Meet Pro Pinoy Surfer Roger Casugay And Read About How He Saved A Life
The SEA Games gold medalist was awarded the Pierre de Coubertin Act of Fair Play Award this year, the first ever for a Filipino athlete
When a six-year-old Roger Casugay first started taking to the waves with a child-sized surfboard in hand, his day's biggest accomplishments were finding his balance on the water, keeping his eyes on the horizon instead of his feet. Who would have thought that there would be such rich symbolism and foreshadowing in his earliest days of training?
With his gaze forward and focused on the unlimited possibilities that lay head, 20 years later, he would become the pride of the Philippines at 2019 SEA Games surfing competition not just for his athletic prowess, but his heroism, too.
He made it big at the Southeast Asian competition's men's longboard games. But the medal he came home with is just half of the story.
With the lead spot obviously his throughout the competition, Roger, without a second thought, broke his focus on himself the moment he learned that his Indonesian competitor had been overwhelmed by the La Union waves he had grown up conquering. Never mind the gold, Roger thought. A human life will always weigh more than gold. He then changed course and swam to the man that just a few minutes ago was his top contender and in a matter of a few swift seconds, saved Nurhidayat, the Indonesian athlete from what could have otherwise been a tragic demise.
Rescuing his fellow surfer, Roger sacrificed his hard-earned spot at the top, and instead gently surfed back to shore, sharing his board with the man whose life he saved.
He was hailed a hero.
The day's competition was cancelled to reassess safety measures put in place for surfers.
When it resumed, Roger recreated his magic, and to one's surprise and just as destiny would have it, the 26-year-old went on to win gold, cementing his place in Philippine sports history while representing the true heart of a Filipino sportsman.
"Sobrang saya [ko] dahil sa higit 20 years akong nagsumikap upang makamtan ang aking mga pangarap," Roger says about his feat.
The competition ended with a bang louder than the crashing waves that revealed who Roger truly was.
Months after the day that transformed his life, Roger looks back at the experience and says it never really was about the competition for him despite having trained for it day in and day out, rain or shine, however tired he was. It was about the meaningful connections he'd made with those who share the same passion for the sport.
"Ang importante [diyan] ay hindi lahat ng kompetisyon ay kailangan mo mapanalunan. Ang natutunan ko doon ang ay kung gaano katatag ang aming pagkakaibigan," he says.
It's an important lesson for any athlete regardless of their level of skill or intent to compete professionally. Coming out the winner is great, no doubt, and it's well-deserved for those who put their heart and soul in their preparations. But winning is never everything, it rarely ever is. It is devoid of meaning if athletes fail to pair it with the other side of the coin: camaraderie.
Strangely enough, don't make the mistake of calling Roger a hero. He shies away from the title.
He says it was simply the right thing to do, nothing more, nothing less.
But there were other people who disagree with him. The International Fair Play Committee, in particular, deemed Roger worthy of much more than the big dinner celebration thrown for him by friends and family on the evening he became a champ.
In August, a surprise came knocking on Roger's door. The committee had something in store for him—an invitation.
It was an invitation to accept the Pierre de Coubertin Act of Fair Play Award, the first for any Filipino athlete in any sport. The award recognizes athletes who, during a competition, voluntarily disrupt their own performance for the sake of saving or helping a fellow competitor.
"Hindi ko po inaasahan ang award na ito at malaki po itong karangalan," Roger says.
Depending on the state of international travel and the improvement of the global health crisis in the following weeks, Roger may fly to Monaco this October to receive the award himself.
Right now, he's simply overwhelmed with joy about the one-of-a-kind achievement. Eight months after his golden win, he would never predicted that something bigger was coming his way. He also got engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Lisa Verweij, as the sweetest cherry on the cake.
It's been a wonderful year for Roger, no doubt, but it doesn't end here.
That horizon he locked his eyes on all those years back, it's endless. And so are his dreams for himself.
"Ako ay simpleng tao lang na naghirap sa mga panahon ng pag-iinsayo. At ngayon ay natupad ang aking mga pangarap. Sana ay malayo pa ang aking mararating," he tells us.
Roger—with Lisa and their beloved pooches—continues to train. He takes breaks more often but only because of COVID-imposed limitations, but that is certainly not to say that he's resting on his laurels.
Competitions will resume sometime in the future and Roger definitely wants to be at the top of his game the moment that happens. But other than plan for himself, he also thinks of the legacy he can leave behind. He has a few, but nonetheless important, words for young surfers hoping to take the same path he did: first, study well and finish school. And in the midst of that, train, train, train, train, and train some more.
There are no shortcuts to this, no shirking responsibilities.
If you want it, you have to earn it. And if you're unwilling to work for it, consider a different career path because it's genuine effort that gets you to the deep end where the most magnificent waves are waiting; otherwise, you remain on the shore and there you will stay.
Roger knows that more eyes are on him these days. It doesn't fuel the pomp but instead makes him all the more humble.
There's a message that Roger wants to leave us with before we part ways and he returns to his oceanic home: "Ang mga atletang Pinoy ay never na sumuko."
And that rings true for competitions big and small, training days, days when they come in second, third, or don't make it at all. Or yes, even when there's a pandemic that's forcing all surfers to hit pause on their dreams.
Like he did all those years ago, Roger keeps his balance not only his board, but in life, too.
Photos from @roger_casugay