SINGAPORE — Since 1988, the Philippines have sent para-athletes to the Summer Paralympics. That year in Seoul, there were three of them competing in athletics and one in swimming.
From then on, Filipino athletes competed in every Summer Paralympic editions except the 1996 Atlanta Games. The country sent its biggest contingent at the 2012 London Paralympics, with nine athletes competing in four sports.
While the athletes have yet to win a Paralympic gold medal, two of them had clinched bronze medals for the Philippines: Adeline Dumapong at the 2000 Sydney Games, and Josephine Medina at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.
Trailblazer Dumapong breaks medal duck for Philippines
Dumapong was born in Kiangan, Ifugao to a family of six children in 1973. She contracted polio at a young age, making her paralysed from the waist down. Her family made the decision to move her to a school for children with disabilities seven hours south in Manila.
It was at the school where she was introduced to para-sports by a Belgian missionary.
“I tried everything when I was younger,” Dumapong said. “Wheelchair racing, wheelchair basketball, swimming. But I really wanted to find a sport that made me feel strong."
And so she took up powerlifting, and her results were good enough that she was eventually offered free training under coach Ramon Debuque of the Zest Power Gym.
Dumapong was one of two Filipino representatives at the 2000 Sydney Paralympics, and became the country's first Paralympic medallist when she clinched a bronze medal in the women's under-82.5kg category, behind Britain's Emma Brown (gold) and Egypt's Hend Abd Elaty (silver).
It was the start of a successful competitive career for Dumapong, who went on to clinch five golds and two silvers in her over-85kg weight category at the biennial ASEAN Para Games. She also managed to win two silvers and a bronze at the quadrennial Asian Para Games.
The computer science degree-holder took part in her final Paralympics in Rio in 2016, at the age of 42. She continues to work with the Global Sports Mentoring Program to promote Paralympic sports to the Philippine community.
Medina dedicates medal win to dad, former national player
Influenced by her father Robert, who was a national table tennis player, Medina picked up the sport at a young age. However, she was later diagnosed with polio, which affected the length of her legs.
She continued to play the sport into her varsity years, competing with able-bodied players. She even managed to qualify for the national team, but was told she could not compete for the team due to her disability.
“That rejection became my inspiration and I trained hard. I just wanted to prove that disability is not a hindrance in achieving your goal,” she said.
Medina began competing in tournaments for disabled athletes, and eventually made her first international appearance representing the Philippines at the 2003 ASEAN Para Games. That began a stellar run in the biennial event, as she swept to seven golds, two silvers and a bronze from 2008 to 2017, including a four-gold effort in the 2008 edition.
She made her Paralympic debut at the 2012 London Games, but came agonisingly short of a medal, losing in the women's individual (Class 8) bronze-medal match to Sweden's Josefin Abrahamsson.
Determined to make amends at the next Paralympics, Medina had to fork out her own money to compete overseas and qualify for the Rio tournament. She eventually managed to make it to Rio, where she battled her way back into the bronze medal match again.
This time, at age 46, she finally emerged triumphant, beating Germany's Juliane Wolf to clinch the bronze medal, ending the Philippines' 16-year medal drought at the Paralympics.
She dedicated the bronze medal to her father, who died in 2004 before she could tell him that she had represented the Philippines just like he did.
“I didn't have the chance to tell my papa that I was playing internationally. It is quite sad, but I know he believed in me. I know he is still near me," she said.