It might have been destiny, or just plain good luck, that SEA Games water polo medalist Aljon Salonga got to where he is now. “Since grade school, mino-mold na ako ng dad ko to be a basketball player,” he says about his beginnings as an athlete. “I trained every day, and my dad was my coach. Naging varsity ako ng school namin, hanggang high school. Syempre, kapag freshman ka, fresh pa iyong tingin sa iyo. Maliit lang ang scholarship na ibibigay. Mas malaki naman sa swimming team, kasi kaunti lang ang players. To help my parents, I switched to swimming. Basketball was my favorite sport, and switching to the water was hard, but I had to do it for the scholarship.”
Even if this wasn’t exactly the career him and his dad had in mind for him, Aljon knew that he could still rely on his family to be a source of support. After all, he still had siblings who swam competitively, and he managed to finish high school and go on to study fine arts at the University of Santo Tomas through a swimming scholarship. It was there where things changed for the better in his career.
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“There was an interschool competition in 2011, and we needed a water polo team. My swimming team captain, Miggy Carandang, binuo nya ‘yung water polo team namin. First water polo team ng UST. I never heard of a sport that combined basketball, swimming, wrestling, or even judo! That was when I knew that water polo would be my passion.”
Everything seemed to move forward in his water polo career from there, and eventually Aljon was able to qualify for the national water polo team. Working as a team, however, is what Aljon says is one of the most difficult parts of water polo. “Isa lang ang bumigay sa inyo, madali nang makaka-goal ang kalaban. Kailangan, kung ano ‘yung play nyo, you stick with it. Once na magbago ‘yung play, maguguluhan na mga teammates mo.”
“Maintaining composure and knowing where to focus” is what Aljon and his teammates have realized as their key toward a win. This has definitely helped them through the 2019 SEA Games, where they garnered a silver medal, winning every match they had with the exception of one draw. “Malaking bagay ‘yan,” Aljon says about the experience. “Representing the country was my childhood dream, sobrang rewarding ‘yan para sa akin. Diyan pa lang, panalo na ako. Tapos nanalo ako ng medal, nag-podium ako? Bonus na lang.”
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Aljon and his teammates know to set their sights high, however: “Dapat nag-retire na ako, actually, pero sinabi sa akin ng teammates at coaches ko na ‘Ngayon pa ba tayo titigil kung kailan na tayo nasa taas?’ Konting polishing na lang, gold na ‘yan. Baka by next year sa Vietnam, doon kami makaka-gold. After that, ‘yun na ‘yung last ko, gusto ko nang magtrabaho!”
Speaking of work, their win in the SEA Games and the time they’ve spent in the limelight has afforded Aljon a world of opportunities, allowing him to do commercials and interviews “para makilala ang water polo through me.” After he trains in the mornings, Aljon also works as a swim team coach in his hometown of Las Piñas, but the options seem limitless to him now. After retiring from sports, he’s hoping to “maybe become a fulltime coach, or an art teacher, or an actor, or whatever!”—he says, laughing.
On the experience of being an athlete, Aljon has this to say: “Sobrang laki ng impact (ng sports) sa buhay ko. Binago nya ang buhay ko. Kung wala ‘yung sports, wala ako rito ngayon.”
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On Aljon: Top and shorts, both adidas; jacket, All Star at SM
Produced by Camille Santiago | Photography by Vyn Radovan | Grooming by Muriel Vega Perez and Team MVP | Hair by Francis Guintu of Aveda Philippines | Styling by Aldrin Ramos. Acknowledgements WeWork Philippines, Aveda, and Teriyaki Boy | Shot on location at WeWork Philippines, Menarco Tower, BGC