Tragedy won’t deter Barredo
This year, the Philippines participated in its eighth Paralympics in Tokyo and would’ve been represented by six athletes in powerlifting, taekwondo, athletics and swimming. A seventh was an alternate, two-time Paralympian Josephine Medina who brought home a bronze in table tennis from Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
But COVID-19 decimated the lineup to only three. And worse, Medina, who didn’t make it to the final roster, died at home during the Paralympics. Powerlifter Jinky Guion, her coach Tony Taguibao, athletics coach Joel Deriada and jin Allain Ganapin tested positive before departing for Tokyo. Discus thrower Jeanette Aceveda and coach Bernard Buen were already in Tokyo when they tested positive. Chef de mission Kiko Diaz and Philippine Paralympic Committee (PPC) secretary-general Walter Torres never left the country after testing positive in pre-departure health test protocols.
PPC president Mike Barredo said he couldn’t imagine three athletes, three coaches and two officials going down with the virus. Aceveda even had to be hospitalized in Tokyo for a night before isolating in a facility to do her quarantine. Despite the setbacks, Barredo said the three Filipino athletes left standing went out to compete with all their heart for the country. Swimmer Ernie Gawilan finished sixth in 400-meter freestyle and also battled in 200-meter individual medley and 100-meter backstroke. Another swimmer Gary Bejino failed to advance to the final in 200-meter individual medley, 100-meter backstroke, 50-meter butterfly and 400-meter freestyle. Runner Jerrold Mangliwan placed sixth in 1,500 meters, eighth in 100 meters and also did the 400 meters.
“My heart goes out to all our athletes, those who competed and those who weren’t able to because of testing positive,” said Barredo. “They all qualified to be in Tokyo and that in itself was a victory. It was quite an experience in the Paralympics, feeling very vulnerable under the circumstances. On my part, I had to do a lot of things to cover for Kiko and Walter who couldn’t leave Manila but that’s how it is. You work with the cards you’re dealt and find a way to continue. It was particularly difficult for our athletes but we just had to soldier on.”
Barredo himself is no stranger to adversity. When he was 24 in 1979, Barredo lost his eyesight in a car accident. He was in his prime, an all-star varsity athlete. Barredo underwent 10 operations to save his left eye after his right eye was ruled irreparable. The surgeries went for naught. Instead of brooding, Barredo dedicated his life to championing the cause of the differently abled. His achievements led to numerous citations, including the TOYM award for humanitarian service, induction into the La Salle Sports Hall of Fame and the Apolinario Mabini award for business. In 2013, Barredo received the prestigious Paralympic Order from the International Paralympic Committee, the highest tribute to an individual for supporting the Paralympic Movement. In the wake of the tragedy that befell the Philippine contingent in Tokyo, Barredo quoted Winston Churchill as saying “Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts.” He said the Paralympic values of determination, inspiration, courage and equality remain foremost in his consciousness.
Next year, the country’s Paralympic Movement will celebrate its 25th anniversary and Barredo said it will mark the triumph of the differently abled in overcoming their challenges not just in sports but also in life.
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