Josephine Medina was just 8 months old when polio weakened her legs. Her father, a table tennis coach, was determined to let her lead a normal and independent life so he taught her table tennis. She became so good at it she became an athletic scholar in college competing with able-bodied athletes and even qualified for the national team. However, with her condition, officials placed her to compete in para-games. Josephine eventually won a Bronze Medal in Table Tennis at the Rio Paralympic Games in 2016.
Ernie Gawilan, Davao’s para-athlete swimming sensation and consistent Gold Medalist in ASEAN Para Games remembers feeling down as a child with underdeveloped extremities and as an orphan. A kind soul arranged for him to be sent to Our Lady of Victory training center run by the Maryknoll sisters. He was eventually drawn to the water and was eventually making splashes of his own as he caught the eye of coaches who added him to their swim team of persons with disabilities (PWD). From self-pity, he realized his condition opened up opportunities for him that may not have been possible if he was born normal. He won 3 bronze medals in the 2014 Para-Asian games.
However, these accolades are not enough to earn them decent living wages most of the time. They and other para-athletes usually lack sophisticated training techniques and equipment their fellow competitors in more developed countries have access to. Paralympic competitions are just as competitive as able-bodied sports events.
Powerlifter Adeline Ancheta, Bronze Medalist at the Sydney Paralympic Games 2000 experienced this firsthand. While she won the bronze medal in a worldwide event, she was not entitled to the same incentives Olympic medalists enjoyed. Officials told her it was because Paralympic and other international para-games winners were not part of Republic Act 9064, or the Sports Incentives Act. This, and improving the support for para-athletes continue to be Adaline’s mission.
Our Filipino para-athletes are raring to compete for the country in the coming 9th ASEAN Para Games in Malaysia this September 2017 and looking forward with gusto to the Asian Para Games in Indonesia in 2018, the 10th ASEAN Para Games in Manila and the Tokyo Paralympic Games in 2020. However, para-athletes face the challenge of lack of support and resources available to other athletes.
In light of these challenges, the Philippine Paralympic Committee (PPC) and the Philippine Sports Association for the Differently Abled (PHILSPADA) held the first ever Philippine Para Sports Summit at Microtel, Technohub in Diliman, Quezon City last June 9. With the theme “Transcending Barriers Through Sports”, the summit underscored PPC-PHILSPADA’s mission to develop an inclusive society that uses para sports as a tool to change the lives of Filipinos with disabilities.
Launched at the event was the Alay PARA Atleta program, a nationwide campaign designed to make the general public genuine stakeholders of the Paralympic Movement. Contributions made through mobile phone access will boost funding for para-athletes and teams to achieve sporting excellence that will excite and inspire the world. The Summit discussed the Paralympic Movement, the Paralympics Classification System, medical sports science and anti-doping, the achievements and plight of Filipino para-athletes, para-athletes’ actual experiences in foreign competition and PPC-PHILSPADA’s plans and programs for the next three years. Michael I. Barredo, President of PPC-PHILSPADA made a call to action at the end of the one-day summit for both government and private sectors to join the Paralympic Movement.
“These special athletes compete doubly hard, against all odds, through hardships, difficulties and physical handicaps to give glory to the country just like athletes without disabilities. They desire nothing more but to be given an equal chance to prove their worth and serve the country in their special way,” Barredo said.
PPC-PHILSPADA aims to rejuvenate paralympic sports in the country and establish offices in the regions to strengthen the organization and expand the athletes’ pool nationwide. The long-term goal, Barredo said, is to enlarge the scope of Philippine Paralympic sports to include para golf, para hockey, para chess and others.
Among the other speakers at the Summit were Joel Deriada, Athletics coach and Vernon Perea, Wheelchair Basketball coach. Key speakers at the Summit were Philippine Olympic Committee president Peping Cojuangco, Commissioner Arnold Agustin of the Philippine Sports Commission, Olympian Gerardo “Ral” Rosario, physical medicine and rehab expert Dr. Raul Cembrano, noted sports medicine expert, Dr. Raul Canlas and Michael Barredo.
A moving Dance Sport exhibition by Filipino para-athletes Julius Jun Obero and Rhea Marquez, World Champions in the Paralympic Dance Sport Competition in Rome 2015, opened the eyes of participants, media and guests to the power and beauty of this sport as performed by para-athletes.
PPC, the national Paralympic Committee of the Philippines and PHILSPADA are the organizations that spearhead activities and take care of operational requirements of elite athletes with disabilities (orthopedic disability, cerebral palsy, visual impairment and mental disabilities).
The Philippine Paralympic Committee of the Philippines is the National Paralympic Committee of the Philippines recognized by the International Paralympic Committee while the Philippine Sports Association for the Differently Abled (PHILSPADA) is the PSC recognized national sports association for physically impaired athletes, tasked to spearhead developing sport competency for Filipino persons with disabilities from grassroots to the highest level of sports competition.