Sunday, September 23, 2007

With a heavy heart this kid rests

HE slams his best foot forward—just for kicks, for sheer surge of adrenaline fun it brings.

All 14 summers of him didn’t muster much height for his body: doe-eyed Joshua P. Sastre ached to play basketball just like every kid in his block smack in the dirt-and-asphalt bowels of Tatalon in Quezon City. He had the heart and the heft for the sport. He lacked the height.

He stands 4’ 7”, well-proportioned like da Vinci’s Vitruvian figure and it took the unerring eye of a soccer coach to tell the kid that he had what it takes for football. He took to the game like a natural that he is. He can kick balls-- he’s also into sepak takraw that demands a repertoire of kicks to slam a rattan orb into an opposing team’s field. That needed deft footwork, quicker-than-eyewink body reflexes.

Drilled for three months beginning October 2005—four hours each thrice a week session --together with a ragtag crew of 24 neighborhood boys his age, Joshua got his baptism of competitive football in the 2006 Manila Youth Games. They brought home four fat eggs—lost all the four games they were pitted in but never lost a whit of gung-ho to drill some more, hone some more skills for sharper competitive edge.

Joshua didn’t feel bad about losing. He played his heart out, his mom watching and cheering her youngest son at the stands. After mom left as subcontracted worker for a hospital in Doha, Qatar it was lola and tita who regularly rooted for the young goalie. And he felt the world was at his feet, hey, he was going places. He didn’t have to look back at those four losses.

Goalkeeper and striker—that’s what he was leveling off the field, diving after pigskin homing in for a score, shrugging off bruises, gashes and skinned shins and the jittery pins-and needles feeling at the pit of his tummy that were all part of the thrills football pours in copious doses for every 15-minute fever that sets the 100-yard grid on fire.

And football talent scouts from exclusive schools sat, took notice and were set to get Joshua into their teams—that meant lesser hassles to get to college, earn a degree while having a field day on every soccer field he’d set his feet on.

How could such a scrappy crew of kids off a depressed neighborhood nail wins at the expense of boys from more affluent settings?

Joshua poured his heart into the game.

And a cardiologist told him he had an enlarged heart.

Papunta na kami sa Gawad Kalinga Olympics sa Marikina Sports Complex. Alas sais ng umaga, nitong nakaraang May 27. Biglang sumakit ang tiyan ko. Masakit na masakit. Tapos isinuka ko lahat ng kinain ko. Dinala ako pauwi. Saka itinuloy sa ospital, sa Dr. Fe del Mundo Medical Center sa Banawe, QC,” he recalls.

He was confined for two months and 10 days, was told of his heart condition.

Si Tatay, 42 nang mamatay sa atake sa puso. Si kuya, 17 years old lang. Sakit sa puso din,” he tells matter-of-factly in a chat with this writer at the family household in #8 Cabalata St. in Tatalon where he stays with an aunt, lola and the eldest brother.

Cardiologist Maricel Regino told him to rest for a year—no schooling, no football, no strenuous activity that can cause undue fatigue. And he had to see the doctor for monthly checkups, to see how his heart is faring.

Upkeep medications cost Joshua’s family about P3,500 a month. That can be a pinch in their pockets— but it’s something more painful that gnaws at them knowing that Joshua’s elder brother Jovic had been similarly diagnosed. The older sibling was found to have dilated cardiomyopathy at age 15 and badly needed a heart transplant. At 17, Jovic breathed his last.

Naglalakad na kami nang paluhod sa simabahan sa Quiapo para hilingin sa Diyos na dugtungan pa ang buhay ni Joshua,” confesses the boy’s dentist-aunt in between pained sobs. She and the kid’s grandmother are praying hard, hoping for a miracle that may save Joshua’s life.

These days, he does some editing of his friends’ Friendster profiles, surfs the Internet for song lyrics and guitar chords—he plays the guitar for a boy band based at the Doña Josefa Martinez High School in Tatalon—and whiles away time scratching out rock and roll tunes.

Joshua still rocks, yeah.

And someone named Janine of Makati just went steady with him on the evening of September 6. That made his heart skip a beat.

But he’s still setting his sights on setting foot anew at a football field, maybe if his heart heals.

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