When the 2017 Palarong Pambansa opened on April 23, 18-year-old Rosalia Abapo secured the first gold medal forRegion 11-Davao.
Her coaches proudly reported the news to Education Secretary Leonor Magtolis Briones, who was visiting the billeting quarter of Davao’s Special Education (SPED) student-athletes in Antique. The young athlete soon found herself being introduced to the Education chief, and sheepishly, held the Secretary’s hand to her forehead then clung back to a coach.
Rosalia is one of the 40 SPED athletes of the Davao delegation, and won her fourth consecutive gold in shot put that Sunday. According to coach Maria Nenebe Elizaga, that victory allowed Rosalia to become the Philippines’ representative to the 2017 Asian Youth Para Games on December 10-14 in Dubai.
“Excited siya. Dahil sa Palaro, nakasakay siya ng airplane at barko,” coach Elizaga shared.
Boost of confidence
At 18, Rosalia would have been already in college, but a school assessment conducted by a developmental pediatrician determined that she has moderate intellectual disability (ID) with mental age of seven.She shares the condition with five other siblings, two of them are with her participating for the first time in Palaro.
The young athlete started playing shot put in 2011 and won her first gold in 2014. On why she engages in sports, Rosalia frugally offered, “Gusto ko lang,” and beamed her bashful smile.
“Si Rose, since sumali siya ng Palaro, na-boost din ang kanyang self-confidence. Kasi before, nung di pa siya na kasali, talagang mahiyain. Pero ngayon, kahit pakaway-kaway lang alam ko nang friend na niya,” coach Elizaga pointed out.
The rising shot put athlete is also making great strides in academics, as she is already integrated in regular school.
“Two years self-contained, then Grade 1, ngayon Grade 5 na [incoming Grade 6]. Na-promote from self-contained to mainstreaming, inclusive education kasi nag-develop na yung ibang skills niya, socialization, cognitive, nakapag-recognize narin siya ng iba’t ibang colors, numbers,” coach Elizaga explained.
No sibling rivalry
Rosalia honed her skills in academics and sports at Maniki Central Elementary School in Kapalong, Davao del Norte. Everyday, one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon, she would jog around the school oval with her younger brother Rommel and younger sister Karen. For Palaro, they started training as early as July the year prior.
Sixteen-year-old Rommel was assessed to have mild ID with mental age of nine, but is also integrated in regular school and an incoming Grade 6 student like Rosalia. Refusing to be pigeonholed by his condition, Rommel turned to sports,in a fashion he knows and feels best.
“Hindi siya makatakbo nang hindi naka-makeup. Kailangan maayos siya, dun siya kumukuha ng lakas. Gusto niya star siya,” coach Elizaga shared. Rommel, as if on cue, flipped his layered hair to reveal a star-shaped undercut.
Their younger sister, 13-year-old Karen,is an incoming Grade 5 student and assessed to have mild ID with mental age of nine. Her foray into the 2017 Palaro has been fruitful for a young beginner: 4th place in long jump, 5th place in 200-m run, 4th place in 400-m run, and 5th place in 4x100 relay.
Defy the odds
When Rosalia crossed the finish line of the 200-m run, her second Palaro event, she knew she fell short of time to clinch the win. Her panting turned to tears. But her coaches were quick to comfort and remind her of the honor she brought to Davao and soon, the Philippines.
Coming from a brood of 10, with five siblings who also have intellectual disability, Rosalia and her dreams could have been shoved to the sidelines. But in the six years of being a student-athlete, she has triumphed against limitations and has motivated the same in Rommel and Karen. When asked what she wants to share with fellow students and athletes, she simply shared another giggle – perhaps conveying that if she made it, so can you.