Cha Cruz Behag On The Realities of Being a Mother and an Athlete

She’s Miss Everything: Cha Cruz Behag On The Realities of Being a Mother and an Athlete

Being a mother and a professional athlete aren’t two roles that seamlessly go together, but Cha Cruz Behag has learned that they are more similar than many might realize.

When Charleen “Cha” Cruz Behag, was still a De La Salle University Lady Spiker, she became known for her versatility as a volleyball player. She has played every position on the court, from setter to spiker, transitioning from one to another with ease. And, being able to fulfill every role granted her a nearly perfect collegiate record — she became a four-time UAAP Women’s Volleyball Champion, never missing the finals throughout her five-year stint, and was a two-time Finals Most Valuable Player.

This was how she earned the nickname, “Miss Everything.”

But as the years went by, this nickname would start to evolve in meaning for Cha.

From her reliable presence on the volleyball court that led her to play for the Philippine National Women’s Volleyball Team and become the team captain for the now-defunct F2 Logistics Cargo Movers, the monicker “Miss Everything” found its way into her life off the court — as a mother of two.

Ever since Cha gave birth to her first child in 2019, she has learned that being a mother is a lot like being an athlete. As she told The GAME, “It is uncanny how similar being a mom and an athlete really is” — even though the two roles are not exactly the easiest to balance at the same time.

Becoming a volleyball star

Ever since Cha Cruz Behag was in college, planning for her future like any other young adult, she already knew she wanted to become a mother one day.

“Coming from a big family,” she shared, “I knew I wanted to have and raise my own kids and even in college pa lang, I was praying for that already. Pero, siyempre, not anytime soon because when you’re in college, you don’t know yet what you’re going to do after and I still wanted to continue my career.”

When Cha graduated from DLSU in 2012, this was around the same time that volleyball was just about to take off in the Philippines. The highly popular collegiate scene was slowly but surely bleeding into other semi-professional leagues such as the Philippine Super Liga and the Shakey’s V-League, and with new opportunities on the horizon, the former Lady Spiker discovered that she wanted to pursue a career as a volleyball player.

This became her primary focus in her first few years post-graduation.

Her sparkling reputation as a college player gave Cha many opportunities outside of the collegiate scene. After graduating, she played for multiple clubs in the Philippine Super Liga and even won three Conference Titles with the F2 Logistics Cargo Movers. Her life on-court was thriving, and with this, she knew that her dream of becoming a mother would require the right planning if she wanted to continue building her athletic career.

As early as then, she could foresee that the two would not intersect seamlessly.

“Unlike male athletes, where after having a kid they can just continue playing, for female athletes, it’s really hard,” she acknowledged. “I think there has to be really good planning…But for me, it just laid out smoothly because after I got married, I was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, and I couldn’t have a baby, otherwise, my baby would have congenital problems.

“So, I really had to take almost a year and a half of taking medications for me to get better. But I think it was also a blessing in disguise. During that time, ‘yun ang feeling ko na nag-peak ako in my career…I got married in 2018 and that was the busiest time for me.”

Twenty-eighteen was the year Cha was really blossoming into the volleyball star she is known as today. At the time, she was playing for two club teams and was balancing this with her national team duties, training for and competing in that year’s Asian Games.

Charleen "Cha" Cruz Behag playing for the F2 Logistics Cargo Movers
(Photo credit: Cha Cruz Behag on Instagram)

“It kind of fell into place, so my husband and I focused more on our careers during that time.

“But then, in early 2019, I got cleared from my hyperthyroidism and the doctor gave us the go-signal…So that was the time we really tried [having a baby].”

And it wouldn’t take long for Cha’s dream of having a family to come true — just two months later, she found out she was pregnant.

Becoming a mother

“It’s so funny,” Cha said, reflecting on how she first found out she was pregnant. “I think that was the first term of my pregnancy, I was still practicing because ‘di ko alam buntis pala ako noon. And then when I found out [I was pregnant], I still wanted to play.

“So sabi ko, right after I give birth, bahala na, I still want to get back into right away.”

This came as no surprise, as Cha was reaching her peak at that point in her career — she was a three-time PSL Conference Champion and the F2 Logistics Cargo Movers Team Captain. So, even while she was expecting, she made sure to stay as active as possible, and although she could no longer keep up with the hardcore everyday training of her team, she still found a way to keep her body in shape.

“I think it was after nine weeks when I had to stop [training] because even though I didn’t feel anything, we wanted to be on the safe side and my OB told me to take it easy…But I knew I wanted to stay active the entire pregnancy, so I’m blessed na nakaka-practice pa rin ako, light training and still staying active until I gave birth.”

As a natural-born athlete, and as someone who has been playing volleyball since the sixth grade, Cha didn’t stop thinking about returning to the court, which is part of what motivated her to stay fit throughout her pregnancy.

But, all of that changed the moment she locked eyes with her newborn baby for the first time.

“When I saw my baby for the first time, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ My priorities changed. I’m a mother now, I’m gonna enjoy my new life, I think this is my new purpose, my new calling, I’m gonna mother and be a steward to this child.”

And all of a sudden, she no longer felt the need to go back to playing right away. “Feeling ko, ‘di ko miss playing yet, and I still wanted to savor every moment being a mom.”

In some way, the universe helped her do just that. A few months after she gave birth in 2019, the world came to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic — everything changed. But for Cha, this meant more time to be a mother.

“There was no volleyball, so I felt like, okay…Thank you, Lord, I’m not missing much and you’re giving me a lot of time to just mother my child.”

The lockdown was another blessing in disguise for Cha. She was able to spend the first few years of her son’s life truly dedicated to raising him. For that period of time, she was a full-time mom. And it was a job that she found incredibly rewarding.

But, of course, the volleyball star within her could not be put on hold forever. “At some point, na-miss ko na ‘yung paglaro, the feeling of competitive playing,” she admitted. But, it was a difficult thought she had to manage, because even though she missed being on the court, she knew from experience that being a professional athlete was another full-time job.

Cha Cruz Behag with her son, Solito Behag
(Photo credit: Cha Cruz Behag on Instagram)

“Even if training is from, say nine to twelve, I know I still have to work on myself individually after practice, so I need to do extra work on my own. So parang naisip ko, wow I’m gonna give up my whole day? So I thought, ‘di ko mawala ng ganun sa anak ko. I can’t even imagine those moms who work a daytime job, hats off to those moms na kayang nilang gawin ‘nun.

So, Cha took her time. She savored her role as a mother for four years.

“I stopped playing for four years,” she recalled. “Kasi [the league stopped] for a couple of years because of the pandemic, and then in the third year, ‘di pa ako nagisip of going back because we actually thought of having a second child.

“But unfortunately, we had a miscarriage. When I had a miscarriage in 2022, I took this as a sign na parang, siguro baka gusto pa ako ni Lord na maglaro. So the following year, that’s when I decided that I’m gonna try to play again.”

Coming back to the court

When Cha Cruz Behag came back to the competitive volleyball scene, it was a different place than when she left it. Instead of two semi-professional leagues, in their place was just one major league: the Premier Volleyball League.

“A lot had changed…”When I got back to playing, there were also a lot of young players who had just graduated, so the competitive level was raised and it has gone way more compared to before. It was hard.”

Cha restarted training with her team in January 2023, just a month before the year’s first conference. “For me, I felt like [if the other players] are going double time, I felt like I had to triple time or more, kasi sila, at least may foundation from the last year. But for me, as in totally starting from zero, so my body got shocked.”

With just a month of preparation left before Cha was set to return to her first game in four long years, training was tough on her. She was balancing skills training, strengthening, and gym sessions, and it took a toll on her body.

“In the first week, I had a lot of bruises all over my arms, my knees were swollen,” she recalled.

But it wasn’t just the physical side of training she was getting used to. On top of her bruised arms and swollen knees, back home, she was also trying to adjust to a new family dynamic.

“There was a time na talagang umiiyak na lang ako kasi it’s so hard mentally din. I go home and I need to prioritize resting because I know I need time to recuperate physically, but I can’t mentally because I’m home and I know I can’t be with my son as a mom… Even just cuddling, parang sobrang pagod ako that I can’t even do that. So it was hard.”

On top of Cha returning to her everyday training regimen, her husband, who works as an airline pilot, also returned to work. With this, the two parents decided to hire a helper after four years of just the two of them raising their son, Sol, at home.

“I know it was also hard for my son,” Cha admitted. “I think the first month was really the toughest. Masakit na katawan ko, but I’d also see my son crying every single time I’d leave the house, so I also needed extra time to psych him up na parang, ‘This is what I’m gonna do, I’m doing this for the family, and I also want you to see me playing.'”

With all this, Cha had to relearn what it truly meant to be “Miss Everything” — to relearn what it meant to balance two major priorities in her life. But come the following month, everything was starting to fall into place.

Cha Cruz Behag with her son, Solito Behag, at the Premier Volleyball League
(Photo credit: Cha Cruz Behag on Instagram)

“Since the dynamic changed in our family, we got used to the routine. In the morning, I had to go and train, and my son wouldn’t cry anymore when I would leave and would even say, ‘It’s okay mama, good luck, have fun in your training!’

“It was lighter for us to have that routine and for me, nakita ko na rin ‘yung support coming from my son. It was a morale booster.”

In addition to finally getting into a more comfortable rhythm at home, back on the court, Cha was also steadily starting to keep up with her teammates, excel in training, and meet her physical goals. And by the time she was ready to play her first game in four years, she even had a little extra motivation to push her.

“In my first game back, I thought I was going to play for a little while because I knew I wasn’t a hundred percent back yet,” she recalled. “But I was so surprised, I played that entire game and we won, and nakita ko pa ‘yung highlights, the camera pointed at my son and my son was taking a video of me serving and cheering for me. So it was like, oh my gosh, that’s so cute.”

Cha started to bring Sol to watch more of her games and not only did he enjoy watching his mom kill it on the court, but he also enjoyed the entire atmosphere of the Philippines’ volleyball community. Fans would approach him to say hello, some would even give him gifts, and it reached a point wherein he would even ask to join his mom at her games.

“I remember, siguro mga two years old pa lang siya, I tried to ask him, ‘Can mama go back to playing volleyball?’ Sabi niya, no, just stay at home… So the following year, ‘dun ko rin nakita na wow, he’s also now enjoying the world that I’m in… I’m glad he gets to enjoy those things.

“I know I prayed for this before, and I felt all the hirap and pagod and sacrifices were worth it.”

Indeed, Miss Everything got into the groove of balancing all her priorities — meeting her goals as a player, competing for a top volleyball, and being a mother to her son. But all that would shift once again just a few months later.

Entering a new chapter

Cha Cruz Behag waited four years to get back to the court, to start playing under the arena lights again, and to share those experiences with her son. But a short six months after her first game, she found out that she was expecting, again.

“To be honest, I really wanted to finish that whole year playing,” Cha shared. “We were planning to try and have a baby again the following year pa, but you know, the Lord has different ways of perfect timing. Kakatapos lang ng conference noon, and we were practicing again for the next conference, and that’s when I found out I was pregnant.

“And to be honest, I got really pissed with my husband,” she recalled with a laugh. “Of course, it takes two to tango, but we didn’t really plan it. So I was half-hearted, I had mixed emotions. I’m happy that it’s positive, but I was also scared it would be a miscarriage again, and I was also frustrated because that was the time I was feeling that, from fifty percent, I was slowly getting better to my real playing condition.”

There were many emotions and thoughts circling Cha’s mind when she found out she was pregnant again, so the news came rather bittersweet. But it was after she told her team about the news that she realized that this was how things were meant to play out.

Noong sinabi ko rin sa team, they were actually super happy for me na parang, let’s celebrate! Blessing yan, not a lot of people are having that kind of blessing. So ‘dun ko na slowly naintindihan na okay, siguro dito ako gusto ni Lord, and not really playing at the time. I’m gonna try to focus on being a mother again, nurturing my child inside my body.”

Cha Cruz Behag pregnant with her second child
(Photo credit: Cha Cruz Behag on Instagram)

Having gone through it once already before, Cha knew how she needed to recalibrate. Similar to her first pregnancy, she still continued staying active through the nine months, and even though she had to give up her full training regimen, she still stayed connected to her passion for volleyball, coaching a high school team.

But with this adjustment, she was also able to spend more time with her family.

Now, Cha is a mother of two beautiful children: Solito and Laura. As of writing, Laura is only two months old, and now with two children to look after, Miss Everything’s day-to-day life looks very different than it did a year ago when she was still playing in the PVL.

“Now that we’re still hands-on, we don’t have any helper, we do everything on our own, especially if my husband [is working], it’s just me and my two kids.

“I try my best to wake up at around five or six in the morning because I know both of them, magigising sila ng mga eight, so those are my me-time hours so I can work out, I can cook, I can clean the house, and prepare everything because I know when both of them wake up, they’re going to be demanding.

“Routine, when applied correctly really helps. An early start to the day, getting in a quick workout, tidying the mess from the night before, to prepping the first meal of the day, sets up everyone in the household for success.

Fulfilling the demanding role of a full-time mother is no easy task, especially with a newborn at home, so right now, this is Cha’s main focus, even though she still thinks about how she might return to the volleyball scene.

“At this point, I really want to focus on just being a mom,” she said. “But I know at the back of my head, I still want to be part of the volleyball scene. In terms of playing, I feel like it’s still far from me because I need to put in a lot of time playing. But in terms of being in the volleyball world as maybe as a staff or maybe on the management side, I’m still open to those things because I know I don’t really need to put in as much time as being a player.

“In the back of my mind, I still really want to be part of that world.”

Indeed, Miss Everything can’t stop the athlete within her. But as she puts it, being an athlete and being a mother are more similar than some might realize.

“It all starts with having a goal in mind,” she reflected. “This helps us identify and prioritize objectives accordingly. For one, it is actually impossible and even detrimental to be everything all at once. It is best to manage expectations and see things through a practical timeline.

“We always have to try to show up prepared, whether it’s for playing sports or raising children. Every day in training, we work on ourselves, our relationship with God, and our marriages to ensure that the entire support system is on the same page and up to the task.

“In playing volleyball I try to lead by example, I don’t just play for myself, I play so that I can contribute to the team and inspire and guide the younger ones to perform and bring out their true potential. The same is true for motherhood, I try my best to model the values that I want my kids to embody. This means constantly learning, relearning and even unlearning the things that time and experience have taught me would be effective or beneficial for my growing family.

“So for me, personal development with a selfless attitude has always been the DNA of being an athlete and a mom. My personal goal whether on the volleyball court or at home is to be a good steward to the next generation.”

Banner images from Cha Cruz Behag on Instagram.

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