LONG before she won an Olympic medal, Hidilyn Diaz was already breaking down barriers for the Filipina athlete.
Getting into weightlifting came naturally for the Zamboanga City native as she grew up in a known hotbed of the sport where the likes of former ‘Strongest Man in Southeast Asia’ Jaime Sebastian as well as Ramon Solis, Samuel Alegada, and Gregorio Colonia came from.
Those last three names were the last Filipino athletes to see action in Olympic weightlifting back in the 1988 Seoul Games - until Diaz made history 20 years later as the first Filipina lifter to make it to the quadrennial showpiece in 2008 in Beijing.
Then 17, Diaz made it as a wildcard entry at the 58 kg division but the debut was forgettable, finishing second to last even if she broke her own Philippine record which she set in the 2007 Southeast Asian Games.
Who would've thought that eight years later, she would become the first Filipino in 20 years to land a medal in the Games.
Coaches had seen the potential of Diaz as early as 2001 where the then-10-year-old girl was recruited by Unibersidad de Zamboanga, a school known for its weightlifting program.
A few years later, Diaz began making a name for herself. After finishing a respectable eighth in the 2006 Asian Games, she won a bronze medal in the SEA Games a year later.
But the road to Olympic success was far from easy.
After being chosen as the flagbearer during the parade of nations of the 2012 London Olympics, Diaz wasn’t even able to finish her event as she failed to lift 118kg in three attempts in the clean and jerk of the 58kg division.
Injuries as well as changes in the coaching staff in the national team hindered her development and almost drove her to quit, especially after she failed to see action in the 2014 Asian Games.
But Diaz is made of sterner stuff.
After going down to the 53kg weight class, Diaz claimed gold in the 2015 Asian Championship before a major breakthrough where she landed the bronze medal in the World Championship that same year.
She qualified for the Rio Olympics where, after a lackluster snatch that saw her lift just 88 kilograms, way off her personal best, Diaz bounced back in her favorite clean and jerk as she cleared 112 kilos to finish with a total of 200kg.
Now with an Olympic silver medal at hand, Diaz has blazed a trail for Filipina athletes, achieving a feat great women athletes before her like Lydia de Vega and Elmer Muros failed to reach.
Her victory lifted the gloom in a country thirsting for Olympic glory for two decades, delivering an emphatic message to the rest of the sporting world.
Yes, the Filipina can.