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Fascinating Women 2022: Philippines’ First Olympic Gold Medalist, Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz

Hidilyn Diaz has experienced many setbacks throughout almost two decades of her weightlifting journey. The 31-year-old athlete knows we can't always win in life, but what has proven to be a constant for her is her winning mindset



On July 26, 2021, Hidilyn Diaz’s life dramatically changed overnight when she became the first-ever Filipino to win an Olympic gold medal for the Philippines at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan; she emerged as the winner for the women’s 55kg category for weightlifting. 


Through her historic victory, which came at a time when the mood all over the world was dampened by the pandemic, Hidilyn was able to lift the spirits of her kababayans from miles away. The Filipino people cheered her on and celebrated with her, and her success ignited positivity and hope within the hearts of many.



5 Inspiring Quotes From The Philippines' First Olympic Gold Medalist, Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz

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But success doesn’t happen overnight; that’s a fact that makes success the icing on the cake of a bittersweet journey. And one’s struggles serve as key ingredients that make success sweeter in the end when, in Hidilyn’s case, served in the form of a gold medal. 


Ang dami kong setbacks kasi almost 20 years na ako sa sport na ito,” Hidilyn shared during Manulife Philippines’ recent free public webinar titled “Filipina in Action: In Business and in Health,” which was also graced by award-winning actress and entrepreneur Bea Alonzo and hosted by journalist and LGBTQIA+ member G3 San Diego. “I just have to accept na ganun talaga ang buhay, hindi ka parating panalo.”


Throughout those years, Hidilyn stayed motivated to keep going, for she had clear goals and there was no stopping her from achieving them. She may have started her weightlifting journey by sheer curiosity, later propelled by her drive to win, but she eventually became passionate about the sport. She loves weightlifting and it loves her back, as it has given her countless opportunities一from helping her financially with her studies and breadwinner responsibilities to weightlifting her way to an Olympic gold medal to having the chance to pay it forward by training young, aspiring weightlifters.



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When it comes to unlocking achievements, they say there’s nowhere else to go but up. It’s only natural for people to aspire for more, and that’s not always about being discontented一for Hidilyn, it can also mean a constant search for growth, a source of happiness, and a sense of purpose. 


So, where does Hidilyn go from here, after winning the first Olympic gold medal for the Philippines? She says, “Para sa akin ’yung nasa isip ko, ‘What’s next?’ ‘Ano’ng susunod [na] gagawin ko?’” Of course, the next goal is another gold medal at the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, France. Hidilyn and her team are also planning to put up a weightlifting academy to not only help elevate the standards for the sport but also help equip the young, aspiring weightlifters with proper training. On top of these, she’s also preparing for a new role: as a wife to her fiancé and coach Julius Naranjo.

 



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Everything may seem to be coming up roses for Hidilyn today, but remember that there’s also no rose without thorns. The beauty of Hidilyn’s journey also comes from all the challenges she had to overcome and the failures she had to learn from, to become this inspiring, fascinating woman both men and women look up to.


Life has a mix of constants and changes. For Hidilyn the athlete, the constants are her regular training and her continuous drive for excellence alongside the members of Team HD: head coach Gao Kaiwen, strength and conditioning coach Julius Naranjo, sports nutritionist Jeaneth Aro, and sports psychologist Karen Trinidad. Hidilyn’s victory is not hers alone: “Hindi ako mananalo sa Olympics kung wala sila.” As for the changes, those are defined by her constants and the results of their winning collective effort. Hidilyn says, “Siguro ang sikreto ng Team HD is we communicate. We have one goal as a team then we communicate then we talk. We plan then we execute then we communicate again. ’Yun ang kailangan sa team eh.”



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We can’t always win in life. Hidilyn knows that for sure, especially after her devastating “Did Not Finish” ranking, resulting from three unsuccessful attempts in her clean-and-jerk, at the 2012 London Olympics. But, we can always have a winning mindset, and that’s what Hidilyn held onto to snag the silver medal at Rio 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and finally, the gold at Tokyo 2020.


Even with her gold medal and her gold, barbell-inspired engagement ring, though, Hidilyn isn’t done winning in life yet. The dream and the journey go on. 


What motivates her to plan for the future? “Siguro ’yung motivation ko, ito kasi ’yung binigay na responsibilidad sa’kin ni God… ’Yung motivation ko, ’yung mga kabataan. Gusto ko ’yung standard ng sports, mas mataas na.”



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Scroll down for more inspiring quotes from fascinating woman Hidilyn Diaz at Manulife Philippines’ recent free public webinar titled “Filipina in Action: In Business and in Health,” organized in celebration of International Women’s Month:



On who Hidilyn is before and after winning the Olympic gold medal

Si Hidilyn Diaz, nag-start sa weightlifting by curiosity lang. Galing ako sa mahirap na pamilya pero ’yung maganda kay Hidilyn, before pa manalo ng gold medal sa Olympics, goal-driven siya. Tapos determined and disciplined. Once may goal siya, motivated siya sa ginagawa niya. And she really does her best and nag-tre-training talaga siya to achieve her dream. Then after manalo ng gold medal, siyempre before that, silver then gold. Siyempre nagbagong-buhay pero ganun pa rin, hindi ako sumusuko. I always do my best everyday. Then, nandun pa rin ’yung goal para manalo uli ng gold medal sa Paris 2024. Kailangan natin may goal eh, kailangan natin may direction.” 


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On when her passion for weightlifting started

Aaminin ko nung bata ako, gusto ko lang makapagtapos ng pag-aaral. Gusto ko lang na hindi ako hihingi ng pera sa nanay ko kasi siyempre mahirap manghingi ng pera. Then before, gusto ko maging banker. Hindi talaga maging weightlifter, hindi maging gold medalist. Pero later on, nung nakilala ko ang weightlifting, gusto ko lang maging gold medalist sa local hanggang sa nag-level up. Kasi kung makita mo nung 2008, 17 years old ako, naging Olympian [at the Summer Olympics in Beijing, China]. Hanggang sa naging fourth Olympics ko na ngayong Tokyo 2020. So medyo matagal bago ko naiuwi ang gold medal sa Olympics.”



On pursuing weightlifting even though it is an arguably male-dominated sport

Mahirap. Sa totoo lang, mahirap maging atleta lalong-lalo na sa sports ng weightlifting kasi nga kilala ang weightlifting as pang-lalaki eh. So nung nag-start ako, ’yung nanay ko mismo ang ayaw na mag-weightlifting ako kasi pang-lalaking sports ’yan, kasi babae, nasa bahay ka lang. Eh taga-probinsya ako, taga-Zamboanga ako, so medyo mahirap ’yun pero ginagawa ko kasi ’yung sports na ’yun kasi na-e-enjoy ko. Nag-try na ako ng iba’t-ibang sports pero wala eh. Sa weightlifting talaga ako nag-enjoy tapos nakita ko na may future ako sa weightlifting. So nung nakita ng nanay ko na-e-enjoy ko ang weightlifting, sinuportahan naman niya ako. Then, kasi ’yung mga kasama ko sa weightlifting, mga lalaki rin, mga pinsan ko, so nakikipag-compete ako sa kanila. Natalo ko sila. So, ang sports, walang gender ’yan.”


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On when she discovered she was strong

Sa totoo lang, nung 2014 lang, although naglalaro na ako. 2008, Beijing Olympics. 2012, London Olympics. Pero walang love sa ginagawa. Walang appreciation sa katawan, wala talaga. Kasi nga ginagawa ko ’yung weightlifting dahil sa survival. Kailangan ko mag-aral. Breadwinner ako ng family namin eh. So nung time na na-realize ko na mahal ko ang weightlifting, malakas ako, at ’di ko kayang iwan ang weightlifting [was] nung may injury ako.”



On how she deals with bad days

“Yes, ’di kami everyday okay ’yung training. Hindi rin everyday na maganda ’yung resulta ng laro. Pero at the end of the day, bumabalik ako as an athlete sa ‘Why?’ ‘Bakit ko ito ginagawa?’ And umiiyak lang ako minsan tapos kinakausap ko ’yung coaches ko, ano’ng kailangan i-improve sa’kin. Tapos kinakausap ko rin ’yung sports psychologist ko, baka may mali sa akin, baka ’yung goal ko, or baka kailangan ko magpahinga kahit isang araw. So may mga ganun, then bounce back. Babawi ako next competition. Maging maganda ’yung compeition ko, maging maganda ’yung resulta. Next training, bukas, magiging okay din ito; kailangan ko lang magpahinga.”

 

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On dealing with changes

Siguro iniisip ko na ’yung pagbabago ng buhay, parehas lang din sa sports. Hindi ako parating malakas. Hindi ako parating winner. Kaya whenever na nandun ako, iniisip ko na i-enjoy ’yun but at the same time alam kong babalik ako dun. So I just have to, parang ine-enjoy ko, ina-accept ko ’yung reality pero bumabalik ako dun sa reality na ito ako, dito ako nag-start then I’m surrounded by the people na tinutulungan ako o gina-guide ako para ma-overcome ’yung success or ’yung downfall kasi hindi mo kayang mag-isa.”



On thoughts of quitting after winning an Olympic gold medal

Para sa akin ’yung nasa isip ko, ‘What’s next?’ ‘Ano’ng susunod gagawin ko?’ Marami ngang nagsasabi na, ‘P’wede na, gold medalist ka na.’ Sabi ko, ‘Kaya ko pa eh. ’Wag niyo naman ako i-stop.’ Sa’kin kasi, malakas pa ako eh. Kasi ’pag ’di ko na kaya, ako mismo, mag-i-stop ako. Pero gusto ko pa, mahal ko pa ang sports, kaya ko pang mag-sakripisyo para sa Pilipinas. So hindi ako nakikinig sa kanila kasi alam ko na kaya ko pa.”


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On why it is important for women in any field to choose to break the bias or unlearn the stereotypes associated with being a woman

Para sa’kin napaka-importante kasi may mga bata na sumusunod sa’kin. Parati akong sinasabihan naBabae ka lang, ’wag ka dito, atleta ka lang.’ Hindi p’wede eh. We have also the right. We have also the capacity and ability. So ngayon andito ako as a weightlifter, isang Pilipina na nanalo ng gold medal sa Olympics, malaking bagay ’yun para sa mga kababaihan na sumusunod sa akin. Kasi naipakita natin na kaya natin manalo, mga babae sa Olympics. Kaya natin na i-representa ang Pilipinas kahit ano’ng larangan ito. So napaka-importante na nandito tayo ngayon na lumalaban.”



On an instance when she struggled financially and emotionally, and how she got herself out of that bad situation

Siguro nung na-stuck kami sa Malaysia nung 2020. Siyempre hindi ko alam kung saan kami mag-i-stay. Kasi biglang nag-lockdown eh. Halos buong mundo nag-lockdown, so hindi namin alam kung saan kami mag-stay. ’Di namin alam kung saan ako magtre-training kasi sa athlete, ang kailangan, magtre-training ako kahit hindi matuloy ang Olympics. Tuloy-tuloy pa rin ang training tapos nung time na ’yun, wala kaming kakilala pa sa Malaysia. So mahirap emotionally at siyempre draining na rin, medyo wala na financially nung andun kami sa Malaysia. Na-overcome namin ’yun by seeking help sa iba. Sa sponsors. Seeking help sa mga kaibigan. Seeking help sa Malaysian friends. It’s always good na maghingi ng tulong, maghingi ng advice. Ako, sa Team HD, maghingi ng advice sa kaibigan. Maghingi ng advice or tulong sa taong makakatulong sa’tin.”


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“The pandemic continues to pose a lot of challenges on us, especially when it comes to our health and finances. Mental strain is seen to be more prevalent among Filipino women, too, as financial worries take a toll on people’s mental health,” shared Melissa Henson, Chief Marketing Officer, Manulife Philippines. 


Manulife Philippines recently released its third Manulife Asia Care Survey results, which showed that of the 80% of Filipinos surveyed who have experienced mental health symptoms, 84% are women. They admitted experiencing feelings of sadness (51%), fatigue and sleeping difficulties (44%), excessive worrying (38%), and extreme mood changes (33%), especially working mothers and married women.


Henson added: “We hope that with insights from inspiring women like Hidilyn and Bea, we can support, empower and inspire more Filipinos to take charge of their lives and overcome life’s hurdles with courage, focus and confidence. As we help advance opportunities for growth, financial security, and well-being for all, we can continue building a more equal and inclusive world.” 



Lead photos by @imjulius via @hidilyndiaz