NEW BEGINNINGS - Büm D. Tenorio Jr. - The Philippine Star
Philippines’ Hidilyn Diaz competes in the women’s 55kg weightlifting competition during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Tokyo International Forum in Tokyo on July 26, 2021.

Hidilyn Diaz, at 30 years old, is a golden girl.

For a country that has longed for almost a century to score a gold medal in the Olympics, the victory of Hidilyn is like a thunderstorm that washed away 97 years of drought. And with it came the germination of other people’s dreams. Big thanks to the golden girl.

Inspiration. That is what Hidilyn’s successful lift at the Tokyo Olympics has given the Filipino people when she won the country’s first gold in the women’s 55kg for weightlifting.

Inspiration is hard to come by lately due to the pandemic — the fear it caused, the lives it cost, and the perceived mismanagement of the coronavirus in the country. Inspiration is hard to come by in a country whose claim of the West Philippine Sea was won in The Hague by the late former President Noynoy Aquino and yet fell in the muscle-flexing incursion of China in the tenure at Malacañang of Rodrigo Duterte. Inspiration has become as artificial as the crushed dolomite rocks in Manila Bay; the artificial white sand is washed out, and with it, the hundreds of millions of pesos gone to the sea.

Inspiration is such an elusive muse to a country still looking for the reported missing P15-billion funds of PhilHealth. Inspiration is the klieg light that has been dimmed within the families of victims of extrajudicial killings. (How come, subversive as it may sound, with all these, we are not yet angry as a people?)

Then came a sudden burst of inspiration afforded by the win of Hidilyn in the Olympics. One single gold medal was all it took for the Philippines to erupt into euphoria on a day when spirits were dampened either by the long and lackluster speech of the country’s chief executive or the threat of the Delta variant. The weightlifter’s win was carried by almost all national dailies as the banner story, eclipsing the SONA. It’s the first time for the country to haul a gold. The news is gold.

The experience is gold.

It’s gold in many senses. It’s a golden victory for the personal struggles of Hidilyn. Admirable is her resolve. She was once wrongly accused in the Palace’s oust-Duterte matrix. Because of that she was trolled. She feared for her life and the welfare of her family. Cash-strapped in her training, she appealed to kind, generous souls for financial support. Help came. She got locked down in Malaysia for training before the Tokyo 2020 games. In between training sessions was her longing for her family back in Zamboanga. She focused on her dream with calloused hands and stubborn disposition to win — for the country.

Then, on July 26, 2021, a Monday, she delivered the gold — and lifted us on her shoulders. First for the Philippines. From her grit. From her dreams. From her spirit undaunted. From her soul. From her life.

In times when we are unsure of heroism in our land, Hidilyn lifted us all up to prove to all and sundry that we don’t run short of heroes in this country.

On the day she was awarded the gold medal, she gave a snappy salute while, for the very first time, Lupang Hinirang was played at the Quadrennial Games. Hidilyn made us cry. And those were tears of pride and dignity. One woman restored nationalism in us all.

One single gold medal is all it takes for other people’s dying or flickering dreams to be reignited, to burn anew, to take flight again. Hopes and dreams, as shown by Hidilyn, are, sure, aspirational. Her first foray in the Olympics was in Beijing 2008; she was 17. Then in London 2012. At the Rio 2016, she won silver. She already made waves back in the country with that feat.

Then, at Tokyo 2020, the aspiration became reality. Success is sweet albeit with palms that were blistered by heavy weights and heart pumped up with the desire to bring honor to the country. Hidilyn is in tip-top shape, on top of the world, her lips tinted slightly red as she carried the winning weight because, according to her sports psychologist Karen Trinidad, a member of Team HD, the lipstick serves as Hidilyn’s psychological armament.

“When she feels beautiful, she feels confident. Why is she wearing makeup? Why does she feel relaxed? Her looks are like a message to her opponents,” Trinidad said in the Level Up radio program of Noel Ferrer, the talent manager of Hidilyn.

Hidilyn confirmed last Friday in the radio show that she has yet to receive all the pledges in millions of pesos. Noel quipped that he and the team will follow up on the pledges so Hidilyn will not have the fate of Olympian boxer Onyok Velasco, who allegedly did not receive the prize money promised him when he won silver in Atlanta 1996.

The experience is gold.

Hidilyn paved the way for women and weightlifting to be equal, to be synonymous. As she narrated in the radio interview, she heard it straight from her own family: “Hindi pambabae ang weightlifting. Hindi ka mabubuntis. Walang magkakagusto sa akin. Then nagkaroon ako ng muscle. Itinatago ko ang braso ko.”

But God is good, so Hidilyn soon realized there was nothing wrong with women taking up weightlifting. She crushed the stereotyping. And with her gold, the little girls who saw her win on TV can also dream of becoming a weightlifter. Let us remember today and forever — and even in textbooks — that it was a woman who brought first the Olympic gold to the Philippines. Her name is Hidilyn Diaz, hero, template for women empowerment, inspiration for strength of humanity.

Hidilyn’s gold is faith lifting — thanks to her other medal, the Miraculous Medal of Our Lady of Graces, that she always wears for “strength, guidance, and inspiration.”

In the world of the young where God is hardly mentioned or celebrated openly, Hidilyn’s pronouncement, “Grabe si God,” in disbelief that she scored a gold for the country, is an open declaration of faith, grace and miracle. That is gold. Faith is gold. And I think Hidilyn, by repeating her adulation for God in all interviews, just brought closer the divine to the sensibilities of the people.

The experience is gold. In a country agog over basketball, Hidilyn’s win is an eye-opener that we can also focus on other sports, that we can also cheer with all our hearts and minds for athletes not on the hardcourt. Last Tuesday, Nesthy Petecio won silver and made history, too, as the first Philippine female boxer to win an Olympic medal.

It’s relatively affordable to produce a gold medal. “P2 million,” Hidilyn answered in the radio interview after calculating how much it cost to bring home the gold. “That is for food, housing and training for competitions that a weightlifter participates in every three months,” she said.

Hidilyn’s win is gold. It opens an opportunity for dreamers in the countryside, like the Chavacano Hidilyn. Her medal is the compass that we hope the country’s sports commission will use to discover and train young athletes in the provinces.

I share the same hopes with Filipina writer Ninotchka Rosca who said a Badjao kid could be the next Olympic gold medalist in swimming. I say, look to the South, in Sulu, Tawi-tawi or Basilan, and find Badjao kids. Train them to be like Michael Phelps (who did not compete in Tokyo 2020) and Caeleb Dressel or Ariarne Titmus and Yui Ohashi. Those kids, belonging to the tribe called Sea Gypsies because they live on houseboats called vintas, have the lungs of the great blue whale. Water is their universe. Go, train them.

Hidilyn’s win is gold because it came with a struggle. And her struggles are representations of the struggles of other athletes — and to a great extent, the struggles of many Filipino people. While we have athletes who won’t beg for their stipends, we should have a mature system that ensures gold and golden opportunities. (I know of a lady athlete in Gulod who competed in the SEA Games and after she lost in the game, she took the jeep, bus and tricycle coming home. Then she prepared for her next international competition again — with support from her cousins and friends who chipped in for her training, food, shelter and fare.)  Hidilyn’s win is gold because, for the lost, she is their North Star, their personal emblem for hope. She beams hope to those who realize that dreams do come true. And dreams do come true to those who believe in themselves and God.

Hidilyn Diaz is gold.

(For your new beginnings, e-mail me at bumbaki@yahoo.com. I’m also on Twitter @bum_tenorio and Instagram @bumtenorio. Have a blessed weekend.)

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