Student Stunner: Angelica Kapunan

 College life jumpstarts you to the hurdles of what the ‘real world’ has yet to show after you graduate. Place yourself in the shoes of a student – athlete, keeping yourself in tip top shape of your sport and your academics is a tough bout – guaranteed it’s not a walk in the park.

Student – athlete and soon to be graduate of De La Salle University – Manila Maria Angelica Joyce”Gel” Kapunan  is a perfect epitome of a class act.  Recently she led her team, the Team Pilipinas All Girls Elite, in garnering 1st runner up in the International Cheer Union Worlds competition held at Florida, USA, and at the same time; has remained on top of her class with the likes of graduating with flying colors before the year ends. At times, she is caught between two stools of her bows and her books, but one thing’s for sure is that she can bite off more what she can chew – and that’s the best of both worlds. How does she do that? BUHAY KOLEHIYO gets the scoop.

Gel proudly waves the Philippine flag at the opening ceremony of the ICU Worlds 2015 held at the ESPN World of Sports in Florida, USA. This is her second time to compete at the prestigious competition.
1) How long have you been cheerleading? Tell us what you love about it that kept you in the sport all this time.
GK:  I’ve been in cheerleading for almost 8 years. There are tons of things to love about the sport, the adrenaline rush of performing, the cute uniforms and shoes, long bus rides, the special bond you form with your teammates and coaches, the honour that you bring, and a lot more. But I think what I would love most is how the sport teaches you valuable life lessons. It teaches you discipline, respect, persistence and humility. The sport molds you to be a good person; someone with great character. It’s what kept me going because when you think of it, you dedicate almost 24/7 of your time in training even if you lack sleep, you encounter injuries, have a hard time in academics, lose time for other activities, you do all these things for a single chance to perform a 2 min 30 second routine – it may not make sense to other people, but there’s nothing else I’d rather do. There’s always this urge of coming back for more.
 
2) You initially planned to stop cheerleading when you entered college but look how that turned out! What made you change your mind?
GK: I didn’t really plan to stop cheerleading, it’s just that I was planning to go to a different University after finishing my first year in DLSU. However, after seeing the DLSU Animo Squad perform in the UAAP Cheerdance Competition and also during basketball games, I had this urge to come back and not wait for another year. That’s why I decided to be an open trainee on my second term in La Salle.
 
3) Cheerleading is a sport that demands a lot of time and energy. How do you keep up with your academics considering the time constrictions?
GK: TEAM NO SLEEP. (Hehe). To be honest, I am a person that likes doing things last minute because it works well for me but I see to it that I always meet the deadlines. After training, I just rest a little and study immediately, also during breaks if I can squeeze a little time to study I do so.
 
4) When you’re not cheering or hitting the books, what do you do in your spare moments?
GK: When I’m at home, I spend time with my family especially my mom, we go shopping or play with my dog. However, most of the time especially if the competition is near I just sleep cause I rarely have a chance to fully rest.
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“I think my passion and love for the sport is what kept me going all those years, also the people that I’ve formed deep bonds with.”


5) What was your biggest hurdle as a student – athlete, and how did you overcome this? 
GK: Probably it’s committing fully to both and making sure that one isn’t taken for granted for the other. Balancing and prioritising which I should do first is hard since both are important to me. But I was able to overcome this by giving extra focus on what was I doing at that particular time. When I’m in training, I don’t think about my academics and vice versa. Thankfully, I was able to overcome this through the help of my family, teammates and friends who constantly give me advice and cheered me up. They inspired me to push myself harder and stay motivated.
 
6) The Team Pilipinas’ AGE placed third in last year’s ICU Worlds. Now, you were given the chance (the second time) to compete and represent the country, this time leading the team and improving to second place. Many cheerleaders would call this THE Ultimate Cheer Dream. What are your thoughts about it? (You can also compare from last year’s Worlds). 
GK: Last year, I only played for the group stunts category, this year was my first time to perform a cheer routine and I had the same feeling of excitement. Just by stepping on the worlds mats, it’s already the fulfilment of every cheerleader’s dream. Given the chance to lead, I wanted to help my teammates live the dream that I was able to experience last year. After our performance, I saw the look of fulfilment in their eyes and it was incomparable. However [of course] I couldn’t deny that there was pressure because the team last year placed. There were also lots of challenges that we encountered. From training 10 pm-1 am or 2 am every single night, setting up the mats back and forth because it was raining, down to not having a single perfect run before left, and the music not playing during our last run before the performance itself. Everything seemed frustrating, but I never doubted my teammates; our coaches didn’t stop believing in us as well. I deeply believed that we will be able to deliver and give justice to the routine that our talented coaches made.  And we did! After hearing the crowd clap for us after we perform, I knew at that moment we already made everyone proud. As soon as the commentator mentioned “The Philippines” during the announcement of winners I got teary eyed, made the sign of the cross and said in silence “Ang sarap maging Pilipino. Thank You Lord.” – with shaky fingers! No words are enough to describe that feeling –  basta ang sarap sa puso.
Team Captain Gel Kapunan living The “Cheer Dream”.
 
7) Philippine cheerleading is getting more exposure not just around the country but also worldwide, contributing to the fact that both AGE and Co-Ed (represented by the National University Pep Squad) teams had podium finishes for this year’s ICU Worlds. What do you think is our edge over other countries’? Do you think this also grants more aspiring cheerleaders to enter the sport?
GK: In my opinion, for both teams, most probably it’s the set of skills that we have since we hit our stunts not just quality but also quantity-wise. The people in the routine were well-maximised considering also the creativity of the stunts; especially the pyramid of both teams and overall were very much commended by the crowd and I believe the judges as well. Plus, we didn’t just show our routine, we performed it! Of course, this victory serves as a chance to inspire other people to join cheerleading. It was one of our goals to show other people that cheerleading is definitely far from the stereotypes that we see in movies, that cheerleading is not about glitz and glamour but more of dedication and hardwork. I do hope that we were able to achieve this goal through our routines.
 
 
8) You are a student – athlete that exceeds beyond your potentials. Having a “double life” is no joke, but the reap of your harvest gained you academic honors and a chance to lead a team. What keeps you grounded?
GK: Simple. I always go back to the fact that these things that I have achieved are because of Him, thus all Glory and honor should go back to Him.
Head Bow
… “Moreover, it’s one of the most important values that I’ve learned from my coaches – humility. This is also the reason why we start with our heads down in our routine.”
 
9) Now that you’re a soon-to-be graduate, what are your plans? Do you still plan to pursue cheerleading?
GK: I plan to work after I graduate but i f my mom agrees to it, I want to take up masters in business while working and pursue law after. If given opportunities wherein I could cheer again, I would – but I’ll definitely join trainings so that I would not lose my skills. I also applied to be an NCC (National Cheerleading Championships) staff because I think it’s a great opportunity where I could put what I know to the benefit of other people. It would help me make a positive impact on other people’s lives especially when they NCC holds cheer camps in far places. (UPDATE, July 2015: Gel graduated last June with a Cum Laude distinction).
 
10) What has life as a student-athlete taught you?
GK: It has taught me how to practice excellence. Excellence by making sure that neither my academics or sports should be average. I became a good kind of competitive in all ways. It also showed me that there are no limits to what a person can achieve as along as you push yourself hard and wouldn’t settle for less. It has taught me that there are people who will support you and there are some who will doubt you and even put you down but you shouldn’t be affected by them. But most importantly, it has taught me TO NEVER QUIT because when you do, you already failed. There are countless of struggles, tears, heartbreaks,frustrations and everything in between that will really test you and make you think twice but being a student-athlete will mold you to have an attitude of resilience. This attitude does not only apply in academics, or sports it’s also applicable in life. It teaches you to get back stronger when you’ve been knocked down real hard. Like in cheerleading, you smile big even if you’re in pain.
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Gel not only led the Team Pilipinas AGE at the ICU Worlds but was also a co-captain of the DLSU Animo Squad where she officially joined in 2013.
Photos courtesy of Cheer Union, Renzi Rodriguez and Gel Kapunan
To watch the All Girls Elite routine at the ICU worlds, click here.

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A retired competetive figure skater and cheerleader; a wandering soul.

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