So I’m sitting in the semi-music studio of my Quezon City condo (which actually doubles as a game den) with fellow Fil-Am, Chris Newsome, working on a track. At 7:47pm my phone rings. It’s our team captain, “Jimmy Alapag”, as it appears on my iPhone. I step out into the hallway and swipe the screen to answer:
Me: Jim, what’s up, man?
Jimmy: What’s up, Kels? I don’t know if you heard already, but Ali got shot in the neck
from behind after a workout, not too long ago. I’m heading over to Medical
City right now.
Me: WHAT?! I’m on my way!
Knots were forming in my stomach, trying to take in what I had just heard. My family was sitting in front of me during the two-minute phone conversation with Jimmy. My wife could see something was obviously wrong. I tried to explain to her what happened. Eventually, I stammered out the fact that Ali Peek had been shot and that I had to leave immediately. After apologizing to Chris for the abrupt ending to our studio session, I grabbed my keys, asked my wife to start praying, and headed to the door. Not knowing why something like this would happen, I was overwhelmed with feelings of insecurity, vulnerability, and partial paranoia. As I made my way to the car, I peered over my shoulder at every turn, and every person I walked past seemed suspicious, even the guards at my own building.
I got into the driver’s seat, paused, took a deep breath, and started praying for my teammate; a teammate that just hours before was sitting with me and my bayaw, Lamont, casually chatting at practice. When I walked into the emergency wing of the hospital, I saw Jimmy and Coach Josh standing in the hallway, just outside where Ali was being attended to. Coach Chot was inside the room with him. Though a bit hesitant, I looked in through the glass window. The first thing I noticed was Ali’s blood-stained tank top as he sat upright in the hospital bed. With doctors and nurses hovering all around him, he looked up as I peeked in, then slowly raised his hand as if to say, “Don’t worry.” I stepped back and stood against the cold, white wall directly across from the window. I can hear Jimmy down the hall on his cell phone talking to Ali’s father, who is in the United States, explaining what had happened. The Talk N’ Text team all start to file into the hospital, along with many other PBA players and friends. Word got around fast, thanks to technology and, well, Twitter, and soon enough, almost every Fil-Am player from the PBA was at the ground level of Medical City’s ER section, waiting for an opportunity to lift their friend’s spirit.
By then, Ali had been reassigned to a new room and access to him was almost impossible, considering the severity of the situation. Only a handful of people would be allowed to see Ali. Among those were Jimmy, Jared, Harvey, and one of Ali’s closest friends, Don Allado. A few prayers and a Starbuck’s drink later, our team manager, Boss Aboy, informed us that our team would be allowed to pop in and see Ali before he goes in for an MRI. One by one, we all piled into his room and surrounded his bed. Ali, still in the upright position, shook everybody’s hand as we walked in. I remember thinking, “Wow, this guy just got shot in the neck two hours ago, but still has the presence of mind, class, and strength to shake all of our hands.” He even tried pushing out the words to explain the doctor’s procedures that were to follow but, fortunately, Attorney Paul stopped him mid-sentence and explained everything to us. The room was quiet after that. No one really knew what to say. What DO you say in situations like this? After a few minutes, some of the guys reiterated the fact that we were all here for him. Before we all said our see-you-later’s and made our way to the door, I felt led to pray for him right there as a team, just as we did earlier at practice when our teammate, Aaron Aban, tore his ACL. How much icing does a cake really need? Anyway, I believe that most, if not all of us, left the hospital with an impression, which hit too close to home that evening, that life is precious.
As Jimmy, Jared, and Don stayed behind, I drove home that night still in prayer but also still in ponder. All the why’s and what if’s crossed in and out of my mind faster than I could process them. I couldn’t begin to imagine what Ali was going through physically and emotionally or what his family felt when they received that call from Jimmy. I thought about my family, had that been me. I thought about all of the other players going in and out of Araneta Coliseum, Cuneta Astrodome, or out of town games, and how easily accessible players are, particularly, to anyone who may be holding a grudge towards them. Now I’ve been in the Philippines for seven years, and in those capacities I haven’t heard of anything happening more heinous than petty pick-pocketing. However, at that moment, my mind was spiraling down a slope of panic! So before walking into my home and possibly passing these fearful emotions on to my wife, I had to remind myself of a few things:
- The Lord is with me, so I’m certain of my eternity and that my family will be taken care of, regardless of what happens to me.
- I haven’t gotten this far in my life by living in fear.
- This situation could have been MUCH worse.
So I stopped worrying about the what if’s and started focusing on the fact that my friend was still alive. I had peace from thinking about the truth that God can take what the enemy intends for evil and use it for good (Genesis 50:20). I can attest to that, considering the life-threatening scare I went through a couple of years back (in-depth details in Rising Higher).
Practice the next day was weird. Ali is a big guy, so it was like an elephant all of a sudden NOT being in the
room. We needed to practice though, considering we had a game to play the next night. In the locker room before the game, Jimmy imparted to us that through everything that’s happened, Ali’s main concern was how the team was doing, how practice was, and for us to focus on the game. What a guy. It was mentally one of the toughest games I’ve played in and I’m sure it weighed as heavily on the rest of the team. Coach Chot understood that, so instead of knocking us over the head during a lackluster stretch of the game, he looked at us in a timeout and simply said, “How are you all going to face Ali later with this kind of performance?”
We squeaked through with a win but not before losing Ryan Reyes from what we’d later find out to be an MCL sprain. We gathered around Ryan after the buzzer sounded to pray for him as a team, just before they wheeled him away on the stretcher. From the coliseum, we reassembled at Medical City, now for Ali AND Ryan. As Ryan went in for his MRI, we all went up to visit Ali. Still in the upright position, he already seemed visibly much better, and his stories were as candid as usual. We also met his mother and sister, who had flown in just hours earlier. The strength and character that Ali has shown through this whole ordeal is remarkable. I believe he’ll recover stronger than he’s ever been, with a faith that can conquer any Goliath. The bible says faith can move mountains, and, in time, the Man Mountain is going to soar. Now, knowing how health-conscious Ali is, I stood at the foot of his bed and asked:
Me: How’s the food?
Ali: Man....it doesn’t even matter. I’m just happy to be alive.
So am I, buddy. So am I.