After that historic and highly successful campaign by our regular athletes in the Tokyo Olympics, resulting in a one gold-one silver-two bronze medal haul, it is the turn of our para athletes to show the world the Filipino grit.
We were supposed to send six para athletes to the Tokyo Paralympics set to start on Tuesday, but unfortunately, one tested positive for COVID-19, and had to remain behind when the team left last Sunday morning. It was later learned that the virus-stricken para athlete was power lifter Achelle Guion.
To honor the para athletes, here they are. Our best bet is swimmer Ernie Gawilan. Ernie is a seven-time gold medalist in past ASEAN ParaGames, was in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro and just this year, bagged a bronze in the World Para Swimming competition in Germany.
Then, there is Jerold Mangliwan in wheel-chair racing, a two-time ASEAN gold medal winner and a veteran of the 2016 Paralympics, too.
Swimmer Gary Bejino, who will be the first para athlete to see action today, bagged a silver and two bronze medals in the 2018 Asian Paralympics.
The oldest in the team is discus thrower Jeanette Aceveda, a visually impaired para athlete. Rounding out the list is Allain Ganapin, the first Filipino para athlete to qualify in taekwondo.
The Philippine team will be seeing action in four different events and I just hope that the government and the private sector side will also award any medal winner with incentives, but I know it will not be on the same level as Hidilyn Diaz and company, for the reason that para sports here is not as popular with corporate sponsors and the general public, unfair as it may be.
I was with the Philippine Paratriathlon Committee as its initial chairman, as requested by triathlon president Tom Carrasco. I served for two years, but I resigned the position last year, as I was frustrated with what I felt was lack of funding for the team from the government, with the regular athletes being the priority.
But I promised Tom I will still support him in triathlon and para triathlon in other ways, as the two of us go a long way back.
Now you know why in our “Ayuda Sa Atleta” program, we prioritized the distribution of the gift packs to para athletes, we all believed that these people need it more than the regular athletes.
Now, why did I decide to devote today’s piece to these athletes?
I was surfing the net in my room (yes, I am still on extended quarantine after testing positive late July), when I saw an emotionally-tugging pitch for people, who are differently abled than most people. In fact, they comprise 15% of the world’s population.
And as the ad goes, it showed that these people also play and work, go to school, they watch TV, fall in love and get married. They also dream, have feelings like everyone else and compete in sports, putting to shame other people, who are more capable than them in life.
I believe that majority of these people do not ask for pity, but understanding and acceptance from the rest of the world, and why not?