by Bryan Meniado
After 97 years, we Filipinos got our first-ever Olympic gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Games last July, thanks to the valiant effort of our weightlifting hero Hidilyn Diaz. Now a multiple Olympic medalist, as she also won silver in 2016 Rio Games, this historic feat solidifies her position in the pantheon of great Filipinos. This indeed boosts our sense of national pride, and brings inspiration and hope among Filipinos.
In honor of Hidilyn Diaz, and all Filipino athletes, as well as in celebration of National Reading Month and National Children’s Month this November, I’m sharing about her children’s book titled Ginto’t Pilak. Published in 2020 by Anvil Publishing, the book was co-written by award-winning author Eugene Evasco, which was based on the interview by writer and critic Noel Ferrer, and illustrated by Tristan Yuvienco.
Ginto’t Pilak tells the story of Hidilyn’s humble beginnings in Zamboanga City, the challenges she faced, and her failures and successes in international competitions. If you’re curious about what it takes to be an Olympic champion or be successful in whatever you do, you definitely have to pick this book. Here is why Filipinos should read Ginto’t Pilak and why we should read more to our children.
Shaping young minds and dreams
Filipinos are known to have very close family ties and this aspect of Filipino culture is evident in Hidilyn’s life journey. She grew up in an underprivileged family, so she also had to help to make ends meet. Despite that, she maintained a positive outlook in life. She persevered until she got into weightlifting when she was 11.
At first, her parents were tentative of Hidilyn’s newfound passion. But after seeing her passion for the sport, they slowly became more supportive of her dreams. She trained hard, joined competitions, and eventually won some of them.
All throughout her journey up to now, Hidilyn doesn’t forget to thank her family. She always makes it a point to mention that her family has been instrumental to her journey and success because, for her, she wouldn’t have been able to reach this level without their undying support. Her parents tried their best to provide her with a safe and nurturing environment to flourish.
If we want our children to succeed and be fulfilled, we have to try our best to support them in their noble dreams. The family, as the primary unit of society, has to instill values to children, harness their potential, help them achieve their goals, and shape them to become good members of the society.
Supporting our athletes
Hidilyn’s story and her achievements are truly amazing and inspiring. But what I also realized from reading Ginto’t Pilak is that we only recognize and celebrate success when we see results such as medals and trophies. But what we sometimes fail to see are the sacrifices, blood, sweat, and tears of our athletes just to get there.
For our professional and national athletes, sports are more than just playing games. It is their career and passion. But sometimes some of us view sports as “laro laro lang”—a mere extracurricular or a hobby. We also tend to encourage our children to focus more on academics, to study hard and not play too much, then graduate and work just like many people do. We don’t see sports as a viable career path. This is likely why only few aspire to become a weightlifter, let alone an Olympic champion.
However, I understand why this is the case in our country. But I also think this general aversion to sports as something that can be pursued professionally or in life further perpetuates the poor state of sports in the Philippines. How can we get more medals in international competitions and boost our national pride if we don’t establish excellent grassroots programs and support our young athletes by actually pouring in the funds? How can we encourage more youth to seriously consider sports (apart from basketball) if there is no money and future in it? What is the reward?
But thanks to the recent success of our Olympians in Tokyo, the discussion on the state of Philippine sports is up again. Let us hope it follows through because if we want to win more medals, produce more champions, and make an impact on our communities, we have to give our athletes the support that they deserve.
Taking care of ourselves
Aside from the glory and prize money, there are many other reasons one may or should consider pursuing sports. As mentioned, sports are more than just playing and having fun. Beyond the medals and accolades that you can get, which are also very nice to have, isn’t what’s more important is the journey towards the goal?
Just like what Hidilyn had to go through in life and her weightlifting career. At a young age, she was exposed to the value of persistence, sacrifice, and discipline. Because of this, she was able to hurdle obstacles, doubts, and judgment. This shows that training for a sport, especially if you’re aiming to compete at a high level, requires more than just physical gifts and abilities as it also demands mental toughness and tenacity. (Related: “Why Filipinos Should Read: ‘The Mamba Mentality: How I Play’ by Kobe Bryant”)
Furthermore, training for a sport develops discipline and control in your nutrition to maintain good health. Since the value of self-care and self-mastery is entrenched in sports, it helps us make better decisions for our overall well-being. It can also grow our social skills, our sense of camaraderie, and our ability to empathize through sportsmanship, and all of these can eventually contribute to our character development.
Breaking gender stereotypes
As mentioned, Hidilyn’s parents were uncertain whether to allow her to pursue weightlifting at first because they had thought it was not a sport suitable for girls. They tried to warn her about the possible stigma that she might face. But she did not mind these discouragements and took them more as a challenge. She wanted to prove the doubters wrong. With her cousin’s help, she went on and, as they say, the rest was history.
Hidilyn’s success in a field that is deemed to be “masculine” only shows what women are capable of. It serves as a reminder that there is no superior or inferior gender and that anyone can achieve whatever they want. We have to put in the work, believe in ourselves, and receive adequate support, and we can go places, may it be in sports or in whatever aspiration and dreams we have.
For me, this may be the most important lesson from Hidilyn’s journey. Aside from the glory of being a champion, her gold medal at the Olympics embodies the value of equality, inclusivity, and acceptance which I think makes it more special. It reminds us that there should be no room for sexism and misogyny in society, and that women, or anyone regardless of gender, can be leaders and champions.
Writing and reading children’s literature
In the spirit of reading and children’s month, I also want to highlight the importance of writing and reading to our children. Writing for children is not as easy as it may seem. Some of us may think that because it’s “pambata,” it must be easy! But that is not the case as it requires a lot of skill to be able to craft a story and communicate the message that you want to convey in a way that is appropriate and effective for young readers.
This month’s celebration should also prompt us to be more appreciative of our children’s literature. Children’s books being “pambata” definitely does not and should not diminish their literary value. In fact, even grownups can learn a lot from reading children’s books. They are as important as other books as they are the ones that introduce our children to the magical world of reading and learning.
I hope this reminds us to read more to our children. Reading should not only be viewed as a school work or a tedious activity. We should encourage the habit of reading to widen horizons, fuel curiosity and imagination, foster open-mindedness, and empower ourselves and our children to be better. In that way, we can contribute and give back to our community and be the champions that we aspire to be.
Anything to share? :)