Weightlifting gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz sets sight on Paris 2024

Hidilyn holds the rank of Staff Sergeant in the Philippine Air Force.

By Marilyn Abalos

Hidilyn Diaz, the  first Filipino Olympic gold medalist in weightlifting, was in the U.S. recently to raise funds and participate in a training program for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, France.

Passing through New York, Hidilyn was on her way to Atlanta, Georgia to train before competing in Bogota, Colombia for the 2022 Weightlifting World Championships on November 28. It is the first in a series of Olympic Qualifiers leading up to the 2024 Paris Olympics. 

A meet-and-greet was hosted in New York for her and her party, including her husband and coach, Julius Naranjo and her nephew Rowel Garcia. The reception was held at the Manhattan residence of CEO and philanthropist Loida Nicolas Lewis with members of the FilAm community led by TANGapp founder and CEO Rebecca Kersch.  

It was a special opportunity to hear first-hand her journey from the makeshift barbells of concrete in Zamboanga to the Olympic arena in Tokyo where she won her gold medal.

Hidilyn has a two-year trek to  train for Paris.  Travels to qualifying events for her and her team are costly.  Rebecca Kersch has created a special campaign in www.tangapp.org to support Hidilyn.  A gymnast, Rebecca has committed to donate $10 for every donation to Hidilyn. Donations through tangapp.org will be directed to Hidilyn’s account.  Funds raised will help defray costs for additional coaches, travel and housing, among many expenses. 

Meet-and-greet for Hidilyn at the Manhattan residence of CEO and philanthropist Loida Nicolas Lewis. Photo by Rowena Mejia Randman

According to Julius, Bogota is the first of five qualifying competitions before Paris.  The other competitions are in Armenia, Korea, Solomon Islands, and New Zealand.

Hidilyn, the fifth of six children, grew up in poverty and would carry heavy jugs of water from the well for her family. Her father Eduardo was a tricycle driver before becoming a farmer and a fisherman. Her mother Emelita stayed home to take care of the children.

“I was curious about weightlifting, watching my cousins,” she recalled.  “So I tried it and enjoyed it.”

Hidilyn joined the University of Zamboanga’s extension program on scholarship to train in weightlifting. An older cousin who was on the program, Catalino Diaz, was her first coach.

To support her training,  she would do odd jobs selling vegetables and fish and washing jeepneys so she could travel to a local gymnasium. She used makeshift barbells of concrete or mag wheels for practice. 

She would spend the time training with water bottles attached to a wooden stick. Her husband Julius would chuckle at the memory of Hidilyn training for Tokyo in their “backyard gym.”

Her first competition was the 2002 Batang Pinoy in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. She competed all over the country in local and national tournaments. Sports leaders saw her great potential and she became a member of the Philippine national weightlifting team at age 13.

With husband Julius Naranjo who is also her coach. Photo by Marilyn Abalos

She was a student of computer science at the Zamboanga A.E. College (later University of Zamboanga) but stopped her schooling on her third year as she found her degree unsuitable for her. She also claimed it distracted her from training.

In the 2016 Summer Olympics, she won silver medal in the women’s 53kg weight division. She was hailed the first Filipino to win a medal in a non-boxing event since 1936.   

Her preparation and training ahead of the Olympic Games was disrupted by COVID-19 restrictions. Julius said that Hidilyn was stranded for several months in Malaysia en route to a competition in Peru during the pandemic.

Weightlifting academy

Julius shared they have established an academy to promote weightlifting in the Rizal province where they are working with 20 kids ages 11 to 15. They would like to motivate children to learn weightlifting.  Hidilyn has donated weightlifting equipment valued up to P1 million to the academy, he said.  

Hidilyn holds the rank of Staff Sergeant in the Philippine Air Force.  Her husband Julius is a former weightlifter who competed for Guam in international competitions.  They first met at the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Turkmenistan. 

A devout Catholic, Hidilyn said her faith has inspired her athletic achievements.   She attributes her 2020 Olympic Gold medal to the power of “prayers and faith in Mama Mary and Jesus Christ.”

To set up an account with  tangapp on their mobile phones, user creates an account and links their U.S. bank account. They click “Send Money” and type @hidilynparis2024 which corresponds to their PH bank account. They have an opportunity to write a note for Hidilyn. 

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