Arnel Aba: Able and adamant
Arnel Aba is a Challenger finalist for the Rappler Do More Awards


Arnel Aba is a a swimming coach, a national athlete, and a record-holder at various international swimming competitions. On any given day, he can easily outswim and outbike average marathoners.

He challenges the status quo by accomplishing all these feats with only one leg.

Nine years ago, Arnel was a jeepney driver in Iligan City. He was fond of drinking, drugs, and hanging out with his friends. Then, one afternoon, he lost his leg in a near-fatal accident.

During therapy, his doctor prescribed swimming sessions to regain his strength. Arnel met  Cecil Miquiabas, a swimming coach at the Mercy Healthplex SeaWolves Swim Club. Cecil gave Arnel free access to the pool and encouraged him to train as an athlete. Soon, Arnel found himself swimming towards a brand-new direction.

 Watch a profile video on Arnel and the other finalists of the Challenger category below.

A new lease on life

“Sa swimming, malaking tulong sakin na nagbabago lahat ng pagkatao ko (swimming was a huge help in turning my life around),” Arnel narrates. He learned to be more disciplined as he focused on improving his times on the track and the water.

Arnel’s brand-new outlook affected not just his game, but his personal life as well. When he had both use of his legs, Arnel often ignored his responsibilities to his parents. But now that he’s a national athlete, he was able to earn enough money to provide for his family.

“Nabigyan ko sila ng car wash, sari-sari store; inayos ko yung bahay, binilhan ko sila ng appliances (I gave my parents a car wash, sari-sari store; I fixed up the house, I bought them appliances).” Yet Arnel still believes that he will never be able to fully repay his parents for their sacrifices.

Arnel now gets to fulfill some of his own dreams, like traveling. He has flown to Malaysia, Singapore, India, and Thailand, to represent the Philippines in various swimming jaunts.


Giving back

As a national athlete, Arnel follows a rigorous training schedule at the Philsports Complex in Pasig. But on weekends, he takes time to teach swimming to children and adults. He has launched two swimming programs: the Arnel Aba Learn to Swim Program and the Arnel Aba Advanced & Competitive Program.

“Kinuha ko yung instructor dun na differently-abled para maging unique din kami (I hired differently-abled instructors like me so that we would be unique),” Arnel says. “Kumbaga nagsimula na yung advocacy ko na kaya ding magturo ng differently-abled (In a way, I’ve begun my advocacy to prove that differently-abled people can teach anyone).”

Arnel admits that at first, it was not easy. Kids would be scared or shy upon seeing an instructor who swims differently. But enthusiasm, hard work, and plain skill pays off. “Malaking pagbabago na yung instructor nila ay differently-abled (It makes a tremendous difference when their instructor is differently-abled),” Arnel explains.

“Nagpursigi talaga sila. ‘Ito ngang instructor ko marunong lumangoy, nagcocompete, how about me pa kaya na buo yung katawan?’ (They really strive harder. [They say] ‘my instructor can swim and compete with one leg, I have two legs so why can’t I do the same?’)” Some of Arnel’s students now compete in provincial swim meets.


Go for gold

In the long run, Arnel hopes to finish a full 5150 triathlon (which consists of a 1.5k swim, a 40k bike and a 10k run) and to earn more medals for swimming events. He also looks forward to seeing more differently-abled athletes excelling in their field.

“Basta sana gawin lang nila kung ano yung pangarap nila. Wag nila isipin yung madadaanan, yung kalagayan nila. Magiging successful sila sa mga pangarap nila (I hope that they just follow their dreams without thinking of the obstacles or their condition. They will be successful in reaching their dreams),” Arnel says.

As for his own goals, Arnel is far from satisfied. “Ang dami ko pang dream na gawin. Nag-aaral ako ng surfing, then gusto ko rin mag-mountain climbing (I still dream of doing more. I’m learning surfing and I also want to do mountain climbing).”

He says, “Kaya ding mangarap ng ganun kataas (I can aspire for great heights, too).” –

Follow Arnel Aba on Twitter: @arnelaba1


Get to know other finalists by clicking their names below:
Mimi Lucas Jaymie Pizarro


These figures reflect the result of the public voting phase held from October 24 to November 24, 2013.

The final score for each finalist will be computed from the ff:

Public Vote – 40%
Panel Vote – 60%
Total – 100%

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