A breath of fresh air kisses Tina Salak as she steps out of the oven-hot gym.
Her face was red and her black Philippine Superliga (PSL) shirt was dripping wet following a grueling training with Korean coach Kim Kueng Un.
She checked on her things to get a towel and fresh shirt.
Finally, somebody said: Tina, just change your shirt and you’re good to go.
But Salak said while unleashing a giiggle: No, I need to take a shower. Alam mo naman, medyo sumo-shonda na. Baka sumakit na ang balakang kez. (You know, I’m already getting old. My hips might get painful).
It was just a playful banter, but deep inside Salak was serious.
Yes, Father Time is starting to catch her up.
She’s not getting any younger.
Her 39-year old knees are starting to betray her, transforming her from being the country’s queen of playmaking into that small voice who delivers the golden nuggets of wisdom from the bench.
Tina Salak – once the country’s best setter – is ready to quit.
Bracing for retirement
Salak’s volleyball journey is such a feel-good story.
She was a varsity at Far Eastern University (FEU) when Philippine Amateur Volleyball Association (Pava) secretary-general Ramon Suzara and coaches Emiliano Lontoc and Sammy Acaylar recruited her to be part of the national team.
Together with Cherry Macatangay, Rosemarie Prochina, Bernadette Burcelis, Natalie Cruz and Nene Ybanez-Chavez, Salak won the silver medal in the 1995 Southeast Asian Games in Chiang Mai. She played as middle spiker with Leonora Escollante mapping up the plays.
Her last stint with the Nationals was in 2005 when they won the bronze medal in the Manila SEA Games.
Aside from that, Salak also saw action in the V-League and the Superliga, where she led Philippine Army to three straight titles before winning the Invitational Conference few months ago over a stunned Thailand junior national women’s team.
So yes, there’s already a ton of mileage on her ageing knees.
She said she wants to go down as a winner and walk away while still lurking on top.
“I don’t want to give them (Philippine Army) an ugly exit. I started it so I will finish it.
Not yet goodbye
But Salak’s absence will be hardly felt.
She said she will take some FIVB coaching courses in a bid to join the staff of Lady Troopers coaches Kungfu Reyes and Rico de Guzman.
Sources also claimed that the PSL is offering her to become a head coach when a new team joins the league in the Grand Prix. But the plan remains cloudy as Salak is an active personnel of the Philippine Army, completely barring her from serving any company aside form the military.
“Even if I’m a former national team member and a volleyball player, I still have to undergo training. It’s not easy. I still have a lot of things to learn.”
Salak, then, excused herself, closed her eyes and savored the breath of fresh air, away from the oven-hot gym, away from the prying eyes of the screaming volleyball fans.
She needs it.
She’s been dominating the sport for more than two decades and she needs to do something new.
After all, she has nothing more to prove.
She’s ready to stroll the sunset while still lurking on top.
Because yes, old warriors never die; they just simply fade away.