Ma. Cielo Dimain Honasan not only brings glory to Philippine sports, but also inspiration to many people with special needs.
It might have been an ordinary Saturday back in August 2011 for the students of Mambog Elementary School, in Botolan, Zambales, but it was no ordinary one for the then fifth grader Cielo Honasan.
More than six years ago, out of sheer curiosity—and her determination to overcome self-doubt and other people’s prejudice—Honasan joined her school’s tryouts for aspiring runners. Little did she know that the 800-meter run competition was only her first step towards proving more doubters wrong.
“Nagsimula po ako noong Grade 5. Napansin ko pong busy ‘yong mga tao sa school, may tryouts pala. Biglaan lang po akong sumali. Akala ko ordinaryong araw lang, pero may plano pala ang Diyos sa akin no’n.”
On that day, she won. And since that day she has been winning.
Honasan has since joined running competitions; highlights of her early years include her first stint in the Central Luzon Regional Athletic Association (CLRAA) in sixth grade, and first Palarong Pambansa experience in eighth grade, where she won the 400-meter race with a remarkable 1 minute and 2 seconds record.
But as with most stories of success, Honasan’s road towards victory was never a walk in the park, nor was it a smooth run. In consideration to her sport, it is perhaps unknown to many that she is physically impaired.
According to Honasan, she was diagnosed during her infancy with a medical condition, known as the Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, classified as a rare genetic disorder characterized by overgrowth or having considerably larger body parts than normal. In Honasan’s case it was her right foot that was irregularly larger.
“6.2 pounds po ako no’ng pinanganak. Ang laki ko raw. Sobrang stretched po ng tiyan ni mama, parang pang-triplets. Hindi na siya pwedeng magka-baby after ng delivery sa akin. Napansin na rin pong may problema sa paa ko. Mas maikli po ang left foot ko kaysa sa right,” she shared.
Despite her condition, which many people might consider a disability, Honasan enabled herself to get out of her comfort zone, so much so that she stayed as far away from it as she could, even going to other countries to represent the Philippines internationally.
On clinching golds
2017 was a glorious year for Philippine sports. In September last year, the 9th ASEAN Para Games —a Southeast Asian disabled multi-sport event that took place two weeks after the 2017 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games— was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. A total of 69 medals were brought home by Filipino Para-athletes, including Honasan.
Honasan said that her impressive performance in CLRAA was among the considerations of her current coaching staff on why she was chosen to participate in the 2017 Paralympics.
“Under the management po ako ngayon ng PHILSPADA, at ang head coach po ay si Coach Joel Deriada. Nag-base po sila sa laro ko no’n sa CLRAA; may potential daw. Tinawagan po nila ako after,” she explained.
PHILSPADA (Philippine Sports Association of the Differently Disabled) is the Paralympics Committee of the Philippines, and in terms of Honasan’s Para-athletics classification, the basis for determining who can compete in specific athletic sports and within which class, she was classified under T44. In Paralympics, T44 is a disability sports classification for athletics in which the Para-athletes are described as “single below knee amputation or an athlete who can walk with moderately reduced function in one or both legs.”
“Sinali po ako sa T44. Mga kalaban ko po ay putol ang paa, nakatiklop, may artificial leg, or hindi rin pantay,” Honasan said.
Out of the 69 medals that Philippines won, 20 were gold, and three of which were Honasan’s.
Honasan prevailed in three track events which she participated in consecutive days: a 200-meter run, a 100-meter run, and a 400-meter run, with winning records of 28.51 seconds, 13.96 seconds, and 63.35 seconds mark, respectively.
“Sobrang memorable po ng Malaysia sa akin. First time ko po sa ibang bansa. First time ko rin pong magkaroon ng three golds na hindi ko sa Pilipinas naipanalo,” she said.
Honasan recalls several moments when she used to jest about the idea of her joining major sports events, “Dati po kasi, binibiro ko lang si tatay, kasi napapanood po namin si Lydia de Vega (her idol), sabi ko, ‘‘Tay, balang araw, mapapanood niyo rin ako. Makikilala rin ako tulad niya.’ Hindi ko akalain na totoo na siya ngayon, naglalaro at nananalo na ako. Kaya sobra po akong nagpapasalamat sa Diyos.” Honasan added.
On winning hearts
Today at 15 years old, Honasan might have turned her dreams into reality, but her nightmares remain and are just as real. Since her childhood, she has been a constant target of bullying among her peers.
“Pinagtutulungan po ako ng mga kaklase ko. Hindi nila ako sinasali sa mga laro,” she lamented.
People’s indifference towards her, Honasan admitted, made her feel vulnerable and weak, but never defeated. Thoughshe felt alienated, she took advantage of her solitude to improve herself, “Siguro po ayaw nila sa akin kasi hindi nila ako katulad. Kaya po no’ng may tryouts, sumali ako, kasi gusto ko pong patunayan na kahit ganito ako, may talent ako.”
She then focused on other more important matters such as her education. As a student-athlete, she sits at the juncture of her academic duties and athletic demands. With proper time management, she was able to maintain her grade and even attained top honors in class.
“Importante po sa akin ang pag-aaral. Passion ko naman po ang pagtakbo. Kung importante sa ‘yo at passion mo po ang ginagawa mo, hindi ka basta-basta mapapagod. Hindi ka titigil,” she stated with conviction.
Honasan is currently an 11th grader in senior high school, enrolled under the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) program. She dreams of becoming a nurse or an engineer. But among her many uncertain aspirations, what she is sure about is her goal to become a coach herself, “Na-inspire po ako sa mga coaches ko. Nakakatuwa na may huhubugin kang atleta, at responsible ka sa training niya. Gusto ko pong tumulong sa iba,” Honasan said.
Her desire to help others is inspired by her personal encounters of discrimination. She advocates for equality among everyone, with or without special needs. “Nagsimula ako sa pagiging mahina, pero hindi ko hinayaan na gano’n ang danasin ko araw-araw. Ginawa ko ‘yong challenge para lalong magsumikap, at ipakita na dapat din akong respetuhin,” she shared.
On the right track and recognition
The story doesn’t end there.
Unknown to many, Honasan flew to Dubai, United Arab Emirates in December last year to participate in the 3rd Asian Youth Para Games, a multi-sport event for under 20 years of age Asian athletes with physical disability.
But what is more unknown was the decision that she couldn’t compete, due to inconsistencies of her Para-athletics classification, resulting to ineligibility.
“Sobra po akong nalungkot no’n kasi inisip ko na lahat ng ensayo ko ay mapupunta lang sa wala,” she recalled.
In an effort to appeal for a compromise, Coach Deriada immediately contacted PHILSPADA President Mike Barredo, who then coordinated with the President of Asian Paralympic Committee. Both parties agreed that Honasan would be allowed to run, but would not qualify for a medal should she place.
And as for the most unpublicized sports news: Honasan did participate but was not able to bring home two silver medals for the 200-meter and 400-meter run, respectively, and a gold for the 100-meter dash.
“Lumaban pa rin po ako kahit walang mapapanalunan. Hindi po ako nawawalan ng pag-asa sa bawat pagkatalo ko, paalala po ‘yon na kailangan kong bumawi,” she said.
For many times, Honasan felt she had enough reasons to quit, yet she never did. She was born to run, to wander, and no track was ever wrong for people who paved their own way.
She considers every finish line as just a new starting point. The gunshot has been heard and this time she runs with no other opponent but herself.
Featured photo from the Philippine Olympic Committee-Philippine Sports Commission (POC-PSC) Media Group.