YOU COULD say that 26-year-old Jasmine Alkhaldi's swimming career began more than two decades ago, when she almost drowned at just three years old. That unexpected dip into the deep end unconventionally led her to the pool's fast lane.
"I just loved the water. I was just born a water baby," she recalled to SPIN Life. "Nakakita daw ako ng swimming pool, tumalon ako, and [muntik na akong] nalunod."
Now, the veteran tanker has already represented the Philippines in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, as well as the Asian Games in 2010, 2014, and 2018.
At the 2017 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, she bagged three bronze medals. More recently, during the FINA Swimming World Cup 2019 in Singapore, she set a Philippine women's national record for the 50-m freestyle event, clocking in at 25.64.
With momentum on her side, she is looking to deliver more metal for her country in the upcoming games.
An early start
As a child, her accidental (or rather, accident-causing) dedication to swimming developed from summer hobby to lifelong commitment. "I could really say that I'm a homegrown talent, even though I don't look the part," said Jasmine, whose father is from Saudi Arabia and whose mother hails from Cebu.
At age five, she started competing, and by 11, she was already part of the Philippine national team. She continued training locally until she moved to the University of Hawaii for college, where she studied Business Marketing and Management, while pounding the water.
Leading up to the SEA Games competition, Jasmine traveled abroad to train even harder, thanks to a sponsorship from Blackwater. (She also paraded with the personal care brand's PBA team as muse during the 44th season opening.) "I really needed to do that kasi it was hard to train here kasi wala na masyadong swimmers my age, you know, at this level," Jasmine shared.
She returns to the Philippines with invaluable experience and renewed sense of determination. "To train with people who are better than me, to look for people that would really push me, I think it helped. Kasi, you just work hard, you just want to catch up with them every single day, so, I think it helps a lot. But I always come back here!"
Like many athletes at her level, the journey has not been easy. Jasmine entertained the idea of turning her back on the sport she loves so much. This was especially true after her heartbreaks at the Olympics. "There were a lot of times na talagang, ayaw ko na, gusto ko na mag-quit, 'cause it's so hard," she confessed. "You train every day, and the results are almost 90 percent not good, and it's like 10 percent good."
And while she could have taken a different path, what ultimately refueled her passion was the opportunity to represent her country on home ground. "To be able to represent the Philippines in the Philippines, I think that's something I've never done before." And with the stage finally set, Jasmine sets her sights on achieving a much greater feat than just a medal-bearing swim.
The greater goal
Despite all the headwinds she's endured, Jasmine doesn't want to waste this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"It's been a long hard journey, but I recognize the honor that it is. And the platform in this stage I have to really showcase my God-given talents and really bring honor to the country."
Even if her first encounter with the water was less than ideal, Jasmine is out to give back to the sport that gave her so much. "I want to show them na swimming is a cool sport. As hard as swimming is I feel like I learned so many things from it, I've grown in swimming, and I just want to show the young people out there na, aside from, of course, academics, having a sport just teaches you a lot of things," she shared.
But more than just promoting swimming, she wants to show the resilience of the Filipino people.
"People know naman the Philippines, what we are as a country, but they also know that the Filipino people have the biggest hearts. They're very, talagang masipag, and full of grit, and 'yung hindi naggi-give up right away. So, I'm excited to actually show that here. Not just to our competitors, but to the Filipino people as well, na this is who we are."
While a podium finish may indeed be on the horizon for Jasmine, the sweetest win would be to showcase the heart of the Filipino.