Hidilyn and Benilde

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

It was just announced that there will be a total lockdown in Metro Manila from Aug. 6 to Aug. 20. This will be another two weeks of hardships, especially for the majority of people whose incomes are basically earned on a daily basis. Then there is the informal economy where survival is literally on a daily basis.

In the midst of these sacrifices and burdens, the ongoing Tokyo Olympics has provided some mental and emotional relief. More precisely, it is because of the performances of Filipino athletes. For a long time, winning a single medal was enough reason to celebrate. This year, we are on the verge of winning several medals.

The greatest news, of course, is that for the first time since the beginning of the Olympics, the Philippines won a gold medal. Hidilyn Diaz won the gold medal in weightlifting. Her life story from a poverty-stricken childhood to standing on an Olympic winners’ platform has now been much written about. Her story of struggle continued even after she won the silver medal in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. She received no support from government and very little support even from the private sector. There was even a time when she had to literally beg for money through social media.

Her life was one that required physical strength. But more than that, it was a life and an ambition that required mental and physical strength. If her biography is written, there should be a focus on her values and ideals as a person that gave her the strength to become an Olympic gold medalist.

I believe that it is the personal life of an athlete, especially their personal dreams and values outside of athletics, that gives an athlete the strength to aspire to become world class.

How did a poor girl from Zamboanga find the strength to aspire to be the world’s best in her category in weightlifting? How did she find the strength to continue to dream even when she received very little help from anyone?

One trait that Hidilyn possessed was her personal concern about not completing her college education. Br. Dennis Magbanua FSC was president of the De La Salle-College of St. Benilde during the time Hidilyn Diaz entered the school. When he read my first column on Hidilyn Diaz, he sent me the following message: “I hope this [inspiring story] shows the world the kind of person Hidilyn is, a person worth emulating especially for her concern about not completing her college education.”

The story is that Br Dennis heard that Hidilyn wanted to continue her college studies. When he found out that she was staying near Rizal Memorial, he decided to invite her to study in Benilde. He even invited her to attend some UAAP games to see that La Salle had a very good athletics program. Eventually Hidilyn decided to enroll in Benilde.

In December 2018, Hidliyn was enrolled in a Business Management course in Benilde. She was, however, thinking of taking a leave of absence (LOA) to prepare for the Tokyo Olympics which, at that time, was scheduled for 2020. She sent Br Dennis a gift which he called a “peace offering” because of her planned LOA. She then relayed her plans of LOA to Br Dennis FSC. He sent her this reply:

“You are always welcome to return to finish this course and in the future take other courses too for continuing education. So take your time. Benilde will always be here when you return to study. In fact, for me, your going to train and compete is not a leave of absence but rather a chance to experience the world which you can bring back to your classes/course next time. You are always learning in and out of the class. You learn about yourself (new techniques), about others and about businesses you can take on. The LOA is an important phase of your life.”

Hidilyn answered: “Thank you sa message, Br Dennis, kasi masakit sa akin mag LOA pero binigyan niyo ako ng ibang perspective about sa LOA and sa journey ko papuntang Tokyo 2020. Nakakatulong po message niyo para makapag-focus ako next year na walang panghihinayang sa decision ko. Salamat po talaga, Br Dennis.”

Br Dennis FSC then told her: “Bring back what you will learn to class and use these to make good projects and business inspiration.”

Hidilyn Diaz replied: “Ngayon Br Dennis naintindihan ko bakit kakaiba ang Benilde dahil may isang Kgaya nyo po sa Benilde. Salamat po Br Dennis. Isa ako na nagiging kakaiba dahil sa Benilde.”

Hidilyn did go for her LOA. However, when the pandemic came and she was “trapped” in Malaysia, she got out of her LOA status and enrolled in online classes of Benilde during the pandemic. She was attending her onlne classes as late as July 2021 before leaving for Japan. She only has a few more terms to go before she graduates. Br. Dennis says he will make sure she completes her degree before she goes to the next Olympics.

I hope that Hidilyn’s desire to complete her college degree serves as another inspirational story for the Filipino people.

*      *      *

A new month, writing goes on!

Young Writers’ Hangouts on Aug. 7 and 21 with Eli Camacho and Kate Osias, respectively, 2-3 p.m.

Contact writethingsph@gmail.com. 0945.2273216

Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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