AS A sportswriter, I had the privilege of watching some of the greatest female athletes in this side of the sports universe.
Watching them on the sporting field always gives you the feeling that you'll remember the moment long after you've forgotten a lot of other things that happened at about the same time.
What do you want, track and field? There's two-time Asian sprint queen Lydia de Vega and long jump legend Elma Muros.
Swimming? Akiko Thomson swam her way to everybody's heart.
You like gymnastics? Bea Lucero did her best ala Nadia Comaneci.
Archery hit a bull's aye with Joan Chan-Tabanag.
Bowling had Bong Coo, golf had Jennifer Rosales, badminton had Weena Lim and tennis had Dyan Castillejo
And Mikee Cojuangco-Jaworski and Toni Leviste did very well in equestrianne.
What about chess, a sport where the queen is as valuable as the king?
Enter Cristine Rose Mariano (now Wagman).
Before Janelle Mae Frayna and Jan Jodilyn Fronda and after Mila Emperado and Girme Fontanilla, there was Mariano in the local chess world.
And like all the other great female athletes before her, Mariano-Wagman was almost too good to be true during her prime.
"As a chess player, those were the best days of my life," said Mariano-Wagman, who turned 47 only last May 21.
And although now living a thousand miles away from her homeland, Mariano-Wagman decided to celebrate her birthday with a three-day online chess tournament for the benefit of her kababayans back home.
"On my birthday I would like to share my blessings to my fellow Filipinos by co-hosting a special tournament thru the United
Queens Chess Club," said Mariano-Wagman, who is now based in Umea, Sweden, with her husband Jorgen Wagman. "It's like paying it forward," added Mariano-Wagman.
While not playing chess, she now spends most of her time as wife to husband Jorgen Wagman and mother of two kids.
She also now works as a hotel employee.
But chess will always remain her first love.
At 14, Mariano-Wagman made history by becoming the country's youngest female chess player to become a national women’s champion, a record that stands to this day.
The University of the East graduate added four more national titles to her belt, earned the right to represent the country in the World Chess Olympiads several times and saw her ELO rating reach as high as 2096 in July 2005l4.
When she migrated to Sweden, she became an active member of the Rockaden Umea Schack Klubb, a chess club based in Sweden,
In 2018, she earned an Arena Grandmaster (AGM) title from the FIDE, the world chess federation, an honor given to players who excel in tournaments played online.
She also became the first Filipina FIDE instructor.
And only recently, Mariano-Wagman joined hands with Filipina friend Cherry Ann Mejia and Swedish champion WFM Susanna Berg to organize the first-ever Philippines vs Sweden All-Female Chess Showdown.
In the Philippines back in the 80s and in Sweden now, Mariano-Wagman remains steadfast in achieving her goals.
"Sa Pilipinas man or dito sa Sweden, tuloy pa din ang chess sa akin," said Mariano-Wagman.
And while many young and talented Filipina players have now taken the mantle of greatness in local chess, Cristine Rose Mariano-Wagman remains the Cristine Rose Mariano of old. Which is good enough for all of us in the chess world.
As the late Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman once said: "Be yourself. The world worships the original."
NOTES -- Belated hapoy birthday to my friend-batchmate Violeta Caoli-Alcantara of Melbourne, Australia, who celebrated last May 19.
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