Young Bicol swimmer finds peace in the water

Alexx Esponga
Young Bicol tanker Jan Carlo Cuadro finds peace in swimming.

WATER IS SAFE HAVEN. Jan Carlo finds peace in swimming. Photo by Rappler/Alexx Esponga

DUMAGUETE CITY, Philippines – When the going gets tough, even the tough need a safe place to be in.

For young Jan Carlo Cuadro, the river a few steps from his home is his safe haven.

The calm water, fresh breeze and reassuring silence of the river fills the 12-year old swimmer with peace. This is his escape from their poverty-stricken and chaotic life.

“We’re just poor,” shared the Bicol native. “I feel happy when I am in the water, the feeling is different. It’s exhilarating.”

Despite becoming an ace swimmer for Region 5, Jan Carlo never had swimming lessons before. The love story between him and swimming, he said, happened in the river.

“I really don’t know how to swim,” said Cuadro. “I just jumped in the river near our house one day and learned I cannot touch the river bed with my feet. Right then, I learned how to swim.”

The discovery of his swimming talent led him from the humble river near their house to the competitive swimming pools of various tournaments.

But the journey does not stop there. It is just beginning.

Multitude of firsts

Giving back and helping his family is Jan Carlo’s main goal, but his swimming abilities brought him farther, he got in the Palarong Pambansa.

His Dumaguete stint was Jan’s first Palaro competition but that was not the only thing he had as a ‘first time’.

Despite being recognized as a ‘swimmer,’ surprisingly, he has never seen an Olympic-sized pool, let alone swim in one.

“The pool in our place is just 5 meters long, that’s why I’m so happy because the pools here are beautiful” said Cuadro. 

Though it takes him almost 2 hours to get to the pool and practice, Cuadro is unfazed. At a young age, he is determined to help his parents through swimming. 

“My father goes up the mountains to plant bananas which we sell,” quipped Cuadro, whose mother is a housewife. “I really want to help (my family), they are my inspiration.”

This is also Jan Carlo’s first time to travel out of the small town of Presentacion, ride a ferry, and see a different city. Being in the national sports competition keeps him excited.

“I am nervous but as of now, I’m more excited,” said the Grade 6 student. “I never expected to be in the Palarong Pambansa.” 

To swim is to live

Experience was not on the side of the 12-year-old swimmer as he did not win any medals in this year’s games.

But for someone who has only joined a few competitions before making it here, there’s nothing you could complain about Jan Carlo’s performance.  

“Even though I have no experience and the pool in our place is not as good, I gave my best,” he said. “I’m still happy because I got to go here and compete.”

For this athlete, doing what he loves is what counts even if he goes home with no medal.

“I don’t know what I’ll do if I don’t know how to swim. The sport is my happiness and refuge,” he said.

For Jan Carlo, to swim is to live. –

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