As Obiena keeps focused on Olympics in virus-struck Italy, athletes start doing their share in time of quarantine

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Pole Vaulter Ernest John Obiena wins Gold during the 30th Seagames at the New Clark City. MARIANNE BERMUDEZ/ INQUIRER

(Fourth of a series)

The sporting world may have been held to a standstill by the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic that has gripped the world, but that doesn’t mean athletes and sports officials are staying still.

From training to staying at home and providing public service announcements (PSAs)to raising money to help those at the fringes of games who were affected by the pandemic, athletes and officials continue to let their indomitable spirit shine through.

In Italy, which has been a COVID-19 hot spot recently, Filipino pole vaulter EJ Obiena continues to train like the Olympics will push through, adamant that nothing will stop him from chasing his dream.

“I’m still here [in Italy]. So far, the situation is not too bad,’’ Obiena told the Inquirer. “I’m still training almost every day. There are just minor changes in the schedule and activity.’’

The current Asian champion has been in Formia, Italy, since late December. The European nation has been severely hit by COVID-19, where 2,503 have already died out of the 31,506 infected.

Luckily, not a single COVID-19 case has been recorded in Formia, which is more than 700 miles from the affluent Lombardy region in northern Italy where majority of the cases are.

While Obiena is concerned about the pandemic whose epicenter started in China but has since grown exponentially to affect Europe and North America, his heart goes to fellow Filipinos back home who are fighting the crisis.

“We should stay strong through these tough times. These times I question myself if what I’m doing is important,’’ said the 6-foot-2 Obiena, the country’s first Olympic qualifier in Tokyo before gymnast Carlos Yulo and boxers Eumir Marcial and Irish Magno joined him later.

“Seeing all those stories of people suffering amid the crisis make me lament and rethink how I have been blessed with so much,’’ added the reigning Southeast Asian Games men’s pole vault gold medalist.

Even in faraway Italy, Obiena has kept tabs on what is going on in the country and is aware of the plight of those affected by the enhanced quarantine imposed by the government to try and contain the disease. Stories about a mother who cannot feed her children and those who have to defy checkpoints because they need to work to put food on the table have hit Obiena hard.

“Seeing how the less pri­vileged are affected makes my stomach turn just because they have less,’’ said the 24-year-old son of Emerson Obiena, a Filipino pole vault star in the ’90s.

“I don’t have much, but I have a voice to let the masses know that the Filipino people needs help, and any help would be greatly appreciated,’’ Obiena added.

Other athletes are doing their own share while on hiatus.

Japeth Aguilar is helping wife Cassandra Naidas-Aguilar’s efforts to help front-liners in the fight against the pandemic.In a Twitter post, Naidas-­Aguilar announced a crowdsourcing effort, which the couple jump-started by donating 2,000 face masks for the health workers.

The URL for their drive is facebook.com/helpthefrontlinerphilippines.

One way or another

As of Wednesday, the couple’s crowdsourcing efforts have amassed P86,613 and 600 N-95 masks.

“That money will go to purchasing surgical masks as well as N-95 masks for our front-liners. Thank you so much to everyone that has donated,” said Naidas-Aguilar, who was a high school basketball player for Assumption Antipolo and briefly trained with La Salle in college.

The Sta. Lucia Lady Realtors have released their own PSA featuring Jessica Vestal while basketball standouts like Paul Zamar of the San Miguel Beermen have shot videos disseminating information about the pandemic.

“Our team talked about it. We are trying to help in our own little ways by sharing our knowledge and imparting our thoughts on COVID-19,” the former University of the East star told the Inquirer.

“One way or another, [we] might help encourage people to just hold on,” added Zamar, who said San Miguel teammates Alex Cabagnot, Chris Ross, Marcio Lassiter, June Mar Fajardo, Arwind Santos and others have also posted their own videos on their social media accounts.

Alaska coach Jeffrey Cariaso announced a P100,000-donation that would go to daily wage earners of the PBA, who will bear a huge brunt of the economic crunch with the suspension of the season.

Proof only that athletes know how to step up in the clutch.And if the Olympics does push through—the International Olympic Committee has said it is in no rush to make a drastic decision with still four months before Tokyo 2020—Obiena, too, hopes to step up and provide inspiration for his countrymen by claiming the country’s first Olympic gold.

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