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After a very public defeat, multiple setbacks and a serious injury, she has made history by becoming the first-ever Filipina to win an Olympic Medal in Rio 2016

The Zamboanga-born Olympian and airwoman began her journey as an athlete at 11 years old. Inspired by seeing her male cousins exercising, she started using ipil-ipil (Leucaena leucocephala) sticks and then cement weights and jeepney mag wheels before finally graduating to proper weightlifting barbells and plates. In 2008, when Diaz was 17, she became the first female weightlifter to represent the Philippines at the Summer Olympics in Beijing.

She went on to represent the country again in London 2012, but it was here that Diaz experienced the most disappoint- ing moment of her career. Three failed attempts in her ‘clean and jerk’ resulted in a devastating “Did Not Finish” leaving her to question her athletic career. After considerable hard work and perseverance, Diaz made an outstanding and historic comeback at the Rio 2016 Olympics where she won a silver medal in the Women’s 53kg Weightlifting category. This was the first Summer Olympic medal for the Philippines in 20 years and this proud Mindanaoan is also the first Filipino woman ever to win an Olympic medal. Since then, the athlete has been training tirelessly, resulting in gold medals at the 2018 Asian Games, the 2019 Southeast Asian Games and the Roma 2020 Weightlifting World Cup. Diaz was feeling confident about bringing home the Olympic gold this year in Tokyo, however, the global pandemic has dashed these hopes until at least 2021. Despite being stranded for a number of weeks while training in Malaysia, she channelled her Olympian spirit into fundraising for underprivileged families affected by the lockdown in her Philippines hometown and other parts of the nation. 

Describe to us the moment you realised that you hit rock bottom and how did you feel.

There are many moments when I felt I hit rock bottom, but definitely right after 2012 was truly difficult for me. My failure was so public. I was trolled online and bashed in the media, and although it was hard for me, it was more for my family. I was able to ignore it because I knew who I am—but it was painful because they were targeting my father. I didn’t feel shame; I was just hurt because I love my country and would do everything for it. I did question if I deserved that kind of treatment but I continued to love and serve the Philippines. However, before Rio 2016, just when I thought things were getting better, I suffered a major injury. At that point, I thought that there was no way I could win in the Olympics or even go back to weightlifting. I felt like I was a loser, a failure, that I was empty and with no purpose or direction in my life.

Did this steal your resolve for redemption or were you resigned to your fate?

I believe that all the trials and challenges that God gives us are meant to make us stronger and to lead us to a better path in life. There are things that we can’t control. We just have to accept them and do our best to survive and surpass the difficulties. I think it’s natural to have doubts in yourself and in your dreams. There were many times I wanted to give up but I would always ask the question, “Why am I doing this?” 

Never give up on your dream. Don’t live your life with regret and always give your best in life, in training and in competition
Hidilyn Diaz

Did your physical training regimen prepare you for the mental and emotional part of these setbacks?

Weightlifting is my life; it is what defines who I am. If I don’t get to lift for even a few days, my morale drops. Weightlifting makes me strong physically, but also mentally and emotionally, and allows me to face these challenges head-on.

You have been diligently training for the now postponed Tokyo Olympics; how does this unexpected turn of events make you feel?

To be honest, I feel like it’s another rock bottom for me and my team. The postponement means another additional year of preparation and sacrifice for us. Training for the Olympics is gruelling and needs funding. We need to find the money to train and compete abroad, for accommodations, airfare, food and everything else. I was so ready for the 2020 Olympics, ready to bring home the gold for the Philippines, but I suppose God has a better plan. Although, I still have a lot of anxiety and doubts: Can our budget afford one more year? When will all this be over? But we continue to push forward.

If you could give an aspiring athlete one piece of advice, what would it be?

Never give up on your dream. Don’t live your life with regret and always give your best in life, in training and in competition.

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