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Ex-Mayor finds new calling
(The Philippine Star) - March 19, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Former five-term Daly City Mayor Mike Guingona said yesterday he’s embarking on a new direction in life without politics and committing himself to sports, particularly wrestling where his dream is to produce gold medals for the Philippines at the 2019 Southeast Asian Games.

Guingona, 56, arrived in Manila early last week from San Francisco, where he’s based, with three wrestlers for tryouts at the Rizal Memorial. The wrestlers are Guingona’s son Kai, 18, Fil-Samoan Luke Cruz, 19, and Shelly Avelino, 18. They’re all California state team wrestlers with championship credentials. For three days, the visiting grapplers went through drills, workouts and trials under the Philippines’ Iranian coach Saeid Abbaszadeh. At the end of the grind, Philippine Wrestling Federation president Alvin Aguilar confirmed the addition of the three wrestlers to the national pool.

Guingona, a lawyer specializing in criminal defense and nephew of former Vice President Teofisto Guingona, called the three teeners “the future of Philippine wrestling.” “I’ve wrapped up my career as a politician,” said Guingona who became the youngest Mayor of Daly City at 33 in 1995. “Sports has always been my passion. I’ve been a wrestling coach since 1987. I’m a judo black belter, an MMA judge, a strength and conditioning coach and a certified masters swim instructor. At this stage in my life, I’m hoping to give back to my country. In any way I can, I’d like to promote wrestling in the Philippines down to the grassroots level.”

Guingona was born in the US but is often in Manila where his parents Joe and Connie live. At the moment, he’s the wrestling coach at Terra Nova High School in Pacifica, a city in the San Francisco suburbs. “The best wrestler I’ve ever coached is my son and he’s committed to the Philippines like I am,” said Guingona whose wife is Filipina actress and former national tennis player Jackie Castillejo. “With the blessings of the Philippine Wrestling Federation, I could create a pipeline of Fil-foreign wrestlers to compete for the country in the SEA Games, Asian Games and Olympics. This could go hand-in-hand with the program to develop wrestlers from the grassroots level.”

Guingona’s son Kia held his own in the pool tryouts against 25-year-old Alvin Lobreguito, a Greco-Roman silver medalist and freestyle bronze medalist at the Southeast Asian Wrestling Championships in Vietnam last November. The San Francisco State freshman trained at the US Olympic Center in Colorado Springs as a cadet wrestler three years ago and said he learned a lot in three days working with Abbaszadeh. While at the Rizal Memorial, he met 2016 Olympic weightlifting silver medalist Hidilyn Diaz and was thrilled to get a photo with her. “I watched her train at Rizal and she’s amazing,” he said. “Someday, I hope to represent the Philippines in the Olympics like Hidilyn. She’s my inspiration.”

Cruz competes in the 125-kilogram division and is described by Guingona as the fastest heavyweight on two legs. He’s a top 16 state wrestler and his goal is to make his Filipina mother Leonor, a caregiver, proud by reaping honors for the country. Cruz’ pet move is the double leg takedown where he rushes an opponent like a football tackle, grabbing both legs. Avelino traces her roots to Bataan and Pangasinan. She started wrestling at the age of 8 and is a freshman at Menlo College.

“The three kids are enrolled in school but they’re prepared to take a semester off or whatever if coach Saeid wants them to start training with the national team,” said Guingona. “I’m told there’s a possibility of a six-week training camp in Mongolia or Iran from June to August. I’m prepared to relocate to Manila if that’s what Alvin and coach Saeid want. Right now, our plan is to get the kids ready for the SEA Games. Then, depending on how they do, we’ll start thinking about the Asian Games and the Olympics.”

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