Worth the weight
It could have been another bleak year in the international front had Hidilyn Diaz’s coach failed to convince the weightlifting wonder to reconsider.
Discouraged after the Philippine Sports Commission slashed her allowance, Diaz had thought of quitting the sport and trying her luck in the United States to work as a fitness instructor.
But coach Alfonsito Aldanete pleaded with Diaz and struck a deal,train for one more year, compete in the 2016 Rio Olympics, then she’s free to go.
“It’s good she decided to stay in the sport,” Aldanete said of Diaz, who felt disheartened after her monthly allowance of P40,000 got considerably cut to just P9,600.
Diaz’s decision to push on turned out to be life changing. And history making, too, as she emerged as the country’s first female Olympic medalist last August.
“I was totally focused,” said the 25-year-old Diaz.
Left empty handed in her two previous shots at glory, Diaz delivered this time with a silver medal in weightlifting at the 31st Summer Games at Rio de Janeiro.
That triumph snapped the Philippines’ 20-year medal drought in the Olympics as the pride of Zamboanga City lifted a total of 200 kg in the snatch and clean and jerk to finish second to Chinese Taipei’s Hsu Shu-ching in the 53-kilogram class.
“I would have been happy with the bronze,” said Diaz. “That’s what we were targeting, but God gave me the silver.”
The historical feat made it easy for Inquirer, or for any local sports award-giving body, for that matter, to select Diaz as its 2016 Athlete of the Year.
There’s no contesting the winning moment that had an unwitting start. Since she was 11, Diaz regularly lifted heavy pails of water she had drawn from the community water pump. Her remarkable strength at a young age soon led her to the sport.
“You’ve trained for 14 years,” Aldanete reminded Diaz when his ward came close to quitting. “Now you’ll only be training for 14 months and you’ll get a medal.”
Those 14 months turned out crucial as Diaz regained her vigor to compete and committed to a training program that required her to slide down a weight class from 58 kg, the division she competed in the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympics, to 53 kg.
“I didn’t like it at first,” admitted Diaz. “It was hard to lose weight and I thought I wouldn’t have the same strength.”
Yet Diaz showed physical, and more importantly, inner strength to put the tough times behind. So when she basked in the Olympic moment that lifted the nation’s pride, Diaz wanted nothing more but to uplift her family’s life.
“Nandito na ako sa taas, gusto ko sila hilahin pataas (I’m already up here, so I also want to pull them up),” she said.
The fifth of six children of Eduardo, a tricycle driver, and Emelita, Diaz now has the means to give her family a better life after receiving a total reward of almost P10 million from the national and local government. The cash windfall was on top of Diaz’s endorsement offers and other incentives like a new home and free airfare for five years.
But Diaz has kept her sights on the sport as she dropped initial plans to retire and aim for the gold in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. At the same time, she’s working on plans to set up a weightlifting gym in her hometown to inspire the youth to get into the sport.
“I want to build a gym for the kids, I want them to dream,” said Diaz. “I also want them to be Olympians, to be medalists.”