30-year-old Hidilyn Diaz came close four years ago in Brazil. During the 2016 Rio Olympics, she won a silver medal, losing out to Taiwan’s Hsu Shu-ching in the women’s 53kg category.

She followed that up with a bronze medal in the 2019 World Championships in Pattaya, Thailand, and then it looked like things would take a turn for the worse in the lead-up to the 2020 Olympics.

With the COVID-19 pandemic taking over the world, Diaz’s training was thrown into turmoil as she was forced to stay in Malaysia after travel restrictions shut down most of the world. This was compounded by Malaysia’s Movement Control Orders, which closed down gyms. 

She was forced to improvize and go as far as using bamboo sticks and heavy bottles of water to train at some point, just to keep things going.

Some people are just built different, though, and Diaz proved to be one of these exceptional human beings. Separated from her family, unable to train properly for long periods of time, and dealing with the same stress that everyone else has during this pandemic did not dampen her competitive spirit.

She pushed through the difficulties and finally got herself an Olympic gold medal in the women’s 55kg on July 26, and set our country ablaze with pride – including our most famous athlete Manny Pacquiao.

97 years is a long time to wait for our first gold medal, and she’s saved us from hitting the century mark. Her story is also one that resonates with many of Filipinos, who have dealt through hardship and separation from their families to try to bring them a better life.

It’s fitting, then, that her efforts are going to come with life-changing rewards. So far, she’s guaranteed to get PHP 35.5 million in cash rewards from both the government and private sector, plus a PHP 14 million condominium in Eastwood City from the Megaworld Corporation.

Diaz’s victory comes at an important time for Filipinos. With the world still being ravaged by COVID-19, it is deeply important for us to be able to celebrate anything as a collective people. For now, at least for a few days, Diaz has given us that opportunity.

Sports has the ability to unite us, even for short periods of time, and we all needed that boost.

Thanks Hidilyn. You’re a national treasure.