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MANILA, Philippines – To some extent, EJ Obiena feels his role in society as a pole vaulter does not compare to the impact doctors, teachers, or firemen create in the lives of his fellow Filipinos.
As Obiena simply put it, he is a “only a guy who jumps over a bar with a pole.”
But on the flip side, Obiena – the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Athlete of the Year – believes there is a greater purpose to his athletic feats as he aims to be an inspiration and a beacon of positive change.
“I view my profession as a means to an end, as a means to inspire the next generation of our youth, to illustrate the ability and talent of our country, and as a means of nation-building,” Obiena said virtually during the PSA Awards Night on Monday, January 29.
“Though superficially, it’s using a pole to leap over a bar, but underneath is a very powerful meaning to inspire and drive change.”
Obiena earned his first Athlete of the Year honors from the PSA following a banner year that saw him become the first Asian to clear the six-meter bar.
A steady force in 2023, the 28-year-old won a historic silver in the World Athletics Championships, retained his Asian Athletics Championships crown, captured a maiden Asian Games title, and qualified for the Paris Olympics.
Obiena said his Athlete of the Year plum made him reflect on his journey.
“It dawned on me, one of the most common questions we tend to ask each other as people, as a community, ‘What do you do? What’s your profession? What’s your job?’ It made me think a little bit deeper about what I do for a living, what’s my profession,” said Obiena.
“I think to best describe it, I’m a professional pole vaulter. I basically run, plant my fiberglass pole, use speed and momentum, with a little bit of physics, and propel myself over a bar. That’s what I do. That’s my job. That’s my profession.”
“It humbles me big time, it grounds my feet,” he added. “Because pole vaulting is not really important. It doesn’t feed people. It doesn’t save lives like a fireman. It doesn’t help people like doctors or nurses. It definitely doesn’t teach children like how teachers do. I’m only a guy who jumps over a bar with a pole.”
“However, I would like to think about it this way, it’s not really what we do but how we leverage that and how we create positive change.”
Turning his years-long dream of winning Athlete of the Year into reality, Obiena thinks the award signifies that he is on the right path.
“This award suggest perhaps, in some degree, I’ve been successful in the mission, not in pole vaulting, but in leveraging my craft to help shape a better Philippines, and I would say, a stronger Philippines,” Obiena said.
Ranked second in the world, Obiena – who is currently in Italy for training – will soon begin the indoor season as he ramps up preparations for the Paris Games that will come off the wraps in July. – Rappler.com