Julius Naranjo, the man behind our golden girl Hidilyn Diaz

Noel Ferrer - The Philippine Star
Julius Naranjo, the man behind our golden girl Hidilyn Diaz
Weightlifting star Hidilyn earns the country’s first Olympic gold with the help of boyfriend Julius, who is also her strength and conditioning coach.

MANILA, Philippines — She calls him “Daddy,” her term of endearment for her trainor, coach and partner. He calls her “Baby” also “Honey,” but during trainings (and when they are at odds), she is simply “Haidie.”

A lot has been said about the man behind our first Olympic gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz. A lot of them are misconceptions. Some of them are just based on first impressions.

Truth be told, he was one of the victims of harsh judgments from critics and even people posing to care for our Olympic champ. But when the dust settled, after Hidilyn’s historic victory, not only was the woman vindicated, he too was appreciated for who he really is — a selfless athlete and coach who helped our weightlifting icon achieve her gold status.

Meet Coach Julius.

Julius Irvin Hikaru Takamura Naranjo is from the Island of Guam and is the son of Eduardo Naranjo, an American of Filipino descent, and Midori Takamura from Osaka, Japan. Julius worked as a filmmaker for Collective Culture, a company he co-founded, and coach and former National Team weightlifter.

Julius met Hidilyn at the 2017 Asian Indoors Martial Arts Games in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan where he competed in the 62kg weight category representing Guam.

As Hidilyn’s manager since 2016, I first met Julius when Haidie brought him to one of our meetings in Rockwell. He was very proper. With his American accent, some people may easily be intimidated, but when you get to know him better, he is very simple and decent, jolly and profound, talented and charming as our dear Hidilyn. Instantly, I understood why and how their partnership could work.

When asked about his first impressions of Haidie, Julius would say, “I didn’t have much impressions of her as I had no idea of her historic feat and what she has done for the Philippines.”

“The fact that I love weightlifting so much as much as she loves it so much, too, we inspire each other to be better, because I really want her to achieve the highest point in her career, and really make her the best person that she can be by giving her all the support and being that person to cry on. That is pretty much how we are.”

There was an initial fondness that grew into an attraction, which later blossomed into love. “Hidilyn is really a loving person. She really gives her all to the people she loves. Her humble beginnings and her selflessness and loving heart are truly admirable,” he revealed.

“I respected her story and how she literally came from nothing to bring pride to her country. Her love for the sport and determination to represent her country was a good indicator.”

Though their love for weightlifting was their common passion, they experienced a lot of things in 2019, and despite that challenging year, they survived!

To all those who doubted, cast malicious motives and hurled hurtful comments back then and some even until now, Julius had this to say, “Let me drink my coffee to that. It is what it is. No one will ever understand this journey unless you’ve been on it. And you know what, I don’t have to explain; but to be honest, despite that negativity, we reached that shining light, I was able to pull myself out of that abyss.

“I helped and worked so hard to get Haidie here now, and you know what, that is the most important thing to me. Everyone will always have something to say, but look, I or we might be doing something right. And if people are trying to find something negative to try to bring me or us down, let me drink my coffee to it — it’s not gonna work.”

With the author and talent manager Noel Ferrer.

I remember Haidie telling me that Julius is able to bring out the best in her. While Coach Gao Kaiwen, the Chinese military officer, provided her the foundation, Julius was the strength and conditioning coach who brought in the modern strategy and who also diligently provided Team HD (that included, aside from Hidilyn, Julius and Coach Gao, very able and amiable professionals like nutritionist Jeaneth Aro and resident sports psychologist Karen Trinidad) — their training strategy. Together, they conquered the world and showed Pinoy excellence and heart with their mantra, “One Motion!”

In all her interviews, Hidilyn came up with a repeated message, “Dream high. Follow and fight for your dream. Don’t give up!”

As for Julius, he was and is and will always be a big supporter of Hidilyn’s dreams and her endeavors. Haidie supports his dreams, too.

In a sense, Julius sacrificed his dream, too. This weightlifter from Guam gave up his own weightlifting spotlight and vicariously achieved it by helping Hidilyn achieve hers.

“Injury taught me a lot about how I should give back and be a good example for my athletes. I sacrificed my dream but in a way made it mine as well,” Julius related.

He is now one of the most sought-after coaches with a lot of foreign clients. Although training has been confined to online now, Julius treats it very seriously and still with much passion.

When asked about how he deals with our Olympic champ, the very honest Julius had a mouthful to say, “Hidilyn is not the easiest to work with, she has a strong personality so it takes a lot of patience and understanding.”

The couple during a visit to the historical landmark Magellan’s Cross in Cebu City.

He added, “But she has earned it. She worked hard to become the best. Hidilyn is a legend in the sport and this gold medal has secured her spot as one of the greatest female weightlifters of this era.”

How hard was it achieving the gold in the Olympics?

“It was definitely tough to achieve this goal. There were a lot of sacrifices, pain, letdowns and fights, but (all) made sense in the end.”

“Hidilyn hitting the 127 kg Clean and Jerk to securely write herself into the history books.”

So, what does the future hold for Julius (and Hidilyn) now?

Julius opined, “I think it will be hard for Haidie to retire, we will just take her lead and push as long as her body allows it.”

“Professionally, we aren’t quite sure yet, but we are planning to compete at the World Championships.”

Is getting married part of the plan? What kind of wedding does he envision if ever?

“Eventually we will. We are simple and don’t like anything extravagant.”

In my Level Up program on Radyo Katipunan 87.9 FM (also on Facebook and YouTube), I asked Julius if he is already certain that Hidilyn is the one for him. He answered with a categorical, “Yes, I think so, but we are still young in our relationship and we still need to grow as a couple to truly know.”

In a recent social media post, Hidilyn responded to Julius’ public profession of love this way: “Aaminin ko nag-doubt ako sa kanya noon at naging rason ‘yun ng away namin. Ang ganda ng buhay niya sa Guam, tapos ginive up niya yun para sa akin at para sa Philippines. Ang dami niyang pinagdaanan at namin dalawa, pero may reason pala si God bakit ganun. Thank you Julius Irvin Hikaru T. Naranjo sa pagtitiis, pag-intindi at pagmamahal.”

In the meantime, Julius shared to the public for the first time his innermost sentiments on the victory of Hidilyn (while in quarantine). He said, “Haidie, I am so proud of your achievements and everything you’ve accomplished. This journey has been long but ultimately a successful one. You deserve it all. Including my unconditional love.”

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