Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Ateneo Lady Eagle Katrina Tolentino’s liberation from fear

Katrina Tolentino (middle) watches the Ateneo Lady Eagles during the Shakey's V-League Collegiate Conference with her teammates.
This appears on

Lady Eagle Katrina Tolentino’s liberation from fear
by rick olivares pic by arvin lim

"We were all meant to shine as children do.
It is not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. 
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same as we are liberated from our fear. Our presence automatically liberates others.”
from Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles

Courage isn’t limited to a battlefield situation or a time of crisis. Sometimes, it’s facing one’s deepest fears. Yet there she is.

At six-foot-three, it isn’t difficult to spot Katrina Tolentino in a crowd. For almost the entire Shakey’s V-League Collegiate Conference, she was almost always present during matches lending support to her Ateneo Lady Eagles teammates.


Tolentino was expected to add a huge wallop to the Lady Eagles’ quest for a third straight UAAP championship. Yet in that same Shakey’s V-League tournament, although one year ago, she suffered a knee injury during warm-ups, casting a pall on the team and signaled a rocky start to the end of the Alyssa Valdez era in Ateneo. Tolentino was supposed to be the “heir” to Valdez, a tall and athletic hitter who would rain down spikes from everywhere just like the Queen Eagle. 

Instead, she was out with her third knee injury. The team had lost Mich Morente to academics, Tolentino being out meant two less weapons. A few weeks into last UAAP season, middle hitter Maddie Madayag followed with a season-ending injury of her own. Her teammates battled an assortment of niggling injuries. By season’s end, they were unseated by La Salle. 

Now the new-look Lady Eagles are in the midst of their preparations for the new UAAP season and Tolentino is back although not yet on the court.

Yet she almost didn’t come back.

"I could not believe it,” she recalled of the injury she sustained during warm-ups. "When it first happened, all I could think about 'please don’t be an ACL, please don’t be an ACL.' I was in shock and the thought that all my hard work and commitment ended in just a matter of seconds was frustrating, disappointing, and definitely heartbreaking. I didn’t even make it to the first point of the game. This was my third ACL tear in the past three to four years. It was by far the most painful and heartbreaking one. I thought my pain tolerance would be higher or I’d be used to knee surgery by this time around. But because it was a patellar tendon graft it was different and the pain was really bad, and only my mom can attest to that because she was there the night after the surgery. I told myself never to play volleyball again because I never wanted to go through that experience again.  The difficult part was always wondering 'why and how.’ I could not understand how I got injured again when I religiously went to rehab and I knew I did everything I could to get strong again. Why did it happen again, why in warmup, why me? I immediately took it as sign that I was done with sports and that God’s will for me was to focus on other aspects of my life.”

“You want what is best for your children,” said Katrina’s mother, Irene, during a dinner with the mothers of fellow athletes sometime last season. “It is tough for me as a mother to watch her suffer one injury after another. I want to be selfish and say, ‘enough is enough’ and ‘it’s time to move on.’ But that decision has to come from her.”

Her older brother, Vince, who plays basketball with the Blue Eagles conceded, “Some things you have to face. My sister will have to answer that.”

The Lady Eagles’ head coach, Anusorn Bundit, is both careful and excited at the prospect of preparing Tolentino. “Now rest. Watch first,” beamed the Thai coach in his broken English. Bundit hopes that the time away helps mend and heal her mind and body and that the waiting fuels her desire.

"There was not a specific moment where I decided to come back,” Katrina clarified of her decision to return to volleyball. "I had to think about my future health and if I really wanted to put my body through that stress again.”

As a youngster growing up in Vancouver, Canada, Katrina followed her older sister Stephanie who played volleyball. “I just followed her footsteps,” related Tolentino of her discovering the sport. “I've had an advantage because of my height and I found that it was a sport that came naturally to me. It was something I was good at and loved playing since the beginning. I also loved playing in a team. I was part of a club and school team for five years with the same group of girls. We all became really close friends which is what made playing volleyball so enjoyable as well."

With the game close to an anathema to her, Katrina eventually found her way back. “A key part that really made me consider going back was a beautifully written article by Gina Davis, an athlete who also underwent multiple knee injuries. "She had four ACL surgeries and one meniscus surgery. Her article was very inspiring and relatable to me that I ended up messaging her on Facebook and asking her more about her experience. She told me that the reason why she had to stop was because the doctors at her school told her she couldn’t play anymore. She said 'if it were up to her she’d have 10 surgeries before she would quit.' And that was when I realized that I needed to at least try to go back. I had the help from Moro Lorenzo Sports Center, I had the support from my team, the coaches, and my family. No one was telling me to stop. It was all up to me if I wanted to return. I wanted to be able to do this not just for myself but for any other athletes who have gone through major injuries and were considering quitting. For me seeing athletes come back from any major injury or setback is what encourages me the most to keep trying.” 

Just like her Lady Eagles teammates who were given up for dead after losing two elimination round matches and two more in the quarterfinals stage. Each time, they had to go through a win-or-go-home battle to advance. And now the Ateneo Lady Eagles are incredibly back in the Shakey’s V-League Finals against the defending champion, National University no less. 

It was a courageous and inspiring comeback.

You can also say the same thing about Katrina Tolentino who hopes that she gets to continue her story.

1 comment:

  1. Good luck and best health wishes to kat. I hope she peace in the court.