By Leilanie Adriano, VERA Files
LAOAG CITY— Ilocanos here are rooting for Roger Tapia, a person with disability (PWD) competing in the 200-meter run event of the 2012 London Paralympic Games.
Tapia, 21, is a native of Pagudpud town, known for its pristine beaches and white sands. He was born with one arm and a speech disability.
Last April, Tapia clocked 23.56 seconds in the 200m race during the Malaysia Open which made him a qualifier in the 200m event.
"We have very good runners in Pagudpud and he's the fastest," said former Governor Michael Keon, a former runner and Director of the Gintong Alay program of the Philippine Sports Commission during the time of his uncle President Ferdinand Marcos
"I wish him luck," said Keon,who has been actively monitoring athletes in the province.
Keon said Tapia went to London well prepared: Tapia has represented Ilocos Norte and won in events as a regular athlete, and not as a PWD.
Tapia represents the Philippines in the competition for the T-46 classification (one-arm amputee). If he could win against non-PWD athletes, Keon said, "how much more in the Paralympic games."
Others who have followed Tapia's career are also hopeful that he will bring home a medal. "Roger is a strong athlete, so we are expecting him to put up an excellent performance sa event nya," said Epol Drigen, a staff of the Ferdinand E. Marcos Sports Stadium where Tapia previously trained as a non-PWD athlete.
"Bago siya umalis tinanong namin kung sa tingin ba niya kaya niya magmedal sa (Paralympics) sabi naman niya susubukan niya sa abot ng makakaya niya. Willpower at prayers ang pinakamabisa sa ganitong mga pagkakataon, (Before he left we asked him if he could bring home a medal from the Paralympic Games and he said he will do his best. Will power and prayers are most effective at this time)," she said.
Taking pride in their fellow PWD's achievements, the Ilocos Norte Federation of PWDs here saidTapia "is an inspiration to all of us."
"We hope and pray that he will bring more pride and honor for the Ilocanos. For us, he is a winner and we are so proud of him," said Jojo Llanes, president of the provincial PWD federation.
His family and friends in Pagudpud are also praying for their local hero (Roger) to bring home the bacon.
"I always knew you will make it even when you were still a kid," Walter Domingo posted on Tapia's Facebook. Domingos was one of Tapia's mentors as an elementary pupil.
Tapia's Facebook page shows his photos in the various international competitions he has won. Tapia is the first Paralympian of Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte.
Ilocos Norte Gov. Ma. Imelda "Imee" R. Marcos also wished him the best of luck in representing the Philippines in international sports, and gave P15,000 as pocket money.
Tapia's school, the Jose Rizal University (JRU), and the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) also take pride in him and helped him with his trainings and travel to London.
Prior to the event, he trained at the Ultra in Pasig City with his coach Joel Deriada from the Philippine Team. When he returns from his first Paralympics in London, he is expected to immediately prepare for the upcoming South East Asian Games.
(This story is part of Reporting on Persons With Disability, a project of VERA Files in partnership with The Asia Foundation and Australian Agency for International Development. VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. VERA is Latin for "true.")