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Roger Casugay: Reluctant hero

His rescue of fellow competitor in SEA Games an example of surfers’ way of life
By: - Reporter / @junavINQ
/ 05:25 AM August 13, 2020
Roger Casugay

Roger Casugay. PHOTO BY WILLIE LOMIBAO

From the president of a foreign country to a prestigious international award-giving body, it seems like people can’t stop honoring Roger Casugay.

The thing is, he doesn’t believe the attention fits him.

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“I’m not a hero,” the 26-year-old Southeast Asian Games champion told the Inquirer on Wednesday.

Don’t tell that to Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who conveyed his appreciation to Casugay for rescuing Indonesian rival Arip Nurhidayat from tempestuous waves and nearly squandering his chances of winning a gold medal in last year’s SEA Games.

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Or to the Comite International du Fair-Play (International Fair Play Committee, or CIFP), which picked Casugay as this year’s Pierre de Coubertin Act of Fair Play awardee for putting the life of a rival ahead of a quest for personal glory.

Casugay has also been hailed locally in the country after his lifesaving act during the longboard competition in La Union made the headlines.

“To be honest, it was unexpected. This is a big honor for me,’’ Casugay said after learning of the fair play award.

There’s a reason why Casugay hardly thinks of himself as a hero. Helping people in trouble in the waters is practically second nature to surfers.

“Roger is a surfing instructor for a long time and it’s common for him and for the other surfers to help people who are trapped in a current,’’ said national team head coach Luke Landrigan, who owns the San Juan Surf School where Casugay has been working.

“In fact, an average of 20 people encounter problems with the big waves here every year,’’ Landrigan added.

Also, Casugay didn’t think Nurhidayat was really in trouble.

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“He’s a good swimmer. I just calmed him down,’’ said Casugay, whose Dutch girlfriend Lisa Verweij might join him during the CIFP awarding ceremony at Sportel Gala in Monaco on Oct. 27—if health restrictions permit.

Casugay eventually triumphed in his semifinal rematch with Nurhidayat and seized victory in the final event at the expense of compatriot Rogelio Esquievel, putting him alongside several athletes whose golden feats propelled the Philippines to the top of the biennial meet.

His next award, however, puts him in the company of esteemed legends in the world of sports, among them Pete Sampras (tennis), Wayne Gretzky (ice hockey), Sergey Bubka (athletics), Miguel Indurain (cycling) and Stefan Edberg (tennis). He is also the first Filipino to receive the award.

“This is an international award and I’m really happy and proud about it. I hope it can inspire more people,’’ Casugay said.

Jose Raul Canlas, United Philippine Surfing Association president, said Casugay’s achievement is considered one of the most prestigious awards in the field of sports and the world took notice when the Philippine SEA Games Organizing Committee, Singapore National Olympic Council and the International Surfing Association, among others, made mention of it.

Since 1965, the CIFP has been giving out the award annually to athletes who exemplified the values of fair play, with Italian bobsled competitor Eugenio Monti as the first recipient.

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