An inspiring story for the coming generation of how Hidilyn, a Filipina from Mindanao rose to Olympic heights through sheer determination and a strong will to succeed. Her winning a gold came about the same time President Duterte was on his way to answer nature’s call following an almost three-hour SONA where he hemmed and hawed while reading his speech, going off-script, every now and then, and making inconsistent statements.
To hundreds of thousands watching the final SONA, it was a relief to hear that 30-year-old Hidilyn won the gold, our first in 97 years. She lifted many of us who have been weighed down with helplessness and self-doubt about our capacities to hope. And she sensed this when she said that we Filipinos are strong, and can compete in the Olympics. A life-size picture displayed at the gym which she built from the cash incentive she received from the 2016 Olympics at Rio de Janeiro had this caption, “Nothing is impossible!”
Her winning also brought into the spotlight several Filipino women who had excelled in sports.
One is Nestley Petecio who at this time of writing is already assured of a bronze in the boxing category, the first Olympic medal since 1996.
Another is Margielyn Didal, skateboarder who clinched 7th place and therefore had to bow out of the competition. Margielyn won a gold medal for the Philippines in the 2019 Asian Games in Clark, Pampanga. This, despite the fact that the country does not have adequate skateboarder parks for practice.
Akiko Thomson-Guevara who was a gold medalist for swimming at three Olympic Summer Games and won eight gold medals at the Southeast Asian Games was a commissioner of the Philippine Sports Commission. She continues to provide lectures to aspiring athletes.
Dyan Castellejo, sports journalist, played tennis at Wimbledon, the US Open, and represented the country in several Southeast Asia Games and 11 Fed Cups.
The winning of a female athlete in what is usually perceived as a sport dominated by males, also brought out the lack of mention of gender issues at the SONA.
Hidilyn’s background and early upbringing may therefore help us understand factors that had helped shape her character and her will to succeed.
Her early years were spent in Mampang, a coastal village in Zamboanga. She is the fifth of six children of Edwardo, once a tricycle driver, fisherman and farmer, and wife, Emelita Diaz, While a child, she would fetch water from a community artesian well about 70 meters away from home carrying plastic containers in both hands. She was 8-years-old but could carry five gallons of water in each hand. Her father, now, caretaker of three pigs which helped provide the family’s livelihood, describes his daughter as a model of discipline and diligence. Her first coach, a cousin, discovered her unusual strength and taught her the basics of weightlifting.
After finishing her elementary years in their village school, she went to the Universidad de Zamboanga Technical High School on a scholarship, being already an awarded athlete at a young age. She wanted to become a banker and pursue a bachelor in computer science, but the Philippine Sports Commission asked her to move to Manila in 2012 as part of her preparation for the Rio Olympics and other international sporting events.
Meanwhile she was recruited to the Philippine Air Force in 2013 but given time to train for her weightlifting endeavors.
She participated in the 2008, 2012, 2015-2016, 2018, 2019 Summer Olympics held in London, Southeast Asia, and Rio de Janeiro, and the 2020 World Cup in Rome.
A scholarship at De La Salle College of Saint Benilde to study management enabled her to take online classes.
She credits her foster family with whom she stayed while stranded in Malaysia for almost a year because of travel restrictions during this pandemic, for providing her a home and the support she needed in preparing herself for the Tokyo Olympics. Her foster father, a weightlifting official, helped her train with improvised equipment. She fought mental breakdown and credits her HD Team (which includes a psychologist, trauma therapist) for her wellbeing.
Hidilyn’s victory comes at a crucial moment in the life of our country. We are at a crossroads, a transition, so to speak and we needed a reason to be hopeful, to be aware of our self-worth. We needed a unifying force, a catalyst that would remind us of the imperatives if we want to become what we aspire to be. Hidilyn’s victory is a reminder that we need to examine our priorities. And that above anything else, our priority should be directed towards the full development of our human resources.
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