(Photo taken by Chris Cordero)
One day in mid-October, I was browsing through my e-mails as I do every day. I was shocked when I stumbled upon a forwarded e-mail from my college coach with the subject line, “Philippine Football Federation – Women’s National Team (Soccer) – Rachel Nichols.” I immediately opened the e-mail and read its contents to discover it was an invitation to participate in the upcoming Philippine Women’s National Team Training Camp in California and a chance to compete in the LA Vikings Cup with the team. After reading the e-mail, there were so many emotions I was feeling and so many questions running through my head. I felt excited, happy, nervous, honored, and grateful. But I was also confused—how did they find me? How did they know I had Filipino heritage? Soon I would learn that thanks to excellent scouting, I was just one of many girls who were found and invited to the camp.
The camp was to take place in mid-November, and unfortunately I had exams that could not be rescheduled and would have to miss the first couple days of camp. I thought this would pose as a big problem; however, the coaches were very understanding of my situation and allowed me to arrive late. I finished my exams, and my travel day finally came around. I was so excited to finally leave for California, and then my travel process took a wrong turn of events. I was sitting in the Ithaca airport, 10 minutes before my flight would begin boarding, when a lady made an announcement that my flight was delayed due to last-minute maintenance. Thirty minutes later, my flight was cancelled altogether. I started panicking and immediately called my dad who left the business meeting he was in to call different airlines, scrambling to get me on a new flight. Luckily, the airport is only 10 minutes from Cornell’s campus so I was able to go back to my apartment and get some rest. Four hours later, I returned to the airport and waited to board my new flight. The announcement I was dreading was made again: my second flight was also delayed. This was problematic because I needed to make a connection in Philly, and only had an hour to do so without the delay. Panic took over me again. When I landed in Philly, a group of 15 other passengers and I sprinted through the airport trying to make our connection. Takeoff was at 8:30 giving us 12 minutes to take the shuttle from terminal F to terminal C, then run the rest of the way to terminal A. At 8:29, the group of us arrived at the gate and barely, but surely, made it onto the plane. After being granted with such an incredible opportunity, I was determined not to let anything get in the way of it.
I was originally supposed to arrive in LA at 7pm, but ended up getting in around midnight, which is 3am east coast time. I was frustrated with the difficulty I had traveling and tired from such a long day, but was immediately relieved being greeted by friendly faces. Tito (Coach) Ernie, his father, and his daughter (and current Malditas player) Sam Nierras, picked me up at the airport. They were warm and welcoming from the get-go and the stress that had built up throughout the day soon subsided. When we arrived at the hotel, Tito Ernie helped me get checked in and then told me to get some rest. The following morning, I was both excited and nervous for my first day of camp. Prior to training, I met a couple girls at the hotel and talking to them helped calm my nerves and put me at ease. Katherine Lim and Sarah Cook were the first friends I made. These were girls just like me, with Filipino heritage who shared the same passion for soccer as I do. I knew it would be a hard weekend, but within just 5 minutes of talking to the girls I knew it would also be fun. My mom never taught me how to speak Tagalog, but on that first day of camp I learned what “Malditas” and “Laban” meant. Laban, which is part of our cheer, was used many times throughout camp and the following weekend at the LA Vikings Cup. The weekend went by quickly, and I was sad to leave my new friends. I didn’t want to go back to school, but I couldn’t miss one of my classes. However, Tito Ernie had asked me to come back and play with the team in the LA Vikings Cup, so I wouldn’t be away from the girls for very long.
I went back to school to attend class, and returned to California on Thanksgiving Day. My parents came with me this time. The team did Thanksgiving dinner together at Monika Lee’s relative’s house. One thing I learned about Filipino culture and Filipino people is that they are extremely welcoming. Not only was the team welcomed into this stranger’s home, but my parents and other parents were also allowed. It had been a long time since I had Filipino food, and I was excited to get a taste of it. Lumpia is my absolute favorite, but the girls taught me what some of the other foods that I had never tried were. Delicious! I love Filipino food. The following days, I asked my parents if we could eat at Filipino restaurants for dinner because I was craving it the rest of the weekend.
Tournament time came around and I couldn’t have been more excited to play for the country on the front of my jersey and be a part of the team that would go on to win the Vikings Cup. Some of my cousins, aunts, and uncles were able to watch me play, which was really nice. After only knowing each other for less than 2 weeks, the team shocked others with our performance. I have never before played on a team that adapted to each other’s styles so quickly. It was like we had years and years to become acquainted with each other, but most of us had just met. Girls came together from all over the place, and were unified by Filipino heritage and love for the game. The team chemistry that came so naturally was astonishing and helped lead the team to a Vikings Cup victory. Unfortunately, I had to get back to school for finals, but was extremely saddened that I’d be missing the championship game with the Malditas. A penalty-kick shootout ended with the Malditas claiming the victory and I am so proud of all the girls who contributed to that win—girls who I can now call my teammates and friends.
I hope to stay in touch with all the people I met during this experience, and hope to see everyone again soon. My time in California was everything I could have asked for and more—I loved every bit of it. I am so happy and grateful that I was given the opportunity to tryout and be a part of the team. I’m very excited about my participation with the team and seeing what my future with the Malditas holds. I thank everyone who helped me and made this experience possible. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity I was given and I feel so blessed to have met such amazing people along the way.