CEBU, Philippines – The Philippines’ first cross-disability dragon boat racing team is now aiming for gold in the upcoming International Dragon Boat Federation’s (IDBF) 13th Club Crew World Championships in the United States.
For Philippine Accessible Disability Services Inc. (PADS) founder JP Maunes, this is a once-in-a-lifetime event for his para athletes and an opportunity to represent the country as the only delegates in an Olympic-sized event.
To participate, the organization is raising P5 million that would cover their travel and food expenses, accommodation, equipment, and other necessary requirements.
“We’re really trying to raise funds for our athletes. Some of them have started their own fundraising so they can fund themselves,” Maunes said.
As of this writing, the national government donated P1 million to the organization and the US embassy is assisting them with their travel visas.
The dragon challenge
“The number one challenge is funding since PADS is not corporate or a government-funded organization,” Maunes said.
He mentioned that the organization has been relying on the support coming from the local government units (LGUs), embassies from different countries, and charitable NGOs.
SM Foundation and Ottobock Philippines Corp. are supporters of the group and pledged to provide for their food and transportation in the US.
Another challenge Maunes pointed out is the fact that this is the first time they will be competing in a newly opened para dragon category that the IDBF plans to have for the upcoming championship.
“There are two divisions: para dragon 1 for all-para athlete teams, and para dragon 2 which is for the mixed teams of para athlete and abled paddlers,” he said.
The PADS dragon boat team will be competing in both divisions, and on 200-meter, 500m, and 2,000m courses.
MSgt. Ma. Ailene Padrones of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) is the current head coach of the team and in terms of training, she said that a lot of “adjustments” had to be done.
“We have athletes who are deaf or hard of hearing so we studied sign language, especially since we need to communicate commands for the boat,” she said in a mix of English and Cebuano.
She added that the team has been using slightly worn-out boats for training and hoped that there would be individuals kind enough to donate new ones to the team.
For now, Padrones and her team will continue to train for the upcoming championship set between July 13 and 24 at the Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota-Bradenton, Florida.
Proud para warriors
“Training is harder now than our last tournament in Thailand,” PADS member Owen Luceña said in Cebuano.
Much like his teammates, he wakes up at around 4 am to work on his upper body muscles and do some cardio. At around 6 am, they are up and at it on their dragon boat, paddling back and forth under Cebu’s first and second bridge to Mactan.
They do this twice a day and only rest on Mondays.
Before all of this, Luceña was a technician and a member of his city’s local PWD organization. After joining PADS, he has become a proud para athlete who has traveled multiple countries with his trusty paddle.
He dedicates most of his wins to his family, most especially to his two kids.
A similar story can be told of his friends Jheffrey Dael and Verniel Faustrilla who also fell in love with the sport.
“Prior to all of this, I used to be a standby. It was only when a friend of mine introduced me to PADS that I started believing in myself,” Faustrilla said in Cebuano.
“[Verniel] and I are polio survivors, and if it wasn’t for PADS, we wouldn’t be doing these amazing things,” Dael added.
Both Dael and Faustrilla are dedicating their participation in the upcoming tournament to their friends and fellow PWDs.
“This competition is dedicated to God, our families, and fellow PWDs. We want them to believe in themselves because we are out here fighting,” Faustrilla added. –Rappler.com
If you would like to donate to the PADS dragon boat team, you can click here or contact them on their official Facebook page here.
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