Hidilyn’s armor of strength
We’ve all heard about the cash incentives, the Philippine Air Force promotion and the accolades bestowed on her by high-profile personalities and institutions.
But now that the euphoria over Hidilyn Diaz’s Olympic triumph—ending the country’s 20-year medal drought in the Summer Games—has died down, what has the Philippines’ very own “weightlifting fairy” been up to and what’s next on her agenda?
Seven months after clinching a silver medal in Rio de Janeiro, the 26-year-old athlete has returned to her training ground, the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex (RMSC), to recover the muscle and form she needs for elite competition. Her first international tournament after Rio happens in September at the Asian Indoors and Martial Arts games in Turkmenistan.
Diaz works out every day despite the absence of coach Antonio Agustin Jr., who’s on active duty in the Philippine Army and thus cannot yet personally attend to his ward’s training. She tries to stick with the program that Agustin designed for her, with help from another national athlete, a gymnast whose technique the weightlifter helps improve in exchange for being her training buddy.
Setting her sights on qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics—in what could be her fourth consecutive and final Olympic appearance—Diaz further proves her passion for the sport, as well as her pragmatism by choosing to study and reside in the area where she trains.
She’s taking up Business Management at De La Salle-College of St. Benilde, which is just a stone’s throw from the RMSC. Diaz says the school is open to people like her with the interest and skills in different disciplines.
It’s a learning environment that’s sympathetic to her needs, especially since being a national athlete can be a lonely and exhausting ride, says Diaz. The 5-foot-2 weightlifter—the only Filipino woman to bring home an Olympic medal—lives with friends in Manila while her family remains in their Zamboanga hometown.
“Sometimes I get tired competing in tournaments by myself, even though I know there are many people who support and root for me,” Diaz tells Sunday Inquirer in an interview.
“It feels different to train alone compared with having other athletes around … pero ito yung ginusto ko (but this is what I wanted). Who else would compete if I wait for others (competitive Filipino weightlifters) and depend on them for motivation?”
There’s also the Filipino youth to think about, says Diaz, who’s aware of the expectations brought on by her newly minted status as a role model in the field of sports.
And yet the weightlifter seems to be in good company, having been recently signed as Philippine brand ambassador for Under Armour. The American sports and activewear brand’s stellar roster of endorsers includes athlete-turned-celebrity Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, basketball rock star Stephen Curry and Misty Copeland, American Ballet Theater’s first African-American principal ballerina.
Clothing: Under Armour, Makeup: Jing Carigma for Mary Kay, Hair: Gerlie Ocampo for Mary Kay, Special thanks to Emily Peñafiel for Mary Kay PH coordination, Photography: Jilson Seckler Tiu, Styling and project coordination: Nastasha Verayo-De Villa and Fran Katigbak
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