Davao archer Franceska Gacal targets multiple golds in her first Palaro stint

MANILA, Philippines – Davao's prized archer Franceska Gacal is determined to go all out in her first-ever Palarong Pambansa tourney.

During the Davao Regional Athletic Association (DAVRAA) Meet held earlier this year, the 18-year-old Gacal dominated the archery secondary girls division after racking 8 gold medals from all of the 8 events she competed in. That was the first time Gacal competed in the Davao regional competition.

A native of General Santos City, she previously participated in the Soccsksargen Regional Athletic Association (SRAA) Meet before transfering to Ateneo de Davao University Senior High School, and playing under the Davao region banner. 

In the upcoming national sports competition in Vigan, Ilocos Sur, she will compete in the same 8 events she topped in the regionals – 60 meters, 50 meters, 40 meters, 30 meters, single FITA round, individual Olympic round, team Olympic round, and mixed team Olympic round.

Discovering archery

Cheska's 8-gold medal haul in the regionals may trick everyone into thinking that she has been playing archery for a long time. But in reality, it hasn't been that long since she first decided to hold a bow and an arrow.

"I’ve always seen and read it [in] anime and manga, but I never thought I could actually play it," shared Gacal, who has only been playing the sport for less 3 three years.

"Noong school year na nagchange ang sports curriculum namin (During the school year that our sports curriculum changed) and I wanted to be active and try a new sport, archery was being offered, so I went for it," she added.

Falling in love with archery and sports did not just come out of nowhere for Cheska. As the youngest member of the family, she was somehow influenced by her 3 older brothers who are all taekwondo black belters. In fact, her eldest brother also competed in Palarong Pambansa a few years back.

Being a part of a sports-oriented family, Cheska got all the support she needs for competitions. In return, her family became her source of strength and motivation to do better as an athlete.

"They’ve always been so supportive sa paglalaro ko, lalo na si Mama (of my game, especially Mama). So I don’t want to fail them in the games I’m playing in."

Aside from playing for the Davao region as a student athlete, Gacal is also a member of the World Archery Philippines (WAP), playing for Team B of the Philippine archery team. WAP holds regular tournaments in the country, as well as qualifying games for international archery events. 

Road to Palaro 2018

Like any other student athlete, Cheska's preparations to enter the biggest annual sporting event in the country was not a walk in the park. She had to train every day for the competition but most of the time, her training had to give way to some school requirements.

"Actually po di po ako nakaka-every day since may inaasikaso pa po sa school noong una (Actually, I wasn't able to train every day at first because I'm doing something for school), [but] I’m doing my cross-training if I can’t go to the range to shoot," Gacal said.

There were times when her priorities in life, both as a student and as an athlete, were weighed and tested. Gacal has been a consistent honor student since her elementary days in General Santos City. On Saturday, April 14, she was set to graduate from Grade 12 with honors. Her academic achievement, according to her, has always been her goal since the start.

Aside from her academics, one of the limitations she encountered while training for Palarong Pambansa is her health. Gacal was diagnosed with scoliosis so her team is making sure she gets the necessary care during training.

"Sadyang inaalala lang always. Talagang pinag-iisipan ang mga gagawin ((We are always keeping it in mind. I really think twice before doing anything)...especially when it could lead to an injury," she shared. 

Her health condition, however, did not stop her from competing.

"Nagtherapy na po kasi ako (I had therapy) before for my scolio, and I’ve been injured before. Pero di ko naman po naisipan na tumigil (But I didn't think of stopping)," she said.

Cheska acknowledges that being a student athlete requires more of her than anything else. She is aware of the challenges she encountered while aiming to excel both in academics and in her sport, and she has to do her best to deal with time management. 

"Every day po ang training for Palaro. I’m training naman po but maybe not as rigorous as it should be," said Gacal, adding that during the training period, she was also busy processing her requirements for college enrolment.

Gacal is graduating from senior high school under the Accountancy, Business, and Management Track. A couple of months after Palarong Pambansa, she will be a freshman in De La Salle University (DLSU) taking up BS Accountancy. When asked about her plans for college, she said that she is still interested in playing archery, fittingly for the DLSU Green Archers.

ALL SET. Franceska Gacal is ready to hit the bull's eye in 2018 Palarong Pambansa. Photo from Glenda Gacal

ALL SET. Franceska Gacal is ready to hit the bull's eye in 2018 Palarong Pambansa.

Photo from Glenda Gacal

Clean slate in Palarong Pambansa

Gacal is aware that she will most probably encounter more experienced competitors from other regions during the Palarong Pambansa this year. Instead of dwelling on this, she plans to stay optimistic and positive, knowing that being a neophyte could also do her good.

"They have history and people [already] know their game, so [everybody] can expect or think of the performance they will see from them. As for me, it’s like a clean slate. It’s a new competition and a new environment so we can’t really tell what I can bring forward," she said. 

For all the student athletes aiming for excellence in both academics and in sports, Gacal reminded them of the importance of education above all.

"Always remember that you are a student first and an athlete second. It’s a big deal to know your priorities because that’s what you will hold onto every step of the way," she said.

This 8-time DAVRAA gold medalist may be feeling the pressure to win it all for her region, but she knows how to handle these expectations with grace and poise, win or lose.

"I just want to be as relaxed as I can be and just deliver what I can," Gacal said.

Cheska Gacal may be relatively new to the battlefield but this archer says she's ready to hit the bull's-eye in Palarong Pambansa this year. – Rappler.com 

Kaye Cabal

Kaye Cabal leads Rappler’s Digital Communications team and has been with Rappler since 2014. Her interest in and dedication to social media grew deeper with her love and passion for Philippine sports. She is a BS Development Communication graduate of UP Los Baños.