In Summary
  • If there was any luck in his hellish world, it was that the brand of glue he and other street kids used to get high was called "Rugby"
  • It culminated with him becoming, in 2015, one of the first born and bred Pinoys (Filipinos) to land a spot on the Philippines national squad, the Volcanoes
  • Ramirez says he has no memory of his parents and is not even sure of their full names

MANILLA, PHILIPINNES

Long before Lito Ramirez was one of the Philippines' first homegrown rugby stars he was a six-year-old orphan addicted to sniffing glue, who survived on trash and begging.

If there was any luck in his hellish world, it was that the brand of glue he and other street kids used to get high was called "Rugby".

The name still resonated with Ramirez years after he stopped using and was building his life in a Manila orphanage.

Counsellors there had urged him to pick a sport, but he didn't like football or basketball, the national obsession. Then they asked him if he wanted to give rugby a try.

"I didn't have any idea it was a sport," he told AFP. "I thought it was the glue. That's why I chose rugby for sports."

This fateful misunderstanding would redirect his life, giving the scrappy five-foot six-inch (1.7-metre) wing/fullback a way off the streets and into the sort of full-time career he can only have dreamt about.

It culminated with him becoming, in 2015, one of the first born and bred Pinoys (Filipinos) to land a spot on the Philippines national squad, the Volcanoes.

To this day, the team is composed mostly of foreign-born players whose primary tie to the nation is a Filipino parent.

Jake Letts, general manager of the Philippine Rugby Football Union, has watched Ramirez develop from a raw talent to what he called a "dangerous" player on the pitch.

"His strength is his speed and his agility. It's really hard for a big guy to catch him," Letts told AFP. "When they do catch him it can be painful."

Letts said Ramirez's brutal upbringing is now a strength: "He's definitely got the grit. He's been through it all."

Ramirez says he has no memory of his parents and is not even sure of their full names. In fact, he has no birth certificate, so he's not sure of his true birthday.

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