(Jade V. Zafra is a former editorial assistant and now a contributing writer of Spin.ph. Here is her first-person account of her run to a taekwondo gold medal in the last Southeast Asian Games in Myanmar)
EVERYTHING happened so fast it felt like a blur.
It was just last November that I officially began training for the 27th Southeast Asian Games, and now that it’s finally over, recalling everything that happened from Day One easily put a smile on my face knowing fully well I am one of only 29 Filipino athletes to have won a gold medal in Maynmar.
It was never easy to make it to the SEA Games. Honestly, my credentials were not enough that my coaches had to justify my inclusion in the 27th SEA Games. I’ve been a national player for four years already and before the Myanmar meet, I wasn’t able to win any gold medal yet in the seniors division. Worse, I haven’t won any international medal since 2010.
I’m lucky and thankful at the same time that I am part of a national sports association like the Philippine Taekwondo Association, which supports me all the way, and a coach in Sir Dindo Simpao, who is personally so dedicated in training me to become a great athlete.
Our team arrived in Myanmar on the 12th of December, but I didn’t compete until the 19th. In between, I’ve been having dreams about my matches. It bothered and pressured me. I kept thinking, “Why am I feeling like this? I’ve never felt more nervous in any of my international competitions before. This is just the SEA games.”
Exactly! It was the SEA games, and people said, “Gold medal is the only thing that counts; not silver, not bronze.”
Honestly, I feel doubtful about my performance prior to the competitions. My stamina was really bothering me, so much so that I kept thinking what should I do? Also, add to the fact the Youth Olympic Games champion and two-time SEA Games gold medalist from Thailand was bracketed in the same weight division where I was entered. She’s a good player that she beat my teammate during the 2011 edition of the meet in Laos.
When competition finally got underway, I had mixed emotions. I wanted to win, but what if I didn’t? I wanted to meet my coaches’ expectations but I was scared I wouldn’t make it. These were the thoughts that kept running in my mind.
I easily won my first match against a Cambodian bet on a score of 15-1.
But my bout against an opponent from Vietnam was challenging. At the onset, I scored six quick points in less than twenty seconds with two headkicks so I thought, “Mukhang madaling tapusin ito, susugod ako ng susugod, at tatapusin ko na ito sa dulo ng second round.”
I was wrong.
I lacked the stamina, and charging at my opponent without strategizing was a very bad idea indeed.
The Vietnamese player was as tall as I am (5-foot-11), but was more muscular than me. The moment I started to lose my stamina, it gave her the perfect opportunity to execute her attacks. As my resistance declined, I kept falling down on the floor, allowing her to pile up the points and tie the score.
Sir Dindo got really mad at me in the middle of the match. He said the game was “mine” and the gold medal was within my reach but I was letting it slip away just like that. I really had to wake up.
We reached the sudden-death round and I needed to be strong, thinking, “Sa akin ito, kailangan ko lang maging matibay at magiging sa akin ito.”
Even with a fading stamina and rubbery legs due to exhaustion, I tried to do what Sir Dindo told me. I had to. When everything sunk in, I saw an opportunity to hit her with a kick to the head which proved to be my winning point.
I was an embarrassment for the team and the country for performing that way.
After the bout, Sir Dindo had to ask me, “Kaya mo pa ba? Hindi ka na ba tutumba sa susunod mong laban? Kung tutumba ka lang dun, wag na tayong lumaro. Nakakahiya,” he told me calmly, “I’m good with silver if you’re only going to perform that way in the finals, Jade.”
I told him I’d fight and promised not to do the same, but seriously, I’m feeling some pain on my left shin and my left ankle started to swell after the constant falls I had to endure against my Vietnamese opponent. Heck, I couldn’t even stand with my left leg.
At lunch time, alone in our room, I kept thinking about my Thai foe in the gold medal match, because she’s really a good player. My coaches acknowledged her and all they told me was not forget to block her headkicks because we all know that she’s really quick and good at it.
I repeatedly asked myself if I can really finish strong in the finals. I was doubtful, but then I thought, “She’s a champion and I am a nobody. Walang mawawala sa akin kung gagawin ko lahat. At lahat ng champion, napapalitan kasi tinatalo sila.” I said to myself, “May injury ako pero mas malala pa din ang injury ng teammate ko dahil tuhod `yung sa kanya. Lalaban ako.”
I kept psyching myself but still bits of doubts came rushing in while walking on my way to the arena.
When the finals was about to begin, Sir Dindo gave me a fist bump. And when I was about to turn away he said, “Make me proud.”
It was like magic for me upon hearing those words. Suddenly, all doubts went away and all I wanted was to win.
Final 14 seconds of the third round and the score was 4-1 in my favor. Sir Dindo and Sir John Paul ‘Japoy’ Lizardo were yelling at me, “hands up” because the Thai is really targeting my head in an effort to tie the score. I did what I have been told and that 14 seconds felt like minutes. On the last seven seconds, I was able to kick her head and clearly saw the hopelessness in her face. The game ended with a 7-1 tally on the scoreboard and I was still feeling strong.
I cried and let out tears of joy after I was declared the winner. It was like a dream come true, which just days ago, I thought was impossible to achieve.
All the hard work, time, effort, and sacrifices paid off. This SEA games gold medal is what I really wanted. My parents and brothers’ support, our grand master Sung Chon Hong’s trust, Sir Dindo’s effort, I was finally able to repay all of those. I’m so happy and humbled that God answered my prayers.
The SEA games gold medal wouldn’t have been possible without every single person I know, from the smallest to the biggest things that were done to me, I am truly grateful.