A Palaro special athlete’s journey to the top

Benise P. Balaoing
Aivie Dungca of La Union has shown that disabilities are no obstacle to being a champion

WINNERS. Aivie Dungca with the Philippine Special Olympics team. Courtesy of the Special Olympics Philippines website.

MANILA, Philippines – She was born with a speech defect. She stuttered and her speech was slurred. Up until she was 7, there were only 2 words she could say clearly: “mama” and “papa.”

But that didn’t stop 15-year-old Aivie Dungca from snagging 2 gold medals in the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens.

A regular at the Palarong Pambansa Games for the Differently Abled, this La Union-based athlete knows that hard work, discipline, and perseverance will see her through against all odds.

Small beginnings

Born to Lebeto and Ailen Dungca-Catulmo on February 7, 1997, Aivie was a sickly child. Her mother recalls frequent hospital visits, and cites the many medicines given to Aivie as the possible cause of her defect.

Aivie Dungca. Photo courtesy of www.specialolympics.orgFinancial constraints, however—he was a fisherman, she was a plain housewife—hindered them from seeing a specialist who could address Aivie’s condition. To this day, Aivie has yet to consult a specialist.

Unsurprisingly, she got bullied because of her condition.

‘Ah, bulol, bulol!, tinutukso siya dati (She was teased for her stammering and was called named),” Aileen said. Aivie would come home crying because of the teasings. “Sinasabi ko na lang sa kanya noon na ‘wag niyang pansinin at umuwi na lang siya (I would tell her to just ignore the teasing and to come home).”

But what Aivie lacked in speech, she made up for in physical strength.

Listo siya; mabilis siyang kumilos (She was swift, quick in movement),” Catulmo described.

Aivie was also tall and had a slim frame.

So much so that when Coach Milagros Oligo went looking for players for the La Union Special Education (SPED) Center sports team, 10-year-old Aivie was a sure bet.

Bop to the top

Aivie initially played for her school’s soccer team. They made it to the regional athletic meet and got 2 silver medals. Afterwards, she got into athletics and bagged one gold and one silver medal in the regional athletic meet.

But that was just the beginning.

She moved to aquatics afterwards. This time, she made it to the Palarong Pambansa. She has stayed with aquatics since then, and has won numerous recognitions for her excellence in it.

She has also played in other athletic games aside from the Palarong Pambansa. Catulmo has lost count of her daughter’s medals.

In the 2011 Palarong Pambansa, Aivie finished the 50-meter breaststroke in a minute and 14.29 seconds and the 50-meter backstroke in a minute and 6.01 seconds—figures that made her qualify for the Athens games.

She topped the 50-meter backstroke division of the world’s most prestigious sporting event. She and her Philippine teammates — Rodney Gutang, Raymond Macasaet and Shella May Suniega — emerged as the champions in the 4X50 freestyle relay division.

The hard work behind the glory

Aivie trains daily from 8am to 4pm—with a 2-hour break in between—when there’s an upcoming competition. As they live by the sea, she also swims there occasionally.

Asked what sets her daughter apart from the other athletes, Catulmo said, “Sineseryoso niya kasi iyong laro niya. ‘Pag may laban siya, ginugusto niya talaga. Sinasabi niya sa akin, ‘Ma, ‘wag kang mag-alala; ipapanalo ko ito (She take her sport seriously. When she has a competition, she really works for it. She tells me, ‘Mom, don’t worry. I’ll win this.)”

Aivie’s recognitions have also earned her the respect of other kids her age.

The bullying has finally stopped.

Moreover, Catulmo said, people are now telling Aivie, “Buti pa ikaw. Kahit ganyan ka, ang suwerte-suwerte mo (I envy you. Even if you are disabled, you are lucky).”

Into the future

Her disability aside, Aivie lives the life of a normal teenager. She even goes out with her cousins once in a while.

Marunong pa ngang mamalengke iyan, eh (She knows how to do the groceries),” Catulmo proudly added.

Aivie is currently in level 4 in SPED school. SPED school has many levels, the highest of which is called sheltered workshop. Here, the kids are taught skills similar to that taught in vocational and technical education schools throughout the country.

Those with an IQ of 70 or higher, though, can opt to go to high school—and this is what Catulmo wishes for her daughter.

Gusto ko siyang maging stewardess. Matangkad kasi siya eh (I want her to become a stewardess because she’s tall),” Catulmo said with a laugh.

Still, her greatest wish is for her daughter to be able to live a normal life.

With the Palarong Pambansa 2012 drawing nearer, Aivie is training as intensely as ever. Catulmo hopes that her daughter would win again this year.

Talagang pursigido siya mag-training (She is really determined to train),” she said.

With a determination and perseverance like Aivie’s, it may very well be possible. — Rappler.com