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  • Meet the Filipino Mom Competing in the Rio 2016 Olympics

    She almost gave up competing after giving birth, but she fought to get back in shape with the help of her husband who set aside his own Olympic dreams.
    by Jillianne E. Castillo .
Meet the Filipino Mom Competing in the Rio 2016 Olympics
PHOTO BY Philippine Athletics Track And Field Association/Facebook
  • Will Filipino long jumper Marestella Torres-Sunang be our next Rio Olympics medalist after Hidilyn Diaz, the silver medalist in the women’s weightlifting 53kg division? You can bet this mom will certainly try. 

    Rio is Marastella’s third Olympic Games (after Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012), and her first as a mom to a 2-year-old. She admits that raising a family proved to be a challenge on her way to the Olympics.

    “When I got pregnant, it wasn’t planned,” she told Channel NewsAsia. “I had a lot of competitions lined up. That was the year [2013] of the SEA games. I needed to resign [from the National team] because I got pregnant and had to take care of myself.” 

    Getting get back in fighting form wasn't easy. “At first I had low morale [after giving birth], I lost hope but there are people who believe in me. So if they believe in me, why wouldn’t I believe in myself?” she told Rappler.

    Two of of her biggest supporters are Jim Lafferty, who helped finance her training after she resigned from the national team and motivated her with dreams of joining the 2016 Olympics, and her husband Eliezer Sunang, a former member of the Philippine national shotput team. 

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    In an interview with Spin.ph, Eliezer reveals that he set aside his own athletic ambitions to help his wife get back in shape. “Naka-focus kasi ako nag-aassist kay Maris (as he refers to his wife). Ako ‘yung tumutulong sa kanya sa workout niya sa gym. Kung inaalalayan ko siya sa gym, hindi ako maka-focus sa training ko. Pero okay lang yun kasi hindi ko naman siya puwedeng iwan. Hinahayaan ko na lang ‘yung akin.” 

    Aside from helping in Marastella's training, Eliezer adds he is the "yayo" to their son, Eliemar, especially when Marastella began her bid for the Olympics. “’Kung magawa niya ‘yun [win an Olympic medal], masaya na ako kasi iisa lang naman kami. Mag-asawa kami. Masaya na ako.”

    Though Marastella fell short in two previous attempts to hit the 2016 Olympics qualifying mark of 6.7 meters, her third attempt not only got her in but her 6.72 meter jump also set a new national record. Here she was proving herself more than worthy of her title as the long jump queen of Southeast Asia.

    Hailing from San Jose, Negros Oriental, the long jumper started running and competing when she was 10 years old. “In our school, we didn’t have basketball because we didn’t have a court. All we could do was jump and run, and that was in the dirt,” she said. Soon after, after showing enormous potential, her coach convinced her to focus on long jumping. “No one’s really born a long jumper. You work and train hard for it.”

    Marastella has earned gold medals at the Southeast Asian Games in 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2011 (where she set a SEA Games record of 6.71 meters). In 2009, she won gold at the Asian Championships. 


    Coupled with all the training she’s done in preparation for this year’s Olympics, she has an advantage she has never had before. Her biggest inspiration now comes from her son Eliemar and husband Eliezer. 

    “There are major changes now that I’m married, and now that I have a son. I persevere more than I did before. I’m doing this for my son, I’m doing this for the people who trust me,” she says.

    Motherhood has empowered Marastella. It has pushed her to do better, contrary to what other say. “People say that ‘When you get pregnant you have no chance, you have no hope.’ I want to prove them wrong, if your dedication is still there you can still do it,” says Marastella. Currently, her goal for Rio is to make it to the finals, where the top 12 athletes compete for the bronze, silver and gold medals.

    “I would be very proud of bringing honor to my country. I'm not rich with money, but I'm rich with honor,” says Marastella.

    Cheer for Marasetlla in the Rio 2016 Olympics and watch her compete in the athletics women’s long jump competition on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 8:05 a.m. 

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