An Olympic Weightlifter’s Struggle Hits Close to Home

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by Alliah Czarielle |

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It was a celebratory day for the Philippines on July 26 when female powerlifter Hidilyn Diaz won gold at the Tokyo Olympics. It was her country’s first ever Olympic gold medal.

I feel proud as a Filipino that our country has earned such a high honor. But for more personal reasons, her victory makes me even prouder as a woman. She embodies the traits of both strength and beauty, often considered a male versus female dichotomy, respectively.

It comes as no surprise that her face and name are plastered all over our news and our cities. We’ve even passed electronic billboards playing slideshows that summarize her origin story and eventual victory. Diaz’s recognition has earned her millions of pesos (over $700,000) from the government and local business moguls.

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However, things weren’t all roses and lilies for the powerlifter in the past. She received the ire of Filipinos all over social media after her previous Olympic run. Before this one, she requested financial assistance from various companies, brands, and members of the government, but her pleas landed on deaf ears.

Many of the people cheering for her now once bashed her for this online, calling her entitled. But now that she’s won her Olympic gold, they’ve come pouring back in support, calling her an inspiration and an admirable Filipino.

While rewards and incentives are a good thing, especially for youth who wish to pursue such exploits, it would have been better if she had received more support when she asked for it and needed it most. It’s fortunate that she was able to finish her training and bag her greatest achievement.

The struggle she faced is common for women, people of color, indigenous folk, lower- and middle-class citizens, and even persons with disability (PWD). I will focus on the latter, because the struggle with disability is one that is close to my husband, Jared, and me. He has severe hemophilia B and a seizure disorder.

Jared always reminds me that people with disabilities can be very capable individuals. With the right support from those who are able to give it, people with disabilities — or any marginalized group — can get jobs, provide for themselves and their families, be independent people, and like Diaz, achieve their dreams and aspirations.

There’s a common, albeit sexist, Filipino expression that says kay’ babae mong tao” (“Such a woman you are!”), followed by an action that’s not commonly associated with women. It’s a sarcastic statement that mocks women for being messy, or doing typical “male” things like lifting weights or acting tough. Yet, as we’ve seen with Diaz’s win, women have every right to be both beautiful and strong.

Being with Jared for all these years has allowed me to see that PWDs face this form of mockery as well. A lot of people, particularly overprotective caregivers, deprive these individuals of the freedom to pursue their interests, passions, or even responsibilities, simply because they deem it “improper.”

Jared often faced similar comments growing up. Although it irks him, he admits that having a disability demands a higher degree of responsibility to avoid putting himself or anyone around him in danger.

Diaz’s story is one that many people can be proud of — but not everyone shares the same story arc. Everyone deserves a victory like hers. While some people are able to achieve it on their own, others, such as women or PWDs, need more support to achieve their dreams.

I’ve written extensively about the importance of support in improving a hemophiliac’s quality of life. Something as simple as a nation supplying factor concentrates could be the key to a hemophiliac achieving their goals. If that’s not possible, at least an excellent support system could provide an individual hemophiliac with the strength to stand up, train, and be empowered enough to win their own gold medal.

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Note: Hemophilia News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Hemophilia News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to hemophilia.

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