLYMPIC GAMES. http://www.worldbadminton.com/usba.local/releases/960408.txt
PAZ: A 20th Century Chronicle by Ma.Paz Eugenia Pamintuan y Sandico vda. de Faustino y vda. de Von Heiland,1998

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

*443. From Boys Town to Mexico Olympics: Gymnast NORMAN V. HENSON of Arayat

NORMAN VENZON HENSON, overcame a difficult childhood to become a world-class Olympian, thanks to gymnastics. Henson was born in Barrio Mesulu, Arayat, Pampanga.

Norman Venzon Henson
’s Olympic story is an inspiring one, that began with a troubled childhood in Arayat, a stay at Manila Boys Town where he discovered gymnastics, and his eventual salvation by the sport that would propel him to the top and earn him a place in the world’s premiere sporting competition.

Born on 3 Mar. 1950 to parents Domingo Henson and Leonora Venzon, the young Henson grew up in the sleepy barrio of Mesulu, in the foothills of Arayat town. He grew up in comfortable surroundings; his father was a member of the landed Henson brothers who owned vast farmlands and many businesses including operating a major bus line.

One would expect a Henson son to walk the straight and narrow path, but for some reason, Norman Henson would stray from that road, and at a very you age, fell into the company of wayward boys his age that would cause a rift between him and his parents. So the young Henson did the unthinkable—he ran away from home. The delinquent child who was not even in his teens, was found by his distraught parents after some time, but he kept running away, beyond their control.

In the end, Henson was taken by his parents to Manila Boys Town, a place for  voluntarily surrendered children, orphans, vagrants and teens. Boys Town was to build a reputation as a reformatory school for errant boys because of its sports and education programs. Ran by priests headed by Fr. Ricardo Mirasol, Boys Town proved to be safe haven where boys could discover and develop their  sense of self-worth and belonging.

One sport discipline that the institution was known for was gymnastics. By 1960, under Fr. Mirasol, Boys Town had produced competitive gymnasts that were good enough to compete at the national level, and before long, they were winning championships. 

As a ward of Boys Town, Henson enrolled in the sport, and before long, he was hooked in gymnastics, having found an enjoyable outlet for his energy, at last.  At just 5 feet 3 and a half inches tall, and weighing 128 pounds, Henson’s physique was perfect for the sport. Slowly, he learned to build his strength by chinning bars, and learned to leap, tumble, flip and somersault. By so doing, Henson also learned to build his character, self-discipline, and his spirit of sportsmanship.

In 1962, to promote the sport, the Gymnastics Association of the Philippines (GAP) was organized, headed by Julian Malonzo as its first President. Sotero A. Tejada—who would be acknowledged as the Father of Philippine Gymnastics---was elected Secretary-Treasurer, while Boys Town coach, Fr. Mirasol became Chairman of the Men’s Technical Committee.

The first National Competition was launched in 1963 by the GAP, open to secondary public schools. Gymnastics then was already a staple sport at the UAAP. Norman Henson was named to the Boys Town Team, along with Ernesto Beren and Julian Indon. The trio of teens created a sensation when they swept all their events in their age division.

Philippine gymnastics got a major boost when, in the same year, GAP applied for international affiliation with the Fêdêration Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG), the world governing body for that sport. Sec. Sotero Tejada not only got a membership, but also convinced the world federation to allow Filipino gymnasts to compete in the next year’s Olympics to be held in Asia for the first time. And so, in 1964, 3 Filipino gymnasts made history by competing at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics—a first for the Philippines: the FEU champion Evelyn Magluyan, Fortunato Payao, and Demetrio Pastrana.

Norman could have easily qualified with his superb gymnastic skills, but at 14, he was too young to compete in the Olympics.  Although  enrolled at the Gregorio Perfecto High School in Tondo, he continued to step up his training. In 1967, Norman and his teammates—Ernesto Beren, Raul de Belen and Rolando Mirasol—were invited to compete in Copenhagen, Denmark which was hosting the International School Games—the Hapniad, as it was called-- held in connection with the city’s 800th anniversary. It was an exciting time for Henson as it was his first time to journey to Europe. When it was his turn to take his place on the gymnasium mat, Henson mesmerized the crowd with a Floor Exercise routine that garnered him the Gold Medal, besting gymnasts from ten countries.

Finally, the Olympic year arrived in 1968 and, at age 18, Norman V. Henson, with his Boys Town team mate Ernesto Beren, were named to the Philippine National Team to compete in Mexico City, Mexico. It was a year of many firsts-- the 19th edition of the Olympics was the first Olympic Games to be staged in Latin America, held from October 12-27, the first to be held in a Spanish-speaking nation. For the Philippines, it marked the first time that a Filipino sat in the gymnastics judging panel, in the person of Sec. Sotero A. Tejada, and only the second time that the country sent  its male gymnasts to the quadrennial event.

Of his star athlete, Sec. Tejada opined,” Norman Henson is expected to make a good showing in the floor exercises and rings”. At the National Auditorium, with the world’s best gymnasts participating, 14 different artistic gymnastics events were contested, eight for men and six for women. Henson saw action in the Men’s Rings, Parallel Bars, Horse Vault, Floor Exercises and Individual All-Around. The valiant duo gave their best, but at the end of their routines, their scores put them in the last 2 places of their qualifying events.

Post-Mexico, Henson continued to be active in competition. He practically trained and lived at the Rizal Memorial Stadium, which would be the venue of the 1971 National Open Gymnastics Championship held from April 29-May 1, 1971. This time, he was narrowly beaten in the All-Around by rising star Rolando Albuera. He would devote his time in the sport that he loved, and became a trainor and coach of many budding gymnasts in the 1980s, including members of the Philippine National Gymnastic Team. He, himself, was married to Teresita Jose, a former gymnast from the University of the East, whom he met back in high school. They would have 4 children: Norman Jr., Ethelson, Jacqueline and Pauline.

His coaching career was hampered by a series of strokes, and he would pass away in April 2014. Henson may not have won an Olympic medal,  but he certainly gained something of greater value from gymnastics, making a complete turnaround of an early life that was threatening to go awry.  The redemptive power of sports put him back on track, enabling Norman V.  Henson to win decisively,  in the game of Life.

Special Thanks to: ETHELSON J. HENSON, son of Norman Henson, for additional information about his father.
Sunday Times Magazine, “Well Balanced: Ph Gymansts in the Olympics”, Oct. 13, 1968. P. 34

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

*442. RAYMOND L. OCAMPO of Lubao: A Winter Olympian's Long, Lonesome Road to Calgary

SKI IS NO LIMIT. Lawyer-luger Raymond Ocampo Jr. did not just want to compete in the Olympics, he wanted to race for the Philippines, his country of birth. But his dream was put in peril due to passport issues. Photo: NY Times,

When a topnotch Kapampangan-American athlete and lawyer was asked in one job interview which he would prioritize—to handle a major corporate client or to compete in the Olympic, he chose the latter—and got hired anyway. Such is the commitment of Raymond L. Ocampo Jr. to his chosen discipline—luge—a winter sport that is hardly known in the U.S., much less in the Philippines. But Ocampo did not just want to join the Winter Olympics; he wanted to compete for the Philippines.

It had been 16 years since the Philippines was represented in a winter Olympics;  the first time was in the 1972 Sapporo games when cousins Ben Nanasca and Juan Cipriano competed in alpine skiing. The two were adopted and lived in Andorra, and took to skiing in the Pyrenees. They became so proficient that the Swiss government recruited them for an alpine skiing group, which paved the way for their Olympic stint under the Philippine flag.

Ocampo’s journey was unlike our pioneer Olympians. Born in Lubao on 10 Feb. 1953, his parents migrated to Canada when he was 11. The young Ocampo channeled his energies into sports of all kinds—as a high-schooler, he became a member of his school’s basketball team that won the state championship. Even as a political science student at UCLA and later, as a law student,  he was running marathons in between poring over legal tomes.

After passing the bar, Ocampo went into private practice and continued with his love of sports. In 1986, the year he got employed by Oracle Corp., he became fascinated with luge—a fast race on artificial ice tracks using racing sleds that could be maneuvered to reach over 140 kilometer per hour.

What was amazing was that Ocampo learned the sports from scratch. He would watch old video tapes of past winter Olympics editions, but when he reviewed the Saravejo Olympics of 1984, he was surprised to learn that tropical Puerto Rico was represented by a skier named George Tucker. He seriously began entertaining the thought of representing the country of his birth.

First, Ocampo began investing in the sport, spending as much as $20,000 alone for trips and equipment. He started intensive dry-land training on a sled with wheels and joining races. His first big one was at  the Empire State Games at Lake Placid in 1986, finishing a creditable 7th in his over-30 age group. One of those he defeated was Puerto Rican George Tucker! The experience buoyed his confidence and thus began his  personal mission to ski for the Philippines.

But first, he needed the permission of the Philippine Olympic Committee in Manila via the Philippine Consulate in San Francisco. It took awhile to convince sports officials that his application was valid: the International Olympic Committee allows an athlete to represent the country of his birth so long as he has not competed in the same sport  for another country. Besides, as a dual Filipino-American citizen, he was eligible to don the Philippine tri-color.

The national committee however, required him to hold a Philippine passport first—and thus began a series of frustrating passport issues that imperiled his Olympic dream. ''Luging is hard enough,'' he realized, but ''the paper trail was the hardest part.'' A personnel from the consulate volunteered to take his case, and his cache of supporting documents to Manila to discuss his request with the Olympic committee.

But the official’s timing was bad; Corazon Aquino had just ousted Marcos, and a new government was being put in place. It did not help that the official had strong ties with the Marcos administration, so upon landing in Manila, he was withheld, and his papers were confiscated, including Ocampo’s pertinent documents. The disappointed Olympic hopeful had to start all over.

Ocampo personally sent a letter to Vice President Salvador H. Laurel. He sent another letter to Sec. Gen. Francisco Almeda—who had denied his first request. The United States Luge Federation even sent a letter of recommendation to convince the Olympic committee. When still a deluge of letters and telex messages from Ocampo were left unanswered, the weary athlete phoned Almeda directly, finally convincing him how serious he was. With that final go-signal, Ocampo gave a big sigh of relief as he mused:  ''It was an exhausting process…more exhausting than lugeing.''

When the 15th Winter Olympics unfolded in Calgary, Alberta, Canada on 13 February 1988, the triumphant Ocampo marched into the McMahon Stadium, proudly  holding the Philippine flag up high. He was the lone Filipino among the thousands of international athletes who congregated in Calgary that year to vie for medals in the premiere winter sport games of the world.

Never has there been an athlete who have worked and prepared as hard as Raymond L. Ocampo Jr.—even before the Games had started. ''A medal is not something I'm shooting for,'' the Kapampangan-American said. ''But whether I win one or not, it would be nice to bring a focus to the Philippines for something other than the troubles they have been having. That's just the way I feel.''

 (POSTSCRIPT: Ocampo was fielded in the men's singles luge event and finished 35 out of 38 overall. In 2010, he served as an honorary captain of the U.S. Olympic Luge Team that competed in Vancouver,Canada. He is the current President and CEO of Samurai Surfer LLC, a private consulting and investment company)

OLYMPIC PROFILE: RAYMOND OCAMPO; One-Man Luge Team With Tale of 2 Flags, By MICHAEL JANOFSKY, Nov. 29, 1987, https://www.nytimes.com/1987/11/29/sports/olympic-profile-raymond-ocampo-one-man-luge-team-with-tale-of-2-flags.html
New York Times, Nov. 29, 1987