A blind man’s shining light

Lean Santos
Alex Clerigo thought that when he lost his sense of sight, all hope of living a good life vanished into darkness. However, he found out soon enough that life has something more in store for him.

NOT ONCE, BUT TWICE. Clerigo lost his right eye sight at 10 years old, then lost his left eye sight at 15. Photo by Rappler/Yuys Escareal.

DUMAGUETE CITY, Philippines – He thought that when he lost his sense of sight, all hope of living a good life vanished into darkness. However, Alexander Clerigo found out soon enough that life has something more in store for him.

Meet the 30-year-old Clerigo — Region 7’s top athlete for the goalball special event for the visually-impaired.

But first, what is goalball?

Goalball is a game specifically designed for visually-impaired athletes. Each team is composed of 3 players who attempt to defend their goals from shots of the opposing team and vice versa.

Imagine playing basketball, bowling and football in one, walking on all-fours — except that all you see is darkness.

The ball is designed with bells, whose sound they use to guide them in the game. The sport is part of the special games in the Palarong Pambansa 2013.

This is Alex’s event, where he hopes to win a medal for his region and inspire people around the world.

Accidents and triumphs

Alex was born a healthy child, with both his eyesights perfectly functioning until an accident changed his life.

He was 10 years old when he lost sight in his right eye. He was playing with fireworks when it exploded and partially blinded him.

Five years later, he went totally blind when a motorcycle accident struck his left eye.

Alex said it took him a long time to deal with the depression that came with losing his sense of sight. As a matter of fact, it was harder to see the light years after two tragic accidents altered the course of his life.

NO LOSING HOPE. Janijin (left) and Clerigo are bent on proving the world that they can excel in sports, too. Photo by Rappler/Yuys Escareal.

“It was hard to deal with (the accident), going blind when things seem to go perfectly fine when I was young,” he said, while desperately trying not to be shy in an interview with Rappler.

But when everything seemed to be falling apart, the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel shone brightest for the soft-spoken goalball athlete. 

Being able to represent his region in the annual national tourney allowed Alex, and his fellow visually-impaired athletes, to deal with the depression and find confidence in themselves again.

Asked about the pressure they are dealing with now, Alex’s teammate, 29-year-old Joel Licanda, only has these words to say.

“The only pressure we are in now is the pressure to win and win the gold medal for the province,” he said confidently, clearly at ease despite the challenges they had to deal to be in the annual tournament.

‘Never lose hope’

With surging interest in laying down opportunities for special athletes to compete in sports competitions and helping them beat the odds, the special games for the Palarong Pambansa are more than competitions, according to Alex.

Alex recounted that playing the sport has given him a new way to look at life and has equipped him confidence to face the challenges of his life.

“Even if we are visually-impaired, we want to show that we can still play and we can compete like any other athlete. We want to show that we have the spirit to compete,” he said.

Alex, throughout the interview, kept repeating the same phrase, intended to inspire other people, both with his condition and even with none, to overcome hurdles and always come out triumphant, even in defeat.

“Don’t lose hope. We should always fight for the gold,” he said.

Alex’s fellow teammates also share his enthusiasm and optimism in competing in the special games.

Joel, who hails from Valle Hermoso in Negros Oriental, glowingly said that visually-impaired and other disabled athletes have not much difference with other normal athletes and everyone has the right to compete.

PRESSURED TO WIN. Licanda says winning the gold is the only pressure he encounters nowadays. Photo by Rappler/Yuys Escareal.

No disadvantage

“We can do what others can do, as well. We want to show  that even if we have a disability, we can still do what other people can do, even in these games,” he said.

Siaton, Negros Oriental-native Julimar Janijin, 23 years old and also representing Region 7, waved off the fact that they are disadvantaged because of their disability and said that it actually serves as a motivating factor for them in the competition.

“We want to exhibit our fighting spirit that disabilities should not be a hindrance in finding triumph and glory,” he said, obviously excited to compete and win.

Athletes like Alex, Mark and Joel are just some of the many special delegates in this year’s Palarong Pambansa. Asked about the ultimate goal of his team in this year’s tourney, this is what Alex said.

“Of course, we want to win the gold medal for the region, but ultimately, we just want to send a message that we can compete and we want to inspire people like us and give them hope.” – with reports from Lady Pascual, Michiko Bito-on and Yuys Escoreal/ Rappler.com

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