Tuesday, January 24, 2017

"Pain is a part of....."

“A hero has faced it all: he need not be undefeated, but he must be undaunted. “ Andrew Bernstein

Find a hero. Start looking. It is the fireman who races into a building to save somebody’s life? Is it the police officer who disrupts a robbery? Or is it the middle-schooler who steps in between a bully and his mark? Or is it still the Mom who leaves early every morning to catch the bus to work so she can pay for her children’s clothing and schooling, without complaint, self pity or anger, and still has the time to read to them before bed?

Heroes are found in different shapes and colors and sizes and places. They are among the shoppers on line in the 18 items and less lane. They are next to you in the traffic you sat in this morning. They are all around us- we just need to look with better eyes to find them because chances are, they don’t think they are heroes and certainly don’t want to be thought of in that way.

Adeline Dumapong is one of those heroes.

You might know her because she is the first Filipino to win a Paralympic medal. She won the Power lifting bronze medal in 2000 Summer Paralympics in Sydney, Australia.

You should know her because of all the work she does with persons with disabilities in the Philippines.

And you should know her because she is the kind of tireless and humble role model our young athletes should know more about.

But chances are you don’t know anything about her. Yet….

Born December 13, 1973, Adeline Dumapong grew up in a town called Kiangan in the province of Ifugao. She was one of six children and at the age of three, she was diagnosed with polio and lost the use of her legs and was confined to a wheel chair. 

“From what I can remember,” Adeline says, “My family has always treated me 'normally'. No special treatment. At home, there was division of labor and my parents would always give me chores that I could do like washing the dishes, folding clean clothes from the laundry, cooking rice or arranging shoes. Those chores didn't require walking, so they would be assigned to me. Looking back, I am sure that my parents gave me considerations, of course. I just didn't feel it then, which was exactly the point. I remember that there was a time when I asked my parents why they were not treating me 'special' and my father said that although I am special, like all my siblings are, I still have to do my share in the household chores.”

But Adeline’s father who was a mid-level public servant didn’t have the resources to care for his daughter. At the age of 6 years old, Adeline was sent to a school for children with disabilities called Bahay Mapagmahal which translated in the Filipino language of Tagalog is “Loving Home.” This dormitory was located behind the Philippine Orthopedic Center in Quezon City, seven driving hours south of her home.

Adeline recalls her time there as disciplined, run by Sister Roos Catry of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. “Bahay Mapagmahal dormitory during my time, we had a very strict structure to adhere to, from waking up at 5 am to lights off at 8 pm. We had written rules and regulations and we had duties which we had to do. Discipline is enforced. Failure to comply had a consequence ranging from no food, no television, temporary removal of wheelchair and, or isolation up to 12 midnight depending on the gravity of the offense.” Sister Roos is entering her 39th year at the helm.

“As a child of 6 up to around when I was 9 years old, I just accepted the situation and adapted to it. Every start of the school year, after spending 2 months with my family, when my mother would bring me to Bahay Mapagmahal, it would take me 2 weeks to adjust to the Bahay Mapagmahal way of life.”

But for a young girl who missed her family terribly, she began to question her situation. “When I was around 10, I started resenting my parents for bringing me to Bahay Mapagmahal. I even asked them if was really their child and when they said yes, I asked them how come they could stand sending me away to that 'horrible' place.”

One of the things that helped was the facilities adherence to learning musical instruments. Bahay Mapagmahal has developed a constant among their students called the “Rondalla on Wheels” which is the kids playing stringed instruments for concerts and fund raising functions, helping to keep the school afloat.

“Life in the dormitory was not easy but it was there that I was formed.” Adeline notes. “I was there for 10 years. I looked up to other alumni that would come visit us and told myself that I would also make something of myself. They were my role models. There were also a lot of fun and laughter and friendship.”

Adeline has always been a lover of sports. “Being an Ifugao, one of the indigenous tribe of the northern Philippines, and with a stocky build, I would always be part of a physical activity. I was into everything; racing, basketball, swimming, discuss throw, javelin, shot put, anything. It was a way of getting out the compound of the hospital where our dormitory is. Only athletes were allowed to go 'out' for training.”
This new found freedom translated immediately into her idea of “making something of herself.” As is the case with many of Bahay Mapagmahal’s alumni, they come back to the school to pay it forward: teaching music to the new students or just to help out in the dorm. Adeline, at the age of 23, and already graduated from a University and employed, married and yes, found power lifting.

“In 1996, a friend from the hospital asked me to try power lifting, I said why not. It was also a legit way of showing my male friends that I am stronger than them. It started as sort of a joke but I joined a national competition and I fell in love with it and the rest is history.”

“Part of a prize from a local competition was 2 months free training in the gym that my coach owned. In 1999, I was sent to Miami, Florida to compete in the qualifying tournament for the Sydney Paralympics 2000. I got a gold medal which qualified me for the Paralympic Games. It was the first time that our country would participate in the Paralympic Games. Nobody had any expectations.”

Adeline didn’t realize she had won a medal in her first Paralympics, right away. “I was just happy that I made that 110kg lift. It was only when my coach approached me and hugged me that it dawned on me. I have no video of my lift that time because the person taking the video jumped for joy when they saw that I was going to get a medal and the camera fell off the ground.” 

She won the bronze medal, the first Paralympic medal in Philippines history and the only one they would win for the next 16 years. “When I was at the podium and looking at the flags, our flag, being raised, I had goose bumps and I started crying. There was also the realization that winning that medal was not just for myself but for the whole country. That Paralympic bronze medal felt like a gold medal for us. Everybody was happy about it. It opened doors not just for me but more importantly for the Disabled sport in the Philippines.”

Two years after her medal winning performance, she gave birth to Alyssa Mei. “Alyssa changed me.” She says candidly. “When I didn't have her yet, I was not particularly fond of children. I didn't hate them but I did not long for them as well. When I didn't have her yet, I was very driven and hard on myself and on others. I remember my young self as fearless and fearsome I guess. I was a champion for the underdogs; I was a voice for the others who were afraid to say what they wanted to say. I fought hard for my ideals, for the things I thought were right. I pushed myself to become the best wherever I was so that I can back up my ideals. Then I fell in love and had Alyssa. Slowly but surely, Alyssa changed me. I became more human because of her. She taught me to be afraid but she also taught me about patience, gentleness, simple joys and unconditional love. She continues to do so now in more ways than one. There are times when I look at her and I just go 'wow', she's my daughter. She really made me a better person.”

Adeline continued to train and took 7th in the 2004 Athens Summer Paralympics. She ran into some adversity where she was injured just before the 2008 Beijing Summer Paralympics and took 6th in the 2012 London Paralympics. She is currently ranked 9th in the world at the age of 43!

“The London and Rio Paralympic Games were supposedly my last games.” Adeline confesses. “Before London I thought it was going to be my last Paralympic games but I continued training and I still won competitions and then qualified for the Rio games. Then, I had the same thoughts before the Rio games; that I will retire after that. However, it's been 5 months but I am still training and my coach said I can still do another cycle up to Tokyo 2020. So, I gave up on giving up. I figure, I'll just do this while I still can and when I don't win anymore, I'll stop. I really enjoy being with the national team. I am one of the most senior athletes there both in age and experience and I like that I can reach out to the younger athletes and share with them my journey; I still like being part of a team even if at times it can be challenging as well.”

In her normal deflecting way, Adeline spends her life spreading the gospel of Para sports to the Philippine Islands and beyond through her work and her ascension as a role model. “I am most proud of being part of our sport organization, Philippine Sports Association for the Differently Abled, the National Paralympic Committee (PHILSPADA-NPC Phils.) When it started in 1997 and when I won the 1st ever Paralympic medal for the Philippines in Sydney 2000.” She says. “It was only a bronze medal but it truly felt like gold but even more as it opened doors not only for me but for the whole disability sport population in the Philippines. Disability sport in the Philippines has come a long way since year 2000. Today, we have 74 athletes on the National Para Team, playing 17 different sports and participating in major IPC competitions around the globe. Aside from being an athlete, I have worked as a volunteer for PHILSPADA NPC Phils. during the off season. Just last November, I was invited to help them reorganize and revive the organization and again I have accepted.”

In the fall, Adeline used her contacts in the Para community to teach both coaches and athletes sitting volleyball in their programs and facilities. She watched the training as some Para leaders were helped out of their wheel chairs and others would ease to the ground and toss their crutches and canes aside and for a few hours, became athletes. She watched as a ribbon was strung across the rec room of what was once her home, at Bahay Mapagmahal and the children, squealing and laughing, played sitting volleyball for hours. She had a hand in these events and in growing the sitting game in her arena, but to ask her, she was barely there.

Her work with these organizations is purely to grow the awareness and outreach of Para sports in the Philippines. “Our organization has no money and they are only giving me allowance for gas now but I am happy. On the practical side, I do need to earn a living to provide for my daughter and me, so now I am taking my masters in Community Development at the University of the Philippines so I can teach and/or become a consultant. A friend of mine gave me the start up money for my studies; hopefully I find a scholarship soon. I am proud, too, of the fact that I am going back to school after 22 years to better serve the community through sport.”

On that humid Sunday in late September, as Adeline sat in the room of Bahay Mapagmahal where she grew up, she couldn’t have imagined the events that would bring her back but as is the tradition there, she is back. Sister Roos is leaving in March to head back to Belgium and the school’s music group, called the Rondalla On Wheels has a new president. “I have many organizations but I have temporarily said goodbye to them so I can concentrate with Bahay Mapagmahal’s Rondalla On Wheels and PHILSPADA NPC Phils.” New President Adeline states. 

In an Advil commercial, Adeline Dumapong puts her life into one sentence; “Pain is a part of life, we have to be able to rise above it.” While there are many who can follow that script, very few do. But Adeline lives it every day, in and out of her wheelchair, training and advocating for those like her; those born with or having developed a disability but that still want, need and certainly deserve opportunities.

They are out there. Sometimes in the shadows, sometimes behind the scenes and a lot of times you don’t know who they are but they can affect your life; veer it into a direction you couldn’t have imagined. The everyday heroes who populate our planet but get overlooked because they are quiet and keep their head down and do good work and never think of themselves as heroes.

We have to look with better eyes to find them and tell them, “thank you!”

If you would like to help the Rondalla on Wheels you can follow them on facebook or you can make a donation on their website

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