From track and field to pole vaulting, two-time Southeast Asian (SEA) Games bronze medalist Riezel Buenaventura took a leap for new heights in the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) service.
In an interview with the Manila Bulletin, Buenaventura reminisced her humble beginnings of blissfully climbing and hanging on tall trees of Rizal province before dominating the world of pole vaulting.
Discovered as a fast runner at the age of 12-years-old, Buenaventura was trained by her cousin in the sport of track and field. Her early years of training inspired her to become a strong athlete and made it a stepping ground to enter one of Manila’s top universities.
The fruit of her hardships and years of training paid off as she became a varsity scholar when she entered the Far Eastern University (FEU) as a sprinter in 200-meter and 400-meter dash.
Soon after, the FEU athlete explored other events including long jumps as her coach discovered that she has strong legs, which was suitable for a jumper. Her successful tries in other sports events led her to earn more allowance to support her journey.
“We were all surprised that I could be a jumper, after that I tried pole vaulting. During that time I saw the national team when our coach is teaching them, I asked if I can try,” Buenaventura said in Filipino in an interview with the Manila Bulletin.
“Actually, I used pole for men, just to jump there, and then I landed on the mat properly. My coach said ‘you have a strong body and arms,’” she recounted.
After her first successful land, the rest is history for Buenaventura.
She started to train pole vault under the supervision of Coach Dario de Rosas, who also bought her first-ever pole that was the perfect fit for her weight and height.
“I started to compete in pole vaulting. In my first competition, I immediately erased the junior record of the Philippines and then I continued competing,” Buenaventura said.
From Philippines to SEA Games
After she graduated with Secondary Education in Sports and Recreation Management in 2008, the doors of coaching career and the Philippine National Team opened for her.
Buenaventura was then transferred under the guidance of Coach Emerson Obiena, father of Filipino pole vaulter EJ Obiena who competed in the Tokyo Olympics on Tuesday, Aug. 3.
She described Coach Emerson as her second father who provided her some financial support during her training years before competing in SEA Games.
“Coach Emerson became my second father, his family also become my second family, because they provided all of my needs, he also bought me an expensive pole back then,” the Filipina pole vaulter expressed.
“Sometimes when coach was not available, I’m the one watching EJ’s jumps in training,” she shared.
Apart from her training to compete in local and international events, Buenaventura has also started her coaching journey in top schools including De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde, Ateneo de Manila University, and Makati Hope to support her financial expenses.
Started competing in the 2011 SEA Games in Indonesia, Buenaventura remembered that it was the peak of her performance, which she successfully reached 3.9 meters.
Even the Filipina pole vaulter missed a chance landing a medal in her debut SEA Games appearance, she said it was a “close fight” with her fellow international competitors.
With a stronger comeback in the 2013 SEA Games in Myanmar, Buenaventura won her first bronze medal and defeated some of her taller competitors.
“We were very happy. I did not really expect that because my opponents were taller than me. I wasn’t blessed with a good height and my opponents are always taller than me but I feel blessed that I won,” she recounted.
The Filipina pole vaulter sustained her strong record as she took home bronze medal in the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore. Buenaventura ended her pole vault journey in her last competition in the 2017 SEA Games in Malaysia as she came up short of a podium finish.
Buenaventura advised inspiring athletes to stay “positive, motivated, and stick to your goals.”
“Our mindset must always be clear, positive, and compose because all games in the events there always gave pressure, you have to manage it,” she said.
New heights in Coast Guard service
True enough as they say, with every door closed, another one will open.
Defying new heights and being full of hope, she chose to enter the Coast Guard service in 2019. Buenaventura shared that her armed service training was “far different and more intense” than her pole vault training years.
“We cannot say that the Coast Guard training is easy because during our first day of training it was very hard. It is far from being a national team because what you have not experienced in the outside training you will experience inside the training center,” Buenaventura shared.
With strong determination and inspiration drawn from her family, Buenaventura said she was able to withstand almost five months of Coast Guard training in La Union. She is currently a PCG Apprentice Seawoman (ASN) under the Coast Guard Special Service Office.
Buenaventura led a fitness exercise program to promote a healthy lifestyle and maintain physical fitness among the Coast Guard personnel amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
“I can still do my passion while I serve our country, you just need to be brave and determined,” she said.