Dennise 'Denden' Lazaro: The Philippines' Iron Eagle
Staring down blazing spikes and returning searing strikes are all in a day's work for Filipina libero Dennise 'Denden' Lazaro.
Her fearlessness, will to win and refusal to give up on any shot earned her the nickname 'Iron Eagle', and watching her play is inspiring.
"When I was young, I used to be the weakling in the bunch" - Dennise 'Denden' Lazaro on Instagram
Told she was too small to excel in sport, Lazaro had the character and self-belief to prove her doubters wrong.
"When I got introduced to volleyball, I knew it was something I can be my best at. My journey was never easy - gone through heartbreaks, struggles, rejections & failures. But all these have made me know more about myself and that’s where I get my confidence & strength from."
Lazaro is enjoying a successful pro volleyball career and is a valued and established member of the national team.
Her team-mates like outside hitter Alyssa Valdez love her because she's fierce on the court and a true friend off it.
Everybody else loves and respects her because she embodies the Filipino fighting spirit, known as 'Pusong Palaban' (courageous heart), and has achieved her dreams against the odds.
Fighting her way into the national consciousness, Dennise is a regular sight on national TV, billboards, and big advertising campaigns.
Her wedding to basketball player LA (Luis Alfonso) Revilla on 27 January this year was a massive event and this sporting power couple are reminiscent of Alyssa Valdez and another baller Kiefer Ravena.
And much like Valdez and Ravena, everything the couple do is national news. This video of their wedding has over 350,000 views alone.
Dennise Michelle García Lazaro was born on January 21, 1992 in Metro Manila.
Small in stature but with big ambitions, she started playing volleyball early and shone while going to high school at Colegio San Agustin in Makati.
Her tenacious style and refuse-to-lose attitude caught the eye of national team selectors and Lazaro was the libero for the youth national team which came seventh in the 2008 Asian Youth Girls U16 Championships.
In 2011 she won the Shakey's V-League Season 8 Open Conference "Best Digger" and 1st conference "Best Receiver" awards, bringing all that fire with her to Ateneo de Manila University where she played for the Ateneo Lady Eagles and acquired her nickname of 'Iron Eagle'.
A glittering college career followed with two UAAP titles, many personal awards and a taste of international success winning bronze at the ASEAN University Games.
But she's not just unstoppable on the court.
Lazaro applies that same energy and tenacity to everything she does and aced a biology degree, graduating in 2015, the same year in which she helped the PLDT Home Ultera Ultra Fast Hitters to victory in the V-League 12th Season Open Conference.
She started medical school at the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health but the queen of anticipation then did something no-one anticipated, leaving her medical studies behind after a year to follow her dream in the volleyball pro leagues.
Her life, her decisions.
Dennise Lazaro, volleyball pro
Not one to give up on anything, particularly not the game she loves, Lazaro made it work.
After bagging bronze in the 13th Season Open Conference with the BaliPure Purest Water Defenders, she turned pro with Philippine Super Liga side COCOLIFE Asset Managers in 2017.
The team largely struggled before failing to find sponsors for the 2019 season with Lazaro moving on to reigning PSL Grand Prix Conference and All-Filipino champions the Petron Blaze Spikers.
She has now returned to winning silverware, helping the Spikers retain their Grand Prix Conference title, but the 2020 season was curtailed early on due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thanks to trusting in her own talent and believing in her own ability, Lazaro has forged a successful career and is an example to her colleagues.
With her years of experience, Lazaro isn't afraid to dictate game strategy or pull her team-mates into position... sometimes literally.
This video went viral - when Mich Morente was about to play a shot that was dropping out of bounds!
It's been watched over 850,000 times.
Lazaro's got social media game too with over a million followers between Instagram and Twitter.
So many brands want to be associated with her, but it isn't all promotion.
She is fond of motivational quotes including, "Live your dream and share your passion."
For someone who has had to fight so much to get where they are, those words means so much more.
The 28-year-old is also very proud of representing the Philippines as is clear from her posts with her national team-mates.
The Philippines may not have have ever qualified for the Olympics in volleyball and we won't see 'Denden' at the Tokyo Games, but that doesn't make her story any less amazing or inspiring.