Lifting a nation

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak - The Philippine Star

We have needed some inspiration for a while now. These past several weeks and months have been difficult on Filipinos, so when news of the Delta variant transmission came in last week, it seemed like the start of yet another lockdown cycle with no end in sight. After all, containment isn’t our strong suit and when things begin to get out of hand, the kneejerk response is to put us back in lockdown.

To say that Filipinos have been longing for some good news is an understatement. Some tuned into the State of the Nation Address (SONA) in the hopes of finding it there, but quite frankly not necessarily getting the boost we needed. Instead, we had another long discussion about the drug war and had contradicting statements about how the country could not afford another lockdown, followed by how a lockdown was the only way to address the more aggressive Delta variant.

The President sighed after those two statements, and I believe the entire nation sighed as well. It’s a literal rock and a hard place, and without a clear roadmap ahead and a powerful driving force to push us through it, there’s no way we can face this new challenge successfully. At this point, it should not be about just trying to “weather the storm” as we have been doing. We need to be more proactive.

In either case, despite the uncertainty in the nation’s address that left the future somewhat ambiguous for the country, Filipinos did find something incredible and amazing to be happy about yesterday. That came in the form of records breaking and gold medal droughts ending at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

We knew we stood a good chance of getting a medal. Everyone who has followed the career of Hidilyn Diaz knew she was well-positioned to place in the games. But the entire country waited to see if she could overcome all the odds and bring home first place. And last night, with the world watching, she did.

The long-coveted pursuit of a Philippine Olympic gold medal ended last night when Diaz lifted a total of 224 kg. She broke Olympic records, and in less than 10 seconds gave Filipinos what so many needed most – hope and inspiration. You could say she lifted the entire nation in that last recording-breaking gold medal-winning lift.

Diaz’s entire road to the gold medal is an inspiration. From not finishing in her first two Olympic outings, she remained unfazed and determined, focused more than ever on her goal. In 2016 she came back and won her first Olympic medal – a silver in the Women’s 53kg event. This win validated all the hard work and eventually set her up for her incredible swan song. And what a fitting and perfect end it was.

But it wasn’t without its own set of challenges. In 2019 Diaz faced the same struggles so many Filipino athletes face – hardships with training and finding adequate financial support. She made a public request for help in her quest to pursue her Olympic gold dreams. A move that was not supported by everyone and was even heavily criticized by former sports officials.

But she persevered and it’s a good thing too. She kept her eyes focused firmly on that Olympic triumph, and Monday night, despite all the overwhelming odds, she made her dreams come true.

2021 is most likely going to be Hidilyn’s final Olympic appearance and she made sure to make it a memorable one. From the moment she made that clean lift she knew she had done it. And Filipinos everywhere celebrated together. At that moment we weren’t thinking about lockdowns and other issues, we were just happy. Happy and proud.

And when the National Anthem played during the awarding ceremony, there was probably not a dry eye in the country. What an incredible accomplishment and feat. Ending a 97 years-long pursuit for that elusive gold medal and hearing our national anthem being played at the Olympics awarding for the first time – during a time when hope and inspiration are needed in the country more than ever – ensures Diaz that she will go down in the history books.

She overcame all the obstacles that stood in her way and she took the whole nation along with her. Congratulations Hidilyn for lifting the hopes and dreams of an entire nation and reminding us all what hard work and determination can do. Let’s remember that the next time we want to give up. We all have obstacles to overcome and battles to face, but let’s do so with the same determination and fortitude.

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