Yan Yan’s big fight
By this time, Ian Lariba could have been competing against the world’s finest players in the ongoing 2017 World Table Tennis Championships in Dusseldorf, Germany. As fate would have it, the Rio de Janeiro Olympian skipped the event to face a foe utterly more menacing than anyone she would have faced there.
The most prominent Filipino tablenetter of her generation is in the grip of leukemia, one fight in which she will need prayers, a huge amount of cash and determination in order to win.
“Yan-Yan” or “Yan,” as the former La Salle star is fondly called by friends, will need the same willpower she showed in capturing five consecutive women’s singles titles undefeated in the UAAP.
Friends have come forward to help. Financial support and words of encouragement from the La Salle community started the flow of support for the BS Management for Financial Institutions graduate. There’s also an outpouring of sympathy from her fellow athletes.
Olympic silver medalist Hidilyn Diaz, Yan’s teammate in the tiny 13-athlete Philippine delegation in the 2016 Summer Games in Rio, has asked their peers to pass the hat around and help defray the medical bills and other expenses of their stricken friend at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City.
“As an athlete, she (Lariba) has proven her worth and faced all the challenges,” Diaz, turning away from this reporter as she couldn’t contain her grief, said in Filipino. “I know she will overcome this test, too.’’
The weightlifting heroine from Zamboanga City, who co-heads the Athletes Commission of the Philippine Olympic Committee with triathlete Nikko Huelgas, has also started a solicitation drive for Yan.
“We (athletes) have to unite and pray for Yan’s recovery,” said Diaz. “I’m hopeful that she could join us in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.”
Yan immediately placed herself under treatment early last week after she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a type of cancer of the blood characterized by the rapid growth of abnormal white blood cells that build up in the bone marrow and interfere with the production of normal blood cells.
Speculations on Yan’s health surfaced when her mother Imelda and De La Salle University’s Office of Sports Development put out a request on social media, asking for Type O positive blood donors. (Yan’s parents politely declined to be interviewed for this story.—Ed)
Putting the speculations to rest, La Salle announced on Thursday that Yan is fighting a life-threatening illness that can be contained with proper treatment.
Yan wrapped up her collegiate career last year as one of the four co-winners of the Athlete of the Year honors. The 22-year-old from Cagayan de Oro won the UAAP MVP plum three times.
She earned the distinction as the first Filipino table tennis player to play in the Olympics after hurdling the Asian Qualification Tournament in Hong Kong, just months before Rio.
In a collaborative effort with Yan’s alma mater, the Philippine Sports Commission is helping the Laribas pay for Yan’s medical bills. According to a source in the government agency, the PSC paid Yan’s initial bill of P300,000.
“We promise to take good care of Yan because she has played for the country well,” said PSC Chair William “Butch” Ramirez.
Philippine Weightlifting Association president Monico Puentevella forked P20,000 from the association’s funds to defray Yan’s mounting expenses while the Philippine Olympic Committee initially gave P30,000.
The international table tennis community likewise showed its concern. In a two-minute video message recorded at the ongoing world championships, 16 top players provided Yan with words of inspiration and wished her a speedy recovery. Among the players are world No. 2 Fan Zhendong and No. 3 Xu Xin of China, Romania’s Elizabeta Samara and Germany’s Petrissa Solja.
The video ended with the message “Table Tennis Family stands behind Ian Lariba.”
Table tennis chief Ting Ledesma says the Dusseldorf tournament is supposed to gauge Yan’s preparations for the coming Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur. But it will be best for everyone, he says, if Yan focuses completely on winning her biggest fight ever and getting back in shape.
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