By Rick Olivares
SHE’S slumped across a cushioned seat inside Starbucks at the Rockwell Business Center. She’s organizing her notes and a fissure of a brow knots itself across her forehead. Tough day at school?
I enter and her face lights up. Well, not in the way her face does when she sees her boyfriend. Let’s just put it this way… Denden Lazaro, freshman at the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health, is grateful for the break.
“It’s tough,” she states the obvious of life in med school. “I have four-hour classes in the morning; another four in the afternoon. I only have a one-hour break in between classes. Obviously kulang ‘yun sa akin but ganyan talaga. Then I have to study at night.”
It takes some getting used to when seeing her in her white school uniform, which clearly marks her as a med student, instead of the jersey of the Ateneo Lady Eagles. “Well, at least I still wear rubber shoes,” she points out.
My eye spots the name plate on her white school uniform. It reads: “Dennise Michelle G. Lazaro. Class of 2020.”
Her eyes squint at the thought of the long, long road she still needs to travel. “Four more years to go,” she says under her breath.
Yet, like her Lady Eagles were three years ago when they climbed up that stepladder on the way to Ateneo’s first women’s University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) volleyball title, she reverses the tide. “School can be fun and at times not fun at all. But if you put things in perspective, you’re doing this to help save someone’s life.”
Her first few months in med school were a break-in. Refreshers from stuff she took up in college. Nothing too hectic. “Then bam!” she emphasizes with her small fists banging the table. “It got heavier along the way. Pahirap ng pahirap. Ang hirap talaga. Isang buong libro aralin niyo sa dalawang linggo.”
Denden continues her description of life as a frosh. “People said that when I got to med school, I’d have no life. Zero. You know—all-nighters with an hour of sleep before an exam. Except I don’t stay up until early morning. Usually, around 11 in the evening, I start to get sleepy. By 12, I’m in bed. Hindi ako nagpupuyat up to 3 a.m. Mga classmates ko sleep for one or two hours. Ako? I sleep. Surprisingly, pumapasa ako. That works for me. Ayoko rin pagurin sarili ko because I might fall asleep when I should be awake.”
Yet, she did fall asleep one time. An embarrassing moment for her if there was ever one.
“One time, I fell asleep during a test,” she recounts while unable to hold back her laughter at the memory. “As in I was really asleep. As in tumutulo pa laway ko while asleep. And I went ‘Oh, my God! I fell asleep!’ And I wasn’t even halfway done through the exam. But luckily, I passed it.”
“My technique is—I listen in class. I pay close attention to what the professor says then I do supplemental reading. When I come across something, I’ll go, ‘Ah, this is what was discussed in class.’”
Spoken like a true libero who receives and digs booming spikes with ease.
So far, she’s doing well in school even if she tries to cling on to a previous life as a college student-athlete. “School can be tough and really hectic, but I find the time to go out with my boyfriend, chill, go to the games or the mall. Bilib nga ako sa mga ka-batch ko kasi nasisingit pa nila mga party and lakad nila. I hear from other people na wala ka nang buhay when you’re in med school because the pace is fast. You have to keep up or you’ll be left behind. But finding ‘me time’ is important. It keeps me sane.”
She admits to missing volleyball. “That’s an understatement,” she interjects.
“I do a little panel work for ABS-CBN [as an analyst for UAAP volleyball matches]. It’s fun but it’s different. I miss the game. When I know Ateneo has a game, I try to remember what I would do. What if maglalaro pa rin ako? How would I be today? How would I visualize the game? I think, ‘Oh, this is the time when I am riding on the team bus. This is when I start to stretch. This is when I run to the court and I hear the drums and my heart starts to beat fast.’”
“Then I realize it is not part of my system anymore.”
“Life is very different now. And I realize that I won’t experience that same feeling again.”
After Jia Morado dropped a shot for championship point last season, Lazaro’s first thought was, “Champions na kami.” It didn’t sink in that it was her last game. At least not yet. “I knew it was over but it took a couple of months for that to sink in. I asked Ella [de Jesus] if she felt the same way. And yes, it also took a while for her to get used to it.”
“Actually mas lalo na ngayon ko na-realize na I am done. Because I am not on the court. I am now a spectator, if not a part of the broadcast panel. I tell you, mas nakakakaba watching than playing. It’s so different.”
As much as she misses the game, Denden knows all too well that good things do come to an end and it’s time for the next stage of the journey.
In the halls of the ASMPH, she’s just a face in the crowd.
Most of the student body don’t really follow sports. Her classmates used to get shocked when people would ask for pictures. “Ganyan pala buhay mo dati,” she recounts some of the comments of her life as an Ateneo Lady Eagle. A very popular one. “Meron pa mga comments, ‘Sino ba mga ’yan? Bakit sila nagpapakuha ng picture.’”
“Some of my batchmates natatawa na lang when people ask to have their pictures taken with me. They would sometimes stop it and say, ‘Quota ka na sa pictures’ or ‘Next time maniningil na kami ng bayad sa mga nagpapakuha kasi sobra na.’ It’s flattering that they look out for me. But in school, most of the people here don’t really follow sports so I am just a face in the crowd.”
“’Yung iba they saw a picture of me of a time when I was in Chowking with chocolate between my teeth. It’s not a good introduction to get to know me [laughs] but it’s all right. It’s nice to not call attention to myself.”
We’re wrapping up what turned out to be an hour and a half of catching up and swapping stories (as she still has class and I have to go to another interview for an altogether different story).
Over at the table across us, a group of seven just sat down. They’re looking at Denden. One of them wonders,”Di ba sa Lady Eagles siya?”
One other, not sure at all at first then says. “Hindi siguro. Naka-attire ng doctor, eh.”
The second act of Denden Lazaro’s life is just beginning.