LONDON -- The Philippine memory team recently brought glory to the nation after claiming bronze at the 2012 World Memory Championships (WMC) held in London.
But it was an expensive victory.
The 11-member contingent received little financial backing for the annual three-day tournament, which ran from December 14-16 at a school in Vauxhall.
Save for a few private donations in the Philippines before the competition, a big chunk of the expenses for the trip to Europe was paid for by the competitors themselves, leaving them out of pocket, or in debt.
Help from Filipino community
Raising enough to fly to the United Kingdom was a challenge, but once they arrived, the Philippine memory team faced new obstacles -- accommodation and food.
Luckily for them, they had friends within the Filipino community in London who offered to help.
These included restaurateurs Ven and Ofelia Bermudez of Kusinang Munti; Roger Padilla Ferriol, president of the Mitcham Filipino British Association; and Lito Famy, president of the Caviteño UK Association.
"Masaya po kami kase, kahit papano, kahit yung fund po namin kulang, may mga Pilipino pa rin na sumuporta sa amin dito. ‘Yung sa accommodation, yung sa mga kain, nakatulong po," said Mark Anthony Castañeda, who finished 10th in the overall individual standings.
"Dito po sa London, nagpapasalamat po sa Pilipino community, na pinatuloy po tayo sa kanilang bahay," added team captain Almario Marlon Bernadino Jr.
Tessie Lambunao, the mother of the youngest member of the Philippine team, 11-year old Jamyla Domingo Lambunao, told ABS-CBN Europe about the kindness of one Pinay named Bernadette whom they met while sightseeing at Trafalgar Square.
"She kept going to our place, giving us lunch, chocolates, everything, up to the final day of the competition, and we were very, very glad," Tessie Lambunao said.
Famy housed four team members, as well as the parents of Lambunao, at a vacant flat near Edgware Road, London, for two nights.
Although happy to help, Famy was slightly surprised the team had to fund almost everything themselves.
"I think it's very unfortunate that the Philippine government or the officials are not so energetic in helping these types of endeavors," he commented.
3rd place without key player
The Filipinos, consisting of six males and five females, beat around 70 competitors from 24 other countries to place third overall in the team rankings.
This, despite the absence of one of their strongest members, Johann Randall Abrina, who was the 2011 WMC bronze medalist in the Historic and Future Dates category.
Abrina could not afford the trip, but if he were present things may have been different.
"Kung nakasama si Johann Abrina, I think silver nakakuha natin," explained Bernardino.
Without Abrina, the Philippines still managed to rake in nine medals, including the bronze awarded for the team performance.
Youngest bags seven
Seven of those accolades came via Lambunao of Marikina, who competed in the kids age group, which had four competitors this year.
Lambunao claimed gold in two events; one of which was Hour Cards, where she memorized the order of seven decks of playing cards (364) in an hour.
The child was proud of herself and the team's achievement at this year's WMC meet, which was attended by nations like the US, China, Germany, Sweden, Indonesia, India and Australia.
"It's one of the first time for the Philippines to have a gold and I'm one of the contributors to that gold."
The only other gold for the Philippines was clinched by Castañeda in the Spoken Numbers discipline where he memorized 193 random digits in 15 minutes.
Despite that, Lambunao felt she could have performed better. "In Hour Numbers I got just 140 numbers, but in practice I can memorize 500 plus, so it's a big difference," she said.
She revealed that she also struggled with the cold climate and time difference.
Lambunao's parents Jimmy and Tessie enrolled Jamyla in memory classes last summer to help with her studies.
"Tinutulungan siyempre sa school kase may tendency kung minsan na tamad," Tessie Lambunao said.
"Medyo tamad mag-aral, pero definitely, malaking development sa kanya 'yung pagsali sa memory team," she added.
Asked how it felt to be a role model for other children, she beamed: "Great, because dati I just admired kids, but now I'm the one admired."
Help to top the world
Since their first WMC competition in 2010, the Philippine memory team has grown in size and strength.
Last year they won silver at the WMC in Guangzhou, China, while in July, the team swept 10 golds at the Thailand International Open Memory Championships.
Roberto Racasa, who founded the Philippine memory team in 2008 and coaches its members, believes financial backing from the government or companies from the private sector will help them rapidly improve.
"If that happens we will become much fiercer, much more prepared, the system will be smooth and flawless and the execution will be great," Racasa said.
"If we were given that support we will put the Philippines on top of everybody -- world champion," he confidently added.
Asked if the Philippines is far away from that, Castañeda replied: "If we have more practice, magagawa po namin. At saka 'yung support po na funds, kailangan po talaga 'yung malaking supporta ng government."
"I wish they support us because we always get an award, but in some sports they don't gain awards like in the Olympics," Lambunao said.
"Sana supportahan yung gantong sport kase hindi lang po nakatulong to para sa kabataan, para rin po sa lahat," Princess Grace Mendoza added.
Benefiting the nation
Memory games are not only touted as a useful tool for students to boost intelligence and creativity, they are also promoted as a way for the elderly to stave off diseases like Alzheimer's.
Racasa believes if more Pinoys get involved, it will help to make the country and its nationals more globally competitive.
The team also dispelled rumors that memory deteriorates with age, instead insisting it gets better if nurtured.
"To our beloved President, we do hope that you do help us in future competitions as well as in propagating this advocacy to our nation," Racasa said.
"Kung mapapanod po ni President PNoy Aquino 'yung nangyari dito po sa London, sana supportahan 'yung atleta dahil dito po sa Memory Games, hindi po lang sa i-sports, ano po bang matutulong sa community nito," said team captain Bernardino.
"It's a great challenge for us to promote a mentally equipped society. That's why I think we need to promote a learning strategy or a brain activity that will somehow enhance the mind of the Filipino people," added Christopher Carandang, 39, the oldest member of the team.
The man from Laguna memorized 1,000 digits in an hour at the 2012 WMC.
The team acknowledges that memory games may not be a spectator sport, but they are hopeful awareness has been raised and that more Pinoys will rally behind them.
While most of the Philippine memory team has already returned home, team member Cristine Barao has remained in London as she is planning to compete at the Welsh Open Memory Championships in South Wales in March, 2013.