How volleyball once saved the lives of this ex-UE Lady Warrior and her baby
Barry Viloria on Jan 13, 2017 11:03 PM
Leuseht Dawis—former UAAP player and Alyssa Valdez’ batchmate on the 2008 RP Youth Team—shares how the sport has defined and continues to define her life. (Photos courtesy of Dawis-Magno)
Some saw it as a cliché—a college student with a seemingly bright future ahead of her getting pregnant courtesy of her jock of a boyfriend. The year was 2010, and the subject was an ex-UAAP student-athlete. Only an 18-year-old sophomore then, former UE Lady Warrior Maria Leuseht Dawis found out she was carrying a child on her sixth month of pregnancy. She had the shocker of her life, with the immediate people around her including then UE coach Vangie de Jesus naturally expressing disappointment at first. Fast-forward to a month after giving birth to a baby girl, Dawis whooshed back to training. The volleybelle might as well be remembered best as one of the first—and the youngest—“mamathletes” while still playing in the league.
If you put it that way, Dawis—now 24, married to then CEU Scorpions player Jerico Magno with whom she also later bore a second child—and her story might come out as a tired tale. But, obviously, there was more than met the eye.
The ‘stay-at-home’ mom
Six years after, Dawis-Magno reveals a slightly fuller look on her, which she self-deprecatingly points out every time while blaming it on being a stagnant, stay-at-home mom. The rest of her hasn’t changed, though. Her Chinky features and defined cheekbones still leave anyone who recently comes across her with the knowledge, that, yes, she used to be one of Recto’s most celebrated varsity stunners. It's been a long time, but the athlete's jokes are still perfectly timed, and her politeness is as felt as before.
“Hindi naman po nawala yun!” Dawis-Magno says, a cry of a baby piercing through our phone conversation.
The cry in the background is from her second child, Maria Natallie, a year old now. She had her in December 2015, five years after her firstborn Airam Cejuel. (If you’re curious about the strange name, the first is the subject's first name “Maria” spelled backwards, and “Cejuel” is a combination of her and Magno’s first names, also in reverse. “Leuseht” shares the same story, also her parents’ experiment.)
Although, Dawis-Magno has yet to finish her Hotel and Restaurant Management course. She is presently on leave at UE because of motherhood, which she says she is experiencing only for the first time. It was her own mother who took on the job at the time with Airam Cejuel, as she had to return to her UAAP career right away. That, and “kasi gusto kong magpapayat ulit at maging batak—which is di na nga nabalik!” she says with a laugh.
This is Dawis-Magno now. From Monday to Friday, she, her husband (the two finally married one and a half years ago), and the two girls stay in at her mom’s in Sta. Mesa, Manila. On the weekend, she and her family are at in-laws in Cainta, Rizal.
Dawis-Magno used up her playing years in the UAAP, her last during the 77th season. She was in and out of the collegiate league for technicalities—it was either because she took a semester light in units or that she also played in the PSL. Since 2012 that stretched to a 58-game losing streak until their only win last season, UE hasn’t at all enjoyed an impressive ranking in UAAP women’s volleyball. Its last final four appearance happened even before Dawis-Magno came on board.
Still, she was one of the team’s heroines in her playing years, even becoming one of the Lady Warriors’ top scorers. She was a prized athlete, considering she was part of the Francis Vicente-coached 2008 RP Youth Team along with now-certified volleyball stars Alyssa Valdez, Kim Fajardo, and Dindin Santiago.
When Dawis-Magno found out she had to temporarily stop school because of motherhood, she never let it drag her down. Instead, she took things in with an unmatched optimism. She recalls her teammates being supportive about keeping her child, “’Wag kang mag-alala, nauna ka lang naman sa min!’ Sabi din nila na, ‘Pagdadaanan mo talaga yan, mga babae tayo.”
“Kasi baka kung ano mangyari ‘pag dinamdam ko pa, eh,” she says of dusting herself off that time. “Sabi ko, ‘Blessing to! Binigay ni God para sakin, kasi nararapat para sakin na bigyan kasi magiging mabuti nanay daw ako.”
“Charot!” she follows immediately.
What people didn't know much was that her sensitive pregnancy almost cost her and her first baby’s lives. That time, she had contracted a severe case of dengue fever to force her into C-section.
“Di na nila nakakapa yung heartbeat ng baby,” she narrates on what happened before the operation.
Thankfully, she and her baby survived. She remembers getting confined together with another dengue-inflicted, would-be mother, only to find out later that that woman and her baby both didn’t make it. Dawis-Magno’s memory then wasn’t as vivid because of the anesthesia and stress, but the horrible news of the other mom still rings vividly in her ears until today.
“Dahil sa volleyball talaga, kung bakit ako nagkalakas sa pagbubuntis ko. Sabi ng OB ko noon, ‘Pasalamat tayo kasi athlete sya at kinaya ng katawan nya.’”
“Kaya blessing na din para sakin ang volleyball kasi paano kung mahina ako? Sabi ko nalang sa asawa ko (na atleta din), ‘Kahit papano, may lakas tayong pinagkunan.”
The #blessed mom
Dawis-Magno played for PLDT, Cagayan, and then for Philips Gold in the PSL. Her last competitive match was in May 2015, and thereafter she would stop to give birth to her second daughter. Similar to her first, a bun in the oven came as a surprise to her and her husband so much so they had already given Airam’s old clothes away. Dawis-Magno left no hand-me-down stuff except for her panganay's crib, to be reused some years later.
This time, however, Dawis-Magno had to quit everything else to be a full-time mom. For her own good and in contrast to the situation before, her own mother had to let go a little “para daw maranasan ko yung di ko naransan dati. Kasi yung unang anak ko, never ko talagang naalagan nung batang-bata pa. Di ko na sya katabi matulog pagkasilang dahil balik-training ako agad.”
She now knows how it feels like to be a real mom, she says. “Ngayon, super hands-on ako sa second baby ko. Puyat ka lagi kasi kelangan mo magpatulog nang madaling araw. Alam nyo po ba na buwan-buwan, nag-iiba ang tulog ng bata? May buwan na sa umaga sya gising at sa gabi tulog. Meron namang baliktad.”
But she isn’t alone in this continuing journey, never failing to mention her breadwinner husband who is an account administration assistant at PLDT. (It’s also where her father works.) She states how “blessed—as in!” she is with Magno, who also makes an effort to assist his wife in her domestic duties if he's at home. In addition, Dawis-Magno says that both sides in the extended family are as “supportive” of their now-growing family.
“Kaya madaling nawawala yung pagod,” she declares. “Alam nyo po ba na after training, pag nakikita mo yung anak mo at asawa mo tapos sabay-sabay kayo matutulog sa gabi, talagang nawawala lahat? Parang di kayo pagod.”
The aspiring restaurateur
Dawis-Magno now hopes to finish tertiary school soon. Around eight subjects spread out over three semesters left, and she’s good to go, she says.
“I’m planning to take summer classes,” she opens up, excitedly. “Gusto ko po talagang maging pastry chef, kasi kaunti lang po na pastry chef nating babae. Sabi ko sa asawa ko, ‘Pag malaki na sahod mo, pwede tayuan mo ako ng coffee shop or bakery?’ Yun talaga gusto ko, eh! O kaya naman, restaurant! Sayang naman kasi pinag-aralan ko kung di ko magagamit.”
In fact, one of Dawis-Magno’s professors already pitched in the idea of her doing her internship at a hotel either in the States or in Thailand. It will take around six months—“sayang kasi experience din sya, at sabi ng prof ko, dun sa iba pang bansa, makaka-experience ka nang literal na di mo ma-e-experience dito satin. (Gaya ng) dun mo mararanasan yung mabubulyawan ka.”
“Ang pinakakalaban mo nga lang ay ang pagiging homesick,” she says, adding that her parents and husband are both against the idea. “Sabi nga ng asawa ko, ‘Dito ka nalang. Tyatyagain kitang sunduin kahit araw-araw.”
Para sa aking mahal na asawa kahit na tapos na ✌️ MALIGAYANG KAARAWAN 🎂🎁😘🎉🍻 wag nang masyadong makezong salita😂💪 basta lagi mo tatandaan na andito lang ako pati ang mga bata para sayo! Kahit ang tigas ng ulo mo! ✌️🤗 manangmana nga ang mga bata sayo! 😇😹😹😹 I LOVE YOU @jec.magno29 #teamdawismagno #cejuelnatallie #airamaria #myeverything #superdaddy #birthdayboy🎉
The volleyball player
With many things on her plate, Dawis-Magno still considers volleyball as a prospective career. If a semipro offer is up, “Bakit naman hindi?” she says, stressing her being a former student-athlete made her a degree-holder in time management. She had already trained with Pocari Sweat Lady Warriors (her former team, the Philips Gold Lady Slammers, rebranded). Right now, though, life as a mother has limited her to the household.
“Yung galaw-atleta ko nung wala pang baby, iba na talaga compared sa ngayon. ‘Tapos, nagka-pangalawang baby pa ko. Naging iba na build ng katawan ko,” she explains. “Mahirap na magbawas (ng weight). Taon din kasi ko natengga.”
Still, nothing’s stopping the always-cheerful Dawis-Magno. Against those cliché stories of students quitting school because of an unexpected pregnancy and then losing faith and confidence in themselves right after, this lady is a true warrior who—despite everything, and not without a dose of positivity and an unwavering sense of humor—perseveres.
“Ngayon, ang practice ko lang ay sa kalye. Nakikilaro ako sa mga bakla. Malimit lang po ang mga babae dito!” she says, laughing.
“Gusto ko pa ding mag-volleyball hangga’t kaya ko, hangga’t di sinasabi ng asawa ko na tumigil na ako at magpahinga. Pag passion mo kasi talaga, hahanap-hanapin mo. Ngayong di ka na naglalaro sa UAAP, PSL, or Shakey’s, magyayaya ka pa din na sumali sa mga laro kung saan-saan. Walang makakapigil sayo.”