When Hidilyn Diaz snagged that silver medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics, she didn't just end a 20-year medal drought for the Philippines. She also became the first and only Filipina so far to win an Olympic medal of any color.
Diaz said it became more than just about winning medals. It is now a responsibility, she said, to make sure she won't be the last to do it. The 30-year-old is defying uncertainties of the pandemic to reach her goal—the top of the podium in Tokyo 2020.
The road to Olympic glory runs parallel to her personal crusade to destroy gender conventions in sports. It took some time, but Diaz said she's proud of her muscles and one day hopes to open a weightlifting camp for girls.
"Sana may sumunod sa amin. Na hindi kami ang last na Filipina na mananalo sa Olympics. Sana marami pa, sana may sumunod pa," Diaz told Summit Media journalists.
Tokyo could be her last shot at a gold medal, she said, because of her age. Looking back at her 19-year career, Diaz recalled how she started lifting weights at 11 years old.
Deciding to start in itself was hard as her mother herself discouraged her from joining the traditionally male sport.
"Ang weightlifting kasi diba pag nagbubuhat ka, malalaglag yung matres mo. Sabi niya, wag ka jan, baka hindi ka mabubuntis at walang magkakagusto sayo magiging Amazona ka. Pero mas pinili ko pa rin yung weightlifting.. Kasi ito yung sports na pinapa-feel sakin na belong ako. Pinapafeel sakin na malakas ako," she said.
Even then, her muscles, while proof of her strength, still became her biggest insecurity growing up. Diaz said it took a bad knee injury in 2014 for her to realize how much she loved being a weightlifter.
"Nung nagka injury ako, dun ko naisip na laos na ako. Dun ko naisip na parang, 'Alis na ba ako sa weightlifting? Wala na? Paano na to? Ito yung buhay ko paano ako aalis dito? Paano pag wala na yung weightlifting sa buhay ko, paano na ako?'," she recalled.
"Dun ko narealize na andaming naibigay sa akin ng weightlifting. Dun ko narealize kung gaano ako katagal na sa weightlifting. Tapos sabi ko, mahal ko pala ang weightlifting.. Dapat ko pala i-appreciate yung sports ko, dapat ko rin i-appreciate yung mga muscles ko," she said.
"Ito yung mga hardwork na alam mo yung, six to nine sessions a week yung training tapos ikakahiya ko. So, dapat I have to love my sports and myself," she added, hoping to inspire others to try the sport out for themselves regardless of gender.
Diaz has been in Malaysia for 13 months, training with her team despite added burden of the pandemic. She revealed many times she wanted to quit, if not for their support, due to the health crisis' psychological and social toll.
"Medyo masakit pero nag-a-adapt. As an athlete kailangan naming mag move on kahit mahirap," she said.
But "we have to continue on our training, kahit mahirap, kahit nasa sitwasyon tayo nasa pandemic ngayon. As an athelete we have to do our best, do our best kung may competition. Do our best to represent our country," she said.
“All in all ready na ako. Gusto ko lang talaga maglaro. Gusto ko na maglaro. Excited na ako," she added.