Samboy Lim’s whiz kid does her own skywalking
MANILA, Philippines — Sizing up her opponent, a young Jamie Christine Berberabe Lim shifts her weight — and strikes. Swift, methodical and towering over her opponent at 5’8”, she parries her opponent’s punches while shuffling back with surprising agility. Her rival is more aggressive but fumbles. Lim wins!
It is 2011 and this is but a glimpse of the hundreds of karate bouts Lim had won since she was 6. Hand-to-hand combat comes easy to this only child of Philippine basketball legend Avelino “Samboy” Lim, also known as The Skywalker, who made his name doing acrobatic feats on the hardcourt in the 1980s and ’90s.
On Saturday, the lanky karate kid who has bloomed into a 22-year-old BS Mathematics major brought home another gold — this time as one of the 55 summa cum laudes of the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman.
With a dizzying 1.073 weighted average — the third-highest in all of UP — Lim graduated valedictorian of the UP College of Science.
But her mother, Darlene Berberabe, beat her to it 30 years ago when the former Pag-Ibig Fund CEO also graduated summa cum laude and valedictorian of the UP College of Social Sciences and Philosophy.
It’s a “back-to-back feat” like no other, Lim said of the Latin honors, which was a completely come-from-behind victory.
“I’m more known in the family as an athlete than an honor student,” she explained. “In grade school, I wasn’t among the top students, though I was always awarded ‘best in sports.’ In high school, I was ranked 17th.”
As it turned out, Lim can do the math. She’d solve in minutes what took others much longer. With the exception of Math 65, she called “uno” on all her majors. Her thesis, she said, delved into “the solvability of certain partial differential equations,” considered one of the most difficult problems in the field.
She was a late-blooming athlete as well, having been “coerced” into karate by her mother when she was 6 and despite her being on a losing streak for the next three years.
But Lim hit her stride at 9 and started collecting medals since then. She’s won 14 golds in international tournaments, including a gold medal at the World Cup of Karate International Kumite in Malaysia in 2009, and 84 golds in local competitions.
Karate’s greatest gift to her, however, is its stress on discipline, precision and strength.
“I think karate made me summa because of its values: grit and hard work,” Lim said.
There were no special study routines or odd sleeping hours behind the academic success, she said; only single-minded determination and an unparalleled love for math.
Her father initially resisted the idea of his daughter in combat, Lim recalled. He’d see the bruises on her body — battle scars from rigorous training, she said — and feel sorry for her.
Sports was “a hard call,” Lim said. But her mother made her stay the course that eventually led her here: an exceptional scientist-athlete.
When she finally got her black belt in the summer of 2015, she was “the happiest” she’d ever been, she said.
Just months earlier, in November 2014, she and her mother endured a devastating blow: Samboy, then 53, suddenly collapsed on the bench during an exhibition game at Ynares Sports Center in Antipolo City.
Samboy’s friends couldn’t call an ambulance, so they drove him to hospital. But he was without medical help for an unacceptably long time.
Her father slipped into a yearlong coma and woke up a year later, unable to see or speak. He had missed her high school graduation and her first few months at UP.
“We were super devastated,” Lim said. “We never saw it coming. It was a hard adjustment because I was just going into college and my mom didn’t expect to take care of him since they were separated.”
The tragedy placed Lim at one of the many intersections of science and sports: health. Both she and her mom, through NLEX Road Warriors coach and former Pampanga Rep. Yeng Guiao, lobbied for Republic Act No. 10871, also known as the Samboy Lim law, which requires schools to provide basic life support training to high school students that they can use during medical emergencies.
Her unique vantage point as a scientist-athlete also allowed Lim to ponder the shared struggles of her two chosen fields that, she said, remain underfunded and underrepresented. It is something she hopes to change little by little, first by working as a faculty in the Institute of Mathematics starting next semester.
Addressing her fellow graduates, Lim said: “Wherever fate takes us, I hope we’d always think about how to be useful to society, with the values of honor and excellence as the driving spirit of what we do. Our work should eventually redound to the betterment of our country.”
Eyes on SEA Games
Fresh off her graduation, Lim will train with the national team for karate in the run-up to the 2019 Southeast Asian Games on Nov. 30.
“I can be part of the competing lineup this year, or maybe next year. It’s not certain. I’m just doing my best,” she told the Inquirer.
For now, Lim is content to relish the memory of her graduation day. She stepped on stage three times: first as summa, then as the Joker P. Arroyo Awardee for Outstanding BS Graduate, then as graduation speaker.
All three times her mother and father — wheelchair-bound with only his teary eyes visible from his masked face — watched from the sidelines.
It’s where they have always stood as she grew up: allowing her to shine, keeping her safe from the harsh limelight often shone on them.
“If we take to heart our debt of gratitude to our parents and our country,” Lim said in her valedictory speech, “we will never lose our way.”
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