Palaro’s first PWD torchbearer shows sports binds all

Danielle Nakpil
Palaro’s first PWD torchbearer shows sports binds all
For the first time in 59 years, a person with disability led Palarong Pambansa's torch-lighting ceremony – proving that sports isn't only for the able-bodied

LEGAZPI CITY, Philippines – Sports is not only for those who can swim with complete sets of limbs, sprint with clear vision, or run after a basketball from one end of a court to another.

It is not only for those who are able-bodied, and the 2016 Palarong Pambansa has shown exactly just that in its opening ceremony, Sunday, April 10, at the Albay Sports and Tourism Complex here. 

For the first time in 59 years, a person with disability led the traditional torch-lighting ceremony of the biggest sporting event in the country.

Francis Everesto, a 26-year-old basketball player from Albay, was pushed on a wheelchair by PBA star Terrence Romeo around the oval before Romeo lit the friendship urn to formally open the games. (IN PHOTOS: A colorful 2016 Palarong Pambansa opening)

Malaking kasiyahan sa akin kasi isa ako sa napili ng JCI Legazpi para po dito sa Palarong Pambansa,” Everesto said. 

(I am very happy that I was chosen by JCI Legazpi to participate in the Palarong Pambansa.) 

Stories of persons with disabilities competing in the Palaro are no longer new because of the special games introduced since at least the time of former president Fidel V. Ramos. These games have encouraged PWDs to showcase their athletic abilities on the national stage.

But Francis has a different story.

He has neither participated in the Palaro nor has he won a medal. In fact, he is no competitive player – a perfect example that you don’t need to be a champion to belong in the world of sports.

Meet Francis

Unlike other athletes who were born with an orthopedic impairment, Francis had two completely functional legs until he met an accident at 9 years old.

The playful kid climbed his elementary school’s flagpole and fell badly. He has not walked since. 

Life drastically changed for Francis, who has been using a wheelchair after that fateful day. But somehow, sports made him feel like nothing changed.

Feeling ko normal na po ako ulit kapag naglalaro po ng basketball,” he told Rappler. 

(I feel like a normal person again when I play basketball.)

A member of leadership organization Junior Chamber International (JCI) in Legazpi saw Francis lying on his back and shooting balls from the 3-point line one random day.

The organization decided to choose him right then and there to open the 2016 Palarong Pambansa as torchbearer.

Actually, siya lang ‘yung disabled. Kalaro niya ‘yung mga normal. Kasali siya sa team,” said physical therapist Josefino Rito III. 

(He’s the only PWD member on the team. He’s with able-bodied players).

According to Francis, he only learned how to play basketball at Sagrada Familia, the non-governmental organization which helps him and other PWDs, as well as children with special needs, from all over Albay. 

The 26-year-old Albay native also makes rosaries for a living.

Francis has led a simple life and being part of this historic event was overwhelming for him. It showed as he shyly spoke to reporters. The opportunity to meet one of his basketball idols, Romeo, made it even more surreal. (WATCH: First PWD torchbearer and Terrence Romeo open Palaro)

Malaking kasiyahan kasi mami-meet ko siya na PBA player na pinapanood namin ng mga kasama ko sa TV kapag naglalaro siya,” Francis said.

(I am very happy to meet him. We only watch him on television every time he plays.) 

Francis offered advice to people like him who have disabilities but are sports enthusiasts.

Para sa mga katulad ko po, huwag po silang mawalan ng pag-asa dahil habang may buhay, may pag-asa.” (For people who have the same condition as me, don’t lose hope. As long as you are alive, there is hope.) 

TORCHBEARER. Francis Everesto proudly carries the torch during the Palarong Pambansa opening. He is assisted by his idol, PBA star Terrence Romeo. Photo by Roy Secretario/Rappler

‘PWDs have room in sports’

It’s the goal of Albay’s local government to include all sectors of society in this year’s staging of the Palarong Pambansa.

Before the event formally opened, a 3-day torch relay took place and people from all walks of life participated, including men in uniform, government officials, athletes, and PWDs. 

“People from all walks of life should be part of this very memorable national event. This event is not just for the physically able or people who are into sports. Sports should be a way of life,” said Bicol Regional Information Officer Roy Bañas. 

“We do not exclude the PWDs from society. They have a room even in sports to share their talents and strengths,” he added. 

If there’s one person delighted with the special role given to a PWD during this year’s opening ceremony, it’s National Paralympic Committee president Mike Barredo.

“We’re very proud, nagpapasalamat nga kami sa DepEd kay Bro. Armin Luistro [DepEd Secretary] na talagang in-include nya kami, talagang kasamang-kasama na kami sa sports ng students, that he really included us, we are really now part of the student sports),” said Barredo.

(We are very grateful to DepEd, to Bro. Armin Luistro, because he included us and we’re part of the sports with the students.)

Barredo added that this would be a boost for their grassroots development as they are looking to identify talents they can send to international competitions like the Youth Paralympics, ASEAN Paralympics, and the Asian Paralympics.

The Department of Education is eyeing the inclusion of the special games in the official medal tally of the participating regions. 

According to Bañas, sports binds everyone together – competitive and non-competitive athletes alike – and Francis Everesto proved just that.

After all, the essence of the Palarong Pambansa is to raise competitive athletes and unite Filipinos through sports. – with reports from Mars G. Alison/

More 2016 Palarong Pambansa stories:



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