The Inseparable Foes with the Big Cheer Bows: The ICU Team Philippines Captains
What happens when your foe becomes your ally? Can your biggest rival be your biggest fan? These two cheerleaders prove no school rivalry can break a friendship – it’s flyer than you think.
That’s The Spirit
Myca Maala and Gel Kapunan started cheerleading in their elementary days at the School of Holy Spirit in Quezon City. Myca saw trying out the sport as a time-killer for the summer, while Gel saw it as a chance to fulfill an aspiration influenced by the Bring it On films, which centralizes on teenhood and of course, life with the big bows and the pompoms. Surprisingly, despite being in the same school and the same team, the two were never close. The relationship of the two started to bloom, grow and become close during the remaining years in high school and when they became assigned roommates in a cheerleading competition in Malaysia. Thus, the birth of words of endearment towards each other, “Buddy”. The two confess they would look forward to going to school because of training, in which they find enjoyment despite the stress brought about by their academics.
Gel and Myca were also crowned captains of their high school cheerleading team on their senior year with another fellow batch mate. SHS Pep Squad would later bring home 5 titles from the competitions they joined, with one of them tucked under the leadership belt of the trio. Myca and Gel went on separate ways when they entered college – with one in Ateneo de Manila University and the other in De La Salle University.
College can be as draining as training, and the two are reminded to never stop what they love doing. “Every year I tell my parents I want to quit, but I graduate not quitting,” Myca laughs. The Ateneo Blue Babble Batallion Captain will be graduating with a BS Communications Technology degree this June. Gel, on the other hand, initially wanted to fore-go cheerleading for a year as she was considering transfering universities as originally planned. Perhaps passion made her heart grow fonder, thus, weaned her plans on moving and ended up joining the DLSU Animo Squad, and becoming a co-captain during her second year in the team. She was an AB Psychology major.
In their respective teams, Gel plays the role of a main base (lifter), however sheepishly admits that she had always wanted to learn how to fly since it’s been a dream of hers. For Myca, she practices the role of both a lifter and a flyer, which is a lot trickier. She also recalls she loves learning the dance in the routines, but also confesses she loves to be on hold at the foot of the fire. “Gusto ko yung hawak ko lagi [yung paa].”
The two went on to compete in UAAP Cheerdance Competitions, but they were never each others’ opponent, surprisingly. Gel was not a part of the DLSU Animo Squad yet during Myca’s rookie year. Myca suffered a shoulder injury two days before the main event during Gel’s first year as a part of the Green and White. Gel continued representing Team De La Salle the following year while Myca temporarily resided in France for her student exchange program. Myca wrapped up her final year with the Katipunan-based squad when Gel graduated ahead, obtaining her undergraduate degree.
The two “rivals” would reunite as teammates again come Cheerleading Worlds held at Orlando, Florida.
The Cheer Dream
2014 was the year the Philippines became a participant of the ICU Worlds for the first time, spearheaded by Randell San Gregorio, Ramon Pagaduan and BJ Sayno and in the latter years, joined by Ivy Tabares. The team is formed by a series of tryouts, leading to a final cut choosing the lineup that will represent the country. Team Philippines was led by Myca, who entered the competition scene without presumptions of placing. “As in, walang expectations. At all. Nung tinawag ang Team Philippines doon sa podium [where they announce the top three teams], nagulat talaga kami. It turns out, may idea na pala ang mga coaches namin (after seeing the scores), di lang nagsabi, para surprise daw.” Team Philippines ranked third for the All Girls Elite Category behind New Zealand and Chile, an impressive and outstanding performance for a rookie team. Team Philippines would compete in the same category for the following seasons.
Pressure seemed to climb year after year as Gel was tasked to lead the team the following year. This was also the year where Sayawatha Dance Troupe of the Miriam College High School joined the Cheer Hiphop Category as well as reigning three-time UAAP Cheerdance Competition champions NU Pep Squad for the Co-ed Elite Category, where both teams placed third. “After our performance, I saw the look of fulfilment in my [teammates’] eyes and it was incomparable. Given the chance to lead, I wanted to help my teammates live the dream I was able to experience last year,” Gel shares. Team Philippines stepped up to second place, just behind the defending champions, New Zealand.
The Final Cheer Bow
A championship title was at stake come the third year of Team Philippines joining the esteemed event. The former captains joined as one once again leading a brood of 24, with plans of retiring cheerleading afterwards. However, fate did not fall in their hands, dropping the team to fifth place. The captains exit the blue mats with no regrets, giving out their 110% for their last performance as competitive cheerleaders. “Honestly, the job became easier because the people I was with in this team were also some of the same people na nakasama ko sa previous years. Sometimes there are cliques, but they break free, and we really feel the love in the team. The personalities are so diverse, yet magkakasama din sila,” Myca remarks, regarding the bond of her teammates. Gel and Myca didn’t deny that they were disappointed with what happened in this year’s competition. “We were disappointed, somehow hopeful.”
Despite this year’s outcome, the two see the light at the end of the tunnel, brimming with positivity. “It’s not about winning, most of the time it’s about the journey and the people you’re with. There are experiences and learnings – mas grand ang prize na ‘yun than any other medal,” Gel smiles. “Kahit di kami nanalo, hindi sya ganun kasakit kasi hindi kami bumitaw. We faced it all together.”
Tumbling to #adulting
Both girls are on the lookout for work, but as of now are staffers of NCC Philippines, the premier cheerleading organization in the country. The girls carry out the role as judges during competitions, floor directors and even organizers. It just comes to show the girls are having a hard time letting go of what made them happy for the past years.
Gel reminisces what she’ll miss most on the blue mats. From the rigorous training schedules that would run from 8-12 hours a day, tending to injuries, prayers and team huddles before a run, facing frustrations from not hitting a stunt or a tumbling pass, and even annoying her fellow teammates as a way of expressing compassion and love. In Filipino terms, lambing. “Every time I’m on the mats with my teammates, I’ve always thought that “perhaps this is the moment for which I have been created for”. I’ve found my passion and purpose and nothing makes me happier than being on those mats.”
Myca looks up to her mentors as well as her teammates who inspire her to push and be her best everyday. “”I’ll miss my coaches’ words of encouragement, I’ll miss performing, I’ll miss crying and laughing with my teammates but what I’ll miss the most is the competition grind – the pressure of learning new and difficult skills, hitting those stunts in the routine, and also that hope and fight for that podium finish.” Gel adds, “Hearing the words “PUSH RUN!” “PUSH NA FROM THE TOP!” “FULL RUN!” “FULL OUT!” “ONE LAST!” “ISA PA!” “VERY LAST!” “LAST NA TALAGA!” is something we’ll miss hearing from our coaches – even if we all know that this meant ten times more, haha!”
Cheerleading has given the two all sorts of emotions which developed into to a love – hate relationship with it. “There are times that I really feel like, ‘AYOKO NA, QUIT NA AKO‘ every time it gets tough, but I still end up showing in training everyday, because my day feels incomplete without training,” Gel says. Myca attests to this. “It’s that grind that really tests you as a cheerleader and as a person. Cheerleading made me strong and it also taught me how to love.” The sport has definitely shaped the girls to what and who they are today.
The girls recall how the past decade has been one of the best and greatest years of their life, so far. Now that their time is up, Gel and Myca now take on their roles as dream chasers – outside the mats. “The past 9 or 10 years have been a blast. It still saddens me that I have decided to take a step back from cheerleading, but I’m already proud of what I have achieved and so happy with what I have experience and with the people I met along the way. I guess, now, it’s time for me to start chasing new dreams.” Myca happily infers. “From the deepest part of my heart I say, thank you and I’ll miss you, cheerleading. Thank you for giving me incredible opportunities, experiences and memories. Thank you, because I was never sure if I’d make it but now I can say I MADE IT. I finally made it. It was a great 10 years – long live, my first love! I’ll forever be cheerleader from head to toe. Here’s to the new chapter of my life and to the new things ahead of me.” Gel concludes.
I say cheers to that.