Column #587 Seal Boy is REAL – and now throws darts, in the Philippines!
Wednesday, April 1, 2020
Seal Boy is REAL – and now throws darts, in the Philippines!
It’s true what they say, “Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.”
When I was a kid, I was a swimmer, a pretty fast swimmer. My time for the 100 fly (52.6 – short course – in 1971) got me into college. My career was ended by beer.
When I was even younger, my father began subscribing to Swimming World magazine. I read it cover-to-cover each month and followed the times of the best in the world – names like Don Schollander and Donna de Verona. An annual subscription in the late 1950s and 1960s cost $6. Today it costs $39.95.
In October 1966, the magazine ran a story about a boy my age, called “Seal Boy,” who at 13-years-old was recording spectacular, literally unheard of times – as fast as some of the best high school and even college swimmers in the world. My friends and I were riveted and demoralized at the same time. Were the story true we knew that our dreams of someday being recruited by Doc Counsilman and making the team at Indiana University (Mark Spitz’s alma mater), and maybe even the US Olympic team, were over.
Many times during the past 50 years I have wondered about all of this. So one day I sent a letter to Swimming World and asked if anyone there might remember the story of “Seal Boy” and, if so, might they dig up the issue in which the story appeared and send it to me.
I was surprised about two weeks later when the magazine appeared in my mailbox. There on page 38 was the story I still faintly remembered, including a photo of the boy.
“Seal Boy” TO COMPETE
IN SOUTH PACIFIC GAMES
Swimming World – October 1966
BULLETIN – Noumea, New Caledonia – Officials at the capital say that the ship bringing the amazing “Seal Boy” here for the South Pacific Games reports that “he jumped ship about 60 miles north of here and was last seen swimming at a rapid pace toward the Coral Reef area.”
Officials in charge of the fabulous “Seal Boy” at the University of Manila have decided to permit coaches to send him to the South Pacific Games at New Caledonia after he made an easy transition to living quarters in the Philippines.
Reports from the island to Swimming World say the “Seal Boy” is swimming “fair,” and has enjoyed his stay on the campus. The head coach, Francisco Figueroa, was not available for comment, having been called to lecture on the “Seal Boy” at a clinic in Jamaica during the Empire Games.
The change in the diet of “Seal Boy” shows he still favors fish over other food, with hamburgers running a distant second. The most fascinating revelation of the experiment was his tremendous liking of oranges, lemons, and grapefruit.
The latest clockings received by Swimming World show the “Seal Boy” in a slow start for the 50 meter pool. His times in workout (time trials) are 50 meters (26.0), 100 meters (57.2), 200 meters (2:06.8), and a push 100 meter butterfly in 1:05.8. The coaches seem to think he has hit a plateau in his quick rise to fast swimming performances and won’t improve much more without competition.
“When the South Pacific Games come in December we expect this chap to be ready for some top swims against competition which should be just about right for him,” said Simpson Hart, an assistant coach from the British delegation assisting the scientists.
Dr. Ernst N. Brockmann, M.D., the chairman of the researchers, stated in a release here: “We have pinpointed his age at 13 years and two to three months through close interpretations of his limited speech.”
Further reports will be available in the next issue of Swimming World.
Now, fast forward to September 2015, just a month shy of 49 years from when the story appeared…
On business in Manila, I was invited to visit a new darts bar called TRESMA. My friend and long-time National Team member, Mon Sabalboro, and I arrived just as it began to turn dark. It was already crowded – a luck of the draw was scheduled. I was pleased to be able to renew acquaintances with several old friends – Errol Magtubo, Logie Estacio and (the always quiet) Chito Pa Forillo Yacapin. I met some new people including Jason Sevilla and Jason Umali, and others, and TRESMA’s owner, Eugine Pioquinto.
TRESMA is a beautiful place. Located on Malvar St. – just behind Philippine Women’s University and in front of Wynn Plaza, it’s exquisitely appointed. There are Manny Pacquiao posters everywhere, announcing various darts tournaments. The tables are made from dart boards and covered with shiny glass. There are dozens of trophies on display. The lighting may be the best I have ever found in a bar (there is even a sort of chandelier that looks like a dart board). The oches are raised. I could go on and on, but I really don’t have the words to describe the quality of this joint.
Mon and I wandered around a bit, threw a few, and then sat down for a couple of San Miguels. Players stopped by our table, wanting my autograph and selfies. I regaled them with stories about all the times I whooped Lourence Ilagan and Christian Perez and made them cry like little girls.
NOTE: It is possible that some of what is stated in the preceding paragraph is a lie.
But Mon and I did gather a small group at our table and after a few bottles the familiar subject of why we throw darts arose. Basically, like so many, we were competitive in our youth. Mon was a professional dancer. Our friend, Steve Dorotheo, was a champion weightlifter (his father, Elpidio, was Mr. Philippines in 1952). Darts is a way to still compete without running fast, jumping high, or lifting heavy shit.
Yacapin was at our table. It’s been years since he and I first met and truth be known (anyone who knows him will attest) Pa Forillo is the antithesis of a quiet and unassuming guy. Still, he had been quite reserved, listening to our stories… until I mentioned I had been a competitive swimmer and began to relate the old story about the kid, “Seal Boy,” who swam so fast and ended up in the Philippines.
Almost immediately the room erupted, or at least it seemed that way. Pa Forillo jumped up from the table, waving his arms, yelling, I don’t believe it! It don’t believe it! Others gathered around and Pa Forillo, nearly out of breath, mixing English and Tagalog, continued to shout…
Hindi ako maniwala! Hindi kapani-paniwala! Hindi mo mapapaniwalaan! Ako yan! (I don’t believe it! It’s unbelievable! You won’t believe it! That’s me!)
I AM SEAL BOY! Or I was Seal Boy! Ako ito! (It’s me!) Pa Forillo! Chito!
Lahat sila rito alam yon. Napakatagal na panahon na… (Everybody here knows. It’s been so long…)
Chito went on to explain that he always thought the old Swimming World story was hilarious – and that it was horribly inaccurate. He wasn’t raised by seals…
Yan ay kalokohan. Sino naman ang maniniwala dyan? Hindi ko tumalon ng barko. Nahulog ako at iniligtas nila ako. Ako ay medyo matulin na manlalangoy nung kabataan ko. Napakatagal na panahon yon. (That’s absurd. Who would believe that? I didn’t jump off that ship. I fell and they rescued me. But I was a pretty fast swimmer as a boy. That was a long time ago.)
Lumalangoy hanggang labing-walong gulang ako. Siguro may labing-limang taon na ipinakilalala ako sa larong darts. Di man ako kagalingan, pero nagustuhan ko ito. Ako ay mas mahusay na manlalangoy. (I swam until I was about 18. Then maybe 15 years ago I was introduced to darts. I’m not so good, but I love it. I was a much better swimmer.)
It was surreal and reminded me of another old memory, again as true as it is odd. In college I pretty much lived on Chef Boyardee in-the-box pizzas. After I was married, I continued to occasionally make them for special dinners at home on the weekends. Still do sometimes.
One weekend, I noticed a contest announcement on the back of the pizza package. A substantial prize was being offered for a new pizza to be invented. Entries were to be judged by a panel of Chef Boyardee executives. What the hell, I figured. I spent that weekend “inventing” barbecue pizza – even creating my own barbecue sauce – and sent in my recipe/entry.
I never heard a word.
Years later, I was on a plane from New York to Atlanta and got to talking to a woman seated next to me. She was retired but said she was once the director of marketing at Chef Boyardee. Of course, I shared my pizza invention story. She remembered the promotion and said she was on the judging panel. To say I was astonished would be an understatement. I teased her – telling her I should have won and that she owed me a bunch of money.
So the truth can be stranger than fiction.
Chito and I stepped to the line for a quick game of 501. I won the cork and started with 135. He threw 43. He’s an honest man, that’s for sure. He does throw crap darts. When I closed tops he still had 200+ remaining.
But the bar was behind him. They chanted, Pa Forillo! Pa Forillo! Pa Forillo!
“So, Chito,” I asked, “I know Filipinos tend to have nicknames. I have friends called Boy, Baby, and Bong. I assume Pa Forillo means Seal Boy?”
Huwag, tarantado! Ibahin ang ayos ng mga nihayupang mga letra!, he replied. (No, asshole! Rearrange the fucking letters!)
From the Field,
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