It hasn’t even been two years since she first held a rugby ball, but SEA Games women’s rugby silver medalist Happy Denuyo admits her motivation to join was nothing related to the actual sport. “I just started roughly around April 2018 and I was broken-hearted during that time kasi, then someone invited me to play rugby kasi nag-sa-scout ng players yung HMR Eagles. I thought it was the type of thing na may allowance and babayaran ka, ganyan,” she recalls. Happy kept training with the team until she ended up joining the squad in a tournament in Singapore after less than two months. “Dahil dun, nabigyan ako ng chance maglaro so I thought I’d pursue it already. Then they also gave me the chance to play for the Asian trophy in October where we got silver. Nabuhayan yung loob ko na mag-stick na ako dito. Kaya last year, medyo na-ge-gets ko na maglaro nung game, yung pagiging athlete nabuksan siya ulit. Siguro mas adventurous lang ako, tina-try ko yung mga extreme sports kaya nag-stick ako sa rugby and I fell in love with it,” she adds.
[related: In Focus: SEA Games Medalist Timothy Berry—Fil-Brit Hotshot Out To Push Rugby To Renown]
A graduate of Sports Science from the University of Santo Tomas, Happy admits that sports had always been a part of her life since she was growing up in Cagayan De Oro. “Nag-start ako, bata pa lang ako sa track and field. Marami akong sport nung bata ako pero ayaw ng mom ko na mag-track ako kasi iitim (ako). So pagdating ko ng high school sabi nya, ‘Huwag ka na mag-track and field.' Nag-try ako ng ibang sports sa Cagayan de Oro. Nag-give up na yung mom ko. Sabi nya, ‘Okay, ituloy mo yan. Maghanap tayo ng mag-te-train sayo.’ Hanggang sa mag Palarong Bansa ako nung third year high school. Dun ko naisip na gusto ko mag-Manila kasi nung time na 'yun maraming nag-re-recruit na mga Manila schools. Nung fourth year ako good thing nakapasok ako sa UST. That’s why ang nagpaaral sa akin nung buong college years was my athletics,” she explains.
Before her stint in the Philippine Volcanoes team earned her a silver medal during the SEA Games, Happy had already made her mark in track and field in college. "That was in 2014 talaga. 'Yun yung sinabi kong pinaka-peak years ko. Kasi during that time, we broke the UAAP record for 4x100m which has been unbeaten until now,” she shares.
Even with her current achievements in sports, the 24-year-old personal trainer says getting into rugby was a whole new world for her. “Actually, hindi ko talaga alam ano gagawin ko. Sa 15s kasi nung first time sa forwards nila ako nilagay as a lock. Ang instructions lang sa akin, pag nasa 'yo yung bola i-secure mo lang yung bola. Tapos at one point may konting insecurity kasi bagong player ako tapos binigyan nila ako ng chance tapos sinama nila ako sa core group. Parang naging pressure din on my part. Pero mabuti (yung) friends and family ko (naging) support group na rin and sinasabi na mag-focus ka lang sa kung ano ang pwede mo magawa, 'dun ka sa pwedeng ma-control mo which is yung speed mo. Kaya nandyan ka dahil sa speed mo. Huwag kang magpatalo,’” she shares.
Even the competition within the team was an added challenge for Happy, who still considers herself a newbie. “Marami kaming nag-tryout for the SEA Games. Umabot din ako sa punto na ayoko na mag-rugby nung na-injure ako last June sa 15s. I had a grade 1 in my AC ligament. Ayoko mag-tackle kasi ma-i-injure ko yung mga teammates ko. So medyo rough yung time na yun. Hanggang sa may dumating din na player from the US na malakas din, mabilis din. So siyempre natakot ako na mawala ako sa slot. When I opened that up to our coach, he told me na huwag kong isipin yun. Isipin ko dapat kung ano yung role ko. Just accept na mas magaling sya sayo, mas mabilis sya sayo, mas mahaba yung experience nya eh. So you just have to accept that. What you can control now is to work on yourself. You have to be mentally strong,” she shares.
[related: In Focus: SEA Games Medalist Harry Morris—The Brainy Brawn Behind The Rise Of Pinoy Rugby]
Happy admits one of her proudest moments during the SEA Games, when she flew her family all the way from Cagayan De Oro just to watch her play rugby live for the very first time. “Gusto ko yung family ko makanuod. Nakabili na kami ng ticket for them kasi mahal pag hindi ka bumili nang maaga. December 2 lang namin nalaman yung final lineup. So, ako nakabili na akong ticket for them pero hindi pa ako sure (kung kasali ako sa team) kasi wala pang official announcement. Pero inisip ko, ‘Sige, gagalingan ko sa training camp at sa mga selection. Ayokong ma-injured.’ Kasi na-o-overuse na eh. Ayoko ma-injure sa training camp. Kailangan ko makinig sa katawan ko na, 'Stay, stay, stay.' Nakapanuod yung two of my brothers. My mom also watched. Yung mom ko kasi supportive sya ever since kasi marami kaming sports,” she says.
Her family-oriented nature was also a big factor in why she loves being part of the national team. “They’re like family. What I love about rugby and the team is yung chemistry and (that) they got your back. I came from an individual sport so all I think about is myself. It’s really different. Ngayon that I’m in a team sport, ang nagustuhan ko kasi dito, pag nagkamali ako, andun sila agad. Sa ibang sport dina-down ka nila imbis na i-lift up ka nila. But here they all got my back,” she explains.
Aside from renewing her love for sports, Happy also admits that rugby helped change her life in other ways as well. “Actually, akala ko hindi ako magkaka-boyfriend kasi na-i-intimidate dahil sporty ako! But because of rugby, nag-widen yung perspective ko sa world in terms sa pagpili ng guys at lumawak in a sense na gusto ko mag-dream big na huwag muna mag-asawa at this early age. If not because of rugby, I wouldn’t be this ambitious. I wouldn’t be this hungry for something else in life. My dad is working overseas. My mom is home. After I graduated, plano ko na bumalik sa CDO kasi gusto ko i-share dun yung knowledge ko sa Sports Science kasi sobrang kawawa pa yung sa province eh. Hindi pa ganun ka-progressive. Hindi na nga ganun ka-updated yung Philippines, how much more dun sa provinces. Now I have a full-time job at the Philippine Sports Commission. I work there as a performance specialist. I’m also a personal trainer so nag-fri-freelance ako sa isang gym, Kinetics Lab. Pag free time ko, nag me-me time ako. Pero after nung SEA Games umuwi talaga ako sa province to spend time with my family,” she shares.
Now heartbroken no more, Happy proves life can bring her the best surprises in the most unexpected of times and the Philippine Women’s Rugby team is all more better because of it.
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On Happy: Sports bra and leggings, Fila 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 | Acknowledgments WeWork Philippines, Aveda, and Teriyaki Boy | Shot on location at WeWork Philippines, Menarco Tower, BGC