ERNIE Gawilan can hardly believe his good fortune.
The 27-year-old 'legless' swimming wonder from Paquibato District came home with three gold medals and a pair of silver from the 2018 Asian Para Games in Jakarta, Indonesia. More than making history by giving the country its first-ever gold medal in the four stagings of the quadrennial showpiece of the continent, the man born with underdeveloped extremities and orphaned early in life, is bound to receive a windfall of P4 million for his feat.
Based on the Philippine Sports Incentives Act, 'Torpedo Ernie' is bound to receive P1 million each for his three gold medals in the 100-meter backstroke S7, 200-m individual medley S7, and 400-m freestyle S7, and P500,000 each for his two silvers in the 50-m freestyle S7, 100-m freestyle S7.
Those five medals hung on his neck when he arrived on Sunday from Jakarta. The money though has not sunk in on Ernie's mind.
"Nalibog pa ko sir (I was confused, sir)," he told SPIN.ph.
Asked what he plans to do with his money, Ernie said "Planuhon pa nako sir kung asa nako padakoon para maka tabang ko (I'll plan first how to get it to earn interest so that I can help)," he said hinting he will share some of his prize to charity.
Ernie himself is no stranger to charity. When he was orphaned in Paquibato before he turned a year old, he was brought to the Our Lady of Victory monastery in Davao City where a missionary named Sr. Cecilia Wood took care of him.
"Unang una sir gusto nako pasalamat ang Ginoo sa iyang pagpapala sa akoa tapos sa madre nga isa sa mga nagpakaon nako ug nagatiman si Sr. Cecilia Wood ug sa Our lady of Victory training Center family. Sa Philippine Sports Commission sa buhos nilang suporta sa amoang dula, National Paralympic Committee-Philippines, Philspada, sa mga coach ko, sa mga teammates ko, sa mga taong nagdarasal sa amin at niniwala, maraming salamat po (Unang-unang, sir, gusto ko magpasalamat sa Panginoon sa kanyang pag-bless sa akin at sa madre na isa sa mga nagpakain at nag-alaga, si Sr. Cecilia Wood ,at sa Our Lady of Victory training center family. Sa Philippine Sports Commission sa pagbuhos ng kanilang suporta sa aming mga laro...)," he said.
Ernie fondly remembers Sr. Wood who nourished his frail body when he first came to the monastery. "Si Sr. Cecilia Wood siya ang nag tabang ug nagpa himsog sukad pagabot nako (tumulong na magpalusog mula nung dumating ako) sa Our Lady of Victory Training Center," he recalled.
Sr. Wood M.M., a physician, died on August 17 last year at Our Lady of Victory Training Center. She was 95 years old and had been a Maryknoll Sister for 77 years. Cecilia was born in Seattle, Washington on September 17, 1921. She returned to the Philippines in 1977 where she served on the faculty of the Davao Medical School from 1978 to 1983, while at the same time serving in Muslim villages and in local clinics of Davao City and environs with particular attention to disabled youth in a paraplegic center.
In 1983, Our Lady of Victory Training Center was founded in Davao City and Sister Cecilia served as director and practicing physician from 1989 to 2010. She retired in 2011 but remained in Davao until her death.
Humble as he is, Ernie said his victories in the Asiad are partly because of some revisions in the classifications by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Classifications.
"Nibaba pud akong class, dati na S8 karon na S7 kay naay bagong rules ang IPC sir (Binaba ako ng class, mula S8 to S7 dahil sa bagong rules ng IPC)," Ernie explained.
S7 is a sport class designated to athletes with one leg and one arm amputation on opposite sides, or a paralysis of one arm and one leg on the same side. Moreover, swimmers with full control over arms and trunk and some leg function can compete in this class. S8, meantime, is for swimmers who have an amputation of one arm are eligible to compete in this sport class. Also, athletes with significant restrictions across hip, knee and ankle joints could compete in this sport class.
Ernie also credited the PSC and Philippine Sports Institute for his improvement at the pool.
"Siguro tungod kay nindot jud (maganda talaga) ang programa namo karon sir, tapos ang Philippine Sport Institute sir," he said.
Ernie still does not know when he will finally get hold of his biggest paycheck by far but for now, he plans to return home to Davao in November for a well-needed break before plunging back to training for next year's World Championships in Kuching, Malaysia.