Olympic silver medal made from recycled materials is a symbol of Carlo Paalam's road to glory

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Philippines' Carlo Paalam kisses his silver medal during the medal ceremony for the men's fly (48-52kg) boxing final bout during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Kokugikan Arena in Tokyo on August 7, 2021. (Photo by Luis ROBAYO / POOL / AFP) (Photo by LUIS ROBAYO/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Philippines' Carlo Paalam kisses his silver medal during the medal ceremony for the men's fly (48-52kg) boxing final bout during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Kokugikan Arena in Tokyo on August 7, 2021. (Photo by Luis ROBAYO / POOL / AFP) (Photo by LUIS ROBAYO/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Fate works in unique and mysterious ways. Just ask Filipino boxer Carlo Paalam.

Way before he picked up a pair of gloves and fell in love with the sport of boxing, Paalam would rummage the landfill areas of Cagayan de Oro to collect garbage to make ends meet. As a scavenger, one of his common finds were scrap metals which he would sell to put food on his family's dinner table.

Over a decade later, Paalam, now one of the brightest young stars of the Philippine sporting scene, once again held an object built on scrap metals in his hands as he stood under the bright lights of the Kokugikan Arena in Japan.

But this time around, it wasn't trash. It was the silver medal of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Simbolo siya ng buhay ko, kung saan ako nanggaling," the 23-year-old bared to Paolo del Rosario of Cignal moments after his split-decision defeat to Galal Yafai of Great Britain in the gold medal bout of the men's flyweight division.

(Translation: This is a symbol of my life, from where I came from.)

All medals at the Tokyo Games were made out of used electronic devices such as smartphones and laptops, and everything came full circle for Paalam as soon as he received the medal.

Scavenger ako dati, nagangalakal ako dati. Parang may simbolo siya sa akin, itong medal, kasi galing siya sa mga gadget na sira, parang may connect siya sa buhay ko,” the soft-spoken Paalam shared while fighting off tears.

(I used to be a scavenger. This medal somewhat holds a symbolism for me since it came from broken gadgets. It somehow bears a connection with my life.)

Paalam has truly come a long way since turning his back from a scavenger's life to pursue a boxing career.

He is now a silver Olympic medalist who will take home at least ₱17 million in cash incentives. More importantly, a bright future in the boxing circuit awaits him.

But no matter how successful he becomes as an athlete, one thing is for sure — the recycled medal he earned in the biggest sports spectacle in the world will always remind him of his humble beginnings and keep him grounded.

Ohmer Bautista is a sports journalist who has covered local and international sporting events in the Philippines. The views expressed are his own.

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