PARA SWIMMER Gary Bejino was chasing his dream to be a special education teacher when an unexpected call came in from the national team.
"Nasa college ako non. Nag-aaral ako ng SpEd, major in Math, tapos kinontact ako ng national team kasi kailangan nila ng para swimmer na ipapadala sa isang international event," he told SPIN Life. "So tinry ko."
In 2013, equipped only with his experiences in local meets like the Palarong Pambansa, Bejino flew to Malaysia. That's when it all began.
"Sabi nila kapag okay ang performance, magtutuloy-tuloy sa Philippine team. Tapos 'yon, natuloy ako at dun na nahasa ang skills ko," he continued.
A lifetime camaraderie was forged then among all the Philippine tankers, disabled and non-disabled alike.
"Nung unang dating ko, tamang-tama kasi nagte-training na sila. Natakot pa nga ako kasi sabi, 6 km lalanguyin ko, kaya ko ba yon? Tapos sabi ni coach, hindi niya ako bibiglain," he said. "Dun ko na nakilala sila Kuya Ernie [Gawilan]. Mababait silang lahat. Kasama namin mag-training kahit yung mga hindi para athletes. Never namin naramdaman na disabled kami."
Because of a lack of financial resources, he had to drop out of college, giving up his ambition to become an educator to focus on being a full-time athlete. After all, he can make money out of it.
Bejino said that it was a sacrifice he wholeheartedly made, since it paved the way for his younger sibling to be sent to school.
"Okay lang din sakin na ganon mangyari, kasi alam ko wala na din pang-tuition, tapos may dumating na opportunity. Sabi ko sige, ito na talaga ang profession ko," he added.
As Bejino put it, "Nagparaya ako para sa kapatid ko."
Gary Bejino sets sights on Paralympics
The swimmer, who has an aquired limb deficiency, won gold medals in the Asean Para Games, as well as silver and bronze in the 2018 Asian Para Games. He's looking to add more as he also makes his Olympic debut, joining four events (400m freestyle S6, 200m individual medley SM6, 100m breaststroke SB, and 50m butterfly S6).
"Tingin ko tama 'yung naging desisyon ko na ito 'yung tahaikin kasi marami na akong na-achieve and na-experience dahil dito, lahat ito meron ako ngayon dahil sa swimming," he added.
Now, as part of the five (formerly six) Philippine delegation to the Paralympic Games, he just wants to get the job done.
After all, it's his life's work.
"May konting pressure dahil ako ang unang lalaban para sa Pilipino, pero excited sobra," the 25-year-old athlete said. "Gusto ko syempre makapasok sa final, at makapag-podium. Higit sa lahat may matutunan pa sa experience, para mas lalo pa kong gumaling sa trabaho ko."
Bejino will be the first Filipino Paralympian to compete, hitting the water in Tokyo on August 26.
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