Why Diether Ocampo is passionately into polo now
Bent on his left side, actor-sportsman Diether Ocampo aimed his mallet toward the ball, while his polo pony ran toward the right. The momentum of his horse and his awkward position threw him off his new saddle. He fell, bounced and flipped several times on the ground.
The crowd at North Polo Club (NPC) in Pulilan, Bulacan, was aghast. He stood up, dusted off the dirt, and returned to the game to score three goals.
Ocampo would later recall that it was one of his best games.
“My new saddle hadn’t been broken in,” he said. “We were taught how to land safely in case of a fall, but you never know how it happens. I got back into the game. With all that adrenaline rush, I scored three goals. That’s not normal.”
His medical check-up showed sore muscles and no injuries. He attributes his resilience to warming up—running in the morning—and pumping iron in the gym at noon before saddle time.
Ocampo has been playing polo for three years now. Professional polo player Adrian Garcia taught Ocampo the basics.
In 2014, Butch Albert, chair of iSportlife, lent Ocampo his ponies for the actor’s first game in Ayala Alabang Country Club. Businessman-politician and polo patron Mikee Romero also helped him into the game.
Today, Ocampo claimed he owns a string of polo ponies for his game. “Each of those horses has a story. You need to have a strong connection with your horse. It’s challenging to play on a borrowed horse. You have to introduce yourself to that horse each time,” he said.
With a year of experience, he also played in a friendly game at the Polo Escape, a polo resort in Pattaya, Thailand. Ocampo enjoyed the opportunity to be with players from other countries. He liked the fact that he didn’t have to match up to their skill level, but simply have fun.
Between shooting schedules for film and TV, Ocampo spends more time at NPC. Unlike Manila Polo Club, NPC is more inclusive, said the actor.
“I spend more time here. We were trying to expand the polo community. (NPC owner and polo patron) Jun Eusebio made this polo club to accommodate everyone. People could be introduced to the sport and not get intimidated by the veteran players. At NPC, we welcome all. We can support people who want to ride,” explained Ocampo.
Last Feb. 18, Ocampo organized the Cockatoo Cup, where he scored four goals. Unlike other polo games, this event was glamorized with decorative touches and skincare stands by its events partner, Cathy Valencia Advanced Skin Clinic.
Asked what he loves about polo, Ocampo said he likes the fast game and the mental strategy. There’s the excitement of taking the ball down the field, then quickly chasing the player who intercepts the ball. The intense pace of running back and forth has trained him to stay alert and calm while keeping his mental and physical energy high.
“You keep making fast decisions. On one hand, you’re reining in a powerful horse. On the other, you are going after the ball. The ball is passed around in different directions. You have to drive it toward the goal, but other players will try to block you from getting the ball. It’s a lot of pressure,” he said.
When he’s not on a horse, Ocampo hops on a four-wheel drive, a vehicle for tough road conditions.
“I was into motor sports—drag racing, slalom, motorcycles, motocross, until polo came. Going by car is a weekend thing off polo season,” he said.
He joins car groups and meets up with car owners for shop talk. Among them is the G-Wagen Club, consisting of drivers of Mercedes-Benz’s luxury four-wheel drive. “I was amazed by the people’s passion and care for their cars,” he said.
The club is made up of doctors, lawyers, businessmen and actors such as Ocampo and Gabby Concepcion. These clubs use their 4×4 for off-road expeditions in Luzon. Ocampo uses the latest model, G 500, to enjoy the rough roads.
“The suspension has been enhanced so the ride is different. There are handles for different pressures, whether you are on wet or dirt road,” he said. “The G 500 may look heavy, but it moves fast. It has enough power to hoist itself at high speed.”
Ocampo recalled that one of his enjoyable trips was discovering the wind farm in Pililla, Rizal. The group enjoyed lunch near its picnic grounds.
“We bring the whole family to explore Luzon. There are areas that are difficult to reach because of the terrain. It requires a capable vehicle to take you to the beautiful countryside.”
Ocampo enjoys the camaraderie of the club. Aside from the technical support from Cats Motors, distributor of Mercedes-Benz, and tips from owners, the members help each other in other ways. “It’s like a community or a social club,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ocampo will be seen as Apo, the ruler, in ABS-CBN’s fantasy teleserye “Bagani.” He explained that his character is a benevolent ruler of all the gods.
He recently wrapped up Star Creatives’ “Sunday Night Fever.” Ocampo plays a chef who was unlucky in love until he met the right girl, played by Filipino-Australian model Nathalie Hart.
On balancing sports with movies, he said, “If you have the passion for a sport, you learn to manage your time. ” —CONTRIBUTED
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