Athlete Revisited: Mika Esperanza, former volleyball champ and now licensed physician

Now a newly licensed physician, Dr. Mika Esperanza recalls her UAAP volleyball career.

The life of a student athlete is a trying endeavor of juggling two vastly different aspects of school. In order to ace the tests and to pile up the wins, both constantly depend on countless hours of preparation poured over in two distinct ways. This becomes a different challenge altogether when the career path chosen is a very demanding one, especially medicine.

This was the case for former DLSU Lady Spiker and former Women’s Volleyball Rookie of the Year (ROY) Dr. Mika Esperanza. With her recent passing of the Physician Licensure Examination (PLE) in September, she shares how her experiences as a volleyball player has impacted her journey as a medical student.

A two-fold endeavor

Despite her love for and commitment to volleyball, Esperanza has always put her ambitions to be a doctor at the forefront of her priorities. She explains, “I’ve always wanted to be a doctor since I was like six or seven years old. Tapos, ang volleyball kasi parang by chance since my two older sisters were playing and they sort of invited me. I fell in love with the game until college and even after that.”

However, the former champion setter attributes many of the life skills and lessons she has achieved to her experiences in the sport. She expounds, “Laking tulong actually ‘yung pagiging athlete kasi it builds your discipline. You really have to manage your time and you always have to balance both. Hindi pwedeng may ma-sacrifice. So, ‘yun, nadala ko ‘yun until medical school since ‘yung disiplina na kailangan mo to do well in school, nandun na.

(Being an athlete was actually a big help because it builds your discipline. You can neither sacrifice academics nor sports. I carried this until medical school since the discipline to do well in school was already there.)

Esperanza also claims that one of the important lessons that she absorbed from her volleyball career and applied to her medical studies was the value of teamwork. She notes that having been taught to be a team player in volleyball has instilled in her the same sentiment in her professional career.

In addition, she discloses she also grew to realize the importance of perseverance to succeed in every facet of life. She advises, “Hindi naman all the time mataas ang grades [mo] so may times talaga na hindi maganda. Ang na-instill sa‘yo as a player or as an athlete na kailangan mo laging bumawi at hindi pwedeng [you’ll remain stuck] on the ground.” Whether it be during games or examinations, she pushes that “you always have to get up and bawi” in the next opportunity that may come.

(Your grades are not going to be high all the time. It was instilled in you as a player or as an athlete that you need to make up for it because it is unacceptable that you’ll remain stuck on the ground.)

Made under pressure

In choosing between the PLE or another possible second three-peat championship, the former ROY says she would stick to what she had decided on even before. Esperanza stresses that obtaining her medical license was harder to achieve compared to the three-peat they won for DLSU. She reasons that, in medical school, she could not share the burden of the pressure with anyone, not even with her friends. She mentions, “You won’t feel alone na kahit nandun ‘yung challenge and the pressure of achieving the three-peat [because] you can share that pressure with your teammates.”

(You won’t feel alone despite the challenge and the pressure of achieving the three-peat because you can share that pressure with your teammates.)

Looking back at her colorful career with the Lady Spikers, Esperanza played a crucial role in their three-peat run from Season 73 to 75. She won ROY in Season 73 and won four championships for the Green-and-White. But when asked what her most memorable experience was in representing DLSU, she confesses that it was her last playing year, “[My] last playing year [was] medyo emotional since we came from two consecutive [finals] losses. Medyo maraming nag-doubt if we can even [achieve] a podium finish.” 

(My last playing year was quite emotional since we came from two consecutive finals losses. A lot of people doubted if we can even achieve a podium finish.)

The Lady Spikers faced a lot of adversity after winning their second three-peat with Coach Ramil De Jesus in 2013; from Seasons 76 and 77, they lost in the Finals at the hands of their archrivals, the ADMU Lady Eagles. While there was a lot of doubt from fans, the Lady Spikers proved naysayers wrong by bagging the first championship of another three-peat from Season 78 to 80.

Rallying on

While her being a student athlete was a daunting task, De Jesus’ former decorated setter cannot help but feel victorious now that she is a licensed physician. Acknowledging that other student athletes are struggling to cope with balancing academic and athletic workloads, Esperanza reminds, “Don’t sacrifice one or the other. You really have to balance [both]…Hindi pwedeng athlete ka lang, hindi pwedeng student ka lang.”

(Don’t sacrifice one or the other. You really have to balance both…You can’t just be an athlete or just be a student.)

Medical school is undeniably tough, so having the right mindset will be critical in surviving. Esperanza shares that her being a student athlete prepared her to adjust to the challenges she had to face while preparing to be a physician. “Once [in] medical school, talagang medyo doon iikot ang buhay,” she confesses. The volleyball player-turned-doctor emphasizes that building one’s character and study habits as early as college will definitely help aspiring doctors in eventually adjusting to the pace of medical school.

(Once in medical school, it’s pretty much where your life revolves around.)

After her recent achievements in her professional career, she is unsure if she will return to play volleyball. Esperanza admits that she would have to stop playing after college to dedicate her time to medical school and eventually to her being a doctor. However, she cannot deny her still burning love for the game after playing two seasons in a semi professional league during a summer break. Now, she is not closing the door for a return, “It’s hard to let go [of] volleyball, I think kasi I’ve been playing the sport for almost two decades…I really can’t say na tapos na, but we’ll see.” 

(It’s hard to let go [of] volleyball, I think because I’ve been playing the sport for almost two decades…I really can’t say that it’s over, but we’ll see.)

Currently, the former La Salle champion is focused on applying for a residency training program, wanting to specialize in emergency medicine. In her career now as a physician, Esperanza seems to have solidified just how student athletes excel in more fields than one.

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