Screaming girls from nine to ninety-nine, with varying degrees of attractiveness, swoon over ringside Romeos such that they rival film stars and musicians alike in the number of women they’ve dated. This is no secret in a country like the Philippines which pays ode to basketball in nearly every other street corner where makeshift courts are set up.
With this image of the heartthrob jock, stereotypical though it may seem, it’s understandably tough to picture how a star athlete like Chris Tiu, with his boyish good looks and towering frame that have endeared him to generations of colegialas—my editor included—can still excel in his field and remain as straight as an arrow.
“When you’re put in a position of influence, all the more reason you should be responsible. And that responsibility involves contributing to the betterment of the nation by trying to be a good example, by promoting good values,” Chris told Family Time in an interview in the airy home of his in-laws’ in San Juan City.
Though basketball isn’t typically associated with the high-sounding ideals of chastity, true love, and commitment, Chris has found a way to be counter-cultural. It’s no wonder we don’t hear nasty rumors about him, particularly ones involving female admirers.
Unbeknownst to many, perhaps to even some of his fans, the 31-year old Blue Eagle turned PBA player-cum-TV presenter has been living what you may call a “double life” outside the ring, attending retreats and giving talks on the importance of chastity and true love along with his wife.
Yes, you’ve read it right. In case you’ve been stuck under a rock for the last three years, this modern-day Renaissance man married investment banker Clarisse Ong, his high school sweetheart, in 2013, who made him a father for the first time in June, a moment he described as the most important one of his life – all his championships and awards included.
“No championship or accomplishment can equal the we joy we felt when this little girl finally entered this world. I’ve never felt so happy that I was moved to tears,” he said in a Twitter post.
Putting his left hand on top of his wife’s, Chris stressed, “There’s no need for me to conform to society’s pressure just because it’s [what people consider to be] cool. I go against the grain. Fashion and trend hardly appeal to me. They come and go. Besides, popular doesn’t necessarily mean good.”
According to him, he couldn’t care less if others would write him off as a goody-two-shoes, rigidly moral kind of guy because he knows in his heart that he’s doing the proper thing.
“In the long run, it is what’s going to make you happy as a person. If you live a virtuous life regardless of how people perceive you as long as it’s the right way you can be happy. Hopefully people will see you that way,” he added.
Hearing these answers, it’s easy to see why Chris and Clarisse make such a perfect match. They’re so similar, yet so different. They share the same values, and both hail from conservative, unapologetically devout Filipino-Chinese households. But personality-wise, they’re the Yin and Yang of each other.
She had him at ‘pizza’
Uncannily, it all started with a slice of pizza!
Sometime in their early high school years, the shy Chris found himself invited by his cousin to join students from an all-girls school, one of whom was Clarisse, on a trip to an amusement park.
Since he was an “outsider”, nobody bothered to talk to him until after Clarisse finally acknowledged his existence by offering him a slice of pizza.
“Want some pizza?” asked Clarisse.
Truth to tell, Chris originally was fancying some other girl in the group, but this MMK-worthy pizza episode changed his mind.
“I was touched by this kind gesture. How thoughtful of her. She wasn’t that pretty then, but at least she’s sweet,” said Chris in retrospect, laughing.
Long story short, they became a couple, and were in a steady relationship for 13 years, covering their entire young adult lives.
But if you think they burned all these years going to the movies, staring into each other’s eyes 24/7 as many youngsters in love do today, you’d be wrong.
Most of the time, aside from pursuing their respective degrees, they were just bonding with their families and friends, developing their talents, cultivating their interests—in the case of Chris, practicing for his games—and exploring the world on their own.
In fact, they never went out on a date alone. It always had to be in a group.
‘Too much love will kill you’
“I think the reason why couples these days get bored right away is because they’ve already done everything together. Their whole lives revolve around each other to the point that they have no time anymore to develop their [individual] human capital. They must learn to be independent, to be not clingy,” explained the lissome Clarisse.
“Don’t cling to your partner for dear life. In the end, your life will not be defined by you following the trend or you being with the popular guy or girl,” she added.
It also helps that they have parents who guided them well.
“It’s easy to rationalize certain actions, especially with what you see in Hollywood. But if you have the constant reminders from your parents, you’ll think twice or thrice, and reflect deeply on the underlying values before doing things you will regret later,” said Chris.
And he’s not spinning yarn.
Chris in ‘Sin City’
There’s this cute story about a teenage Chris which circulated among his relatives and has since cemented his reputation as the proverbial good boy.
Years back, Chris was staying in a hotel in Las Vegas together with his Xavier School teammates. The more naughty of them excitedly barged into his room, urging everyone including poor little Tiu to watch porn.
It wasn’t called “Sin City” for nothing anyway, so Chris, with the catlike agility that would serve him well later at the UAAP, hid himself just in time under a blanket, invoking all the saints in heaven from Agatha to Zechariah, and clasping tightly the rosary his mother had given him. After a while, even the blanket was of little help so he left the room.
Moreover, Chris pointed out that he doubts their relationship would last this long were it not for the fact that Clarisse played coy the entire time.
They ‘Tius’ real love
“I think that’s the secret to it. You wouldn’t know the real worth of something unless you really worked hard for it. You’ll realize how precious it is,” he said.
For her part, Clarisse believes that in many ways, girls have control over the relationship. Hence, they need to be always on guard.
“If she keeps on saying yes to her boyfriend, everything will happen so fast between them,” she said.
But that shouldn’t be the case. She encouraged young women to have religious formation on their own independently of their men.
“It will help a woman make decisions for her relationship based on the faith that guides her, for herself, on how she grows as her own person. It starts with the self. It boils down to self-respect,” she noted.
Clarisse was honest enough to admit that being chaste is easier said than done.
“It’s not cool to be chaste. It’s out of the ordinary. But if you want to be truly happy and have long meaningful relationship that will last forever, not a superficial one, it pays to be chaste. Chastity will enable you to find true love with your dream guy or girl,” she added.