ILOCOS SUR, Philippines – Mark Francis Salazar will never forget that fateful day he lost his leg. It would the shape way he lived the rest of his life.
Mark was crossing the pedestrian lane along Maharlika Highway to get to Bakal Dos Elementary School in Talavera, Nueva Ecija on July 13, 2016. He looked at the left and right sides of the road just as his parents said.
The next thing he knew, a truck hit him, breaking his left leg.
His parents rushed him to the hospital and waited in agony outside the operating room.
“Umaatungal, umaatungal ako ng panalangin sa Panginoon na 'wag muna, 'wag munang kunin si Mark. Kasi [sa] Maharlika Highway [‘yon], na halos lahat ng naaksidente do'n eh namamatay,” Mark’s mother Lea Salazar told Rappler.
(I was howling and praying to God not to take my son away yet. His accident happened in Maharlika Highway, and most of the people who get into accidents there die.)
The doctor informed Mark’s parents his left leg had to be amputated just beneath the knee. But he was still getting fever 3 days after the first amputation, so the doctor said they would have to cut even Mark’s knee.
It was hard for the boy at first to accept he no longer has his left leg.
“Sabi ko po sa sarili na hindi na po ako lalabas ng bahay (I told myself I will no longer go out of the house),” shared Mark.
But it was swimming that made him hope again.
“Sinabi ko po kay Mama ang gagawin ko na lang po ay magsi-swim na lang po. Magpapaturo po ako sa kuya ko,” said the 12-year-old
(I told Mama that I wanted to swim. I’ll ask my older brother to teach me.)
One year after Lea enrolled him to the Bert Lozada Swim School, Mark competed at the Palarong Pambansa 2018 Special Games for ortho-amputee swimmers. (READ: Mimaropa’s SPED athlete joins Palaro 2018 against all odds)
The boy from Science City of Muñoz is set to get his bronze medal on Friday, April 20 for finishing 5th in freestyle and 6th in the breaststroke competitions.
The struggle before Palaro
Mark struggled with his physical disability at the beginning, however. Before going into swimming, Mark threw tantrums at home.
“So meron 'yon siya tantrums niya na kaya lang daw namin siya inaasikaso, kaya lang daw namin siya love kasi 'yon nga, naputulan siya ng paa, gano’n (So he used to have tantrums at home and he’d say the only reason why we’re taking care of him or why we love is because his leg was amputated),” recounted Lea.
They had to constantly remind Mark they loved him whether he had a disability or not. (READ: SPED coach: 'Understand, be patient with special athletes’)
“‘Anak,kako, ‘hindi 'yon. So kung 'di ka namin love, sana pinabayaan ka na namin. Pero hindi anak, kako. Love ka namin kako. 'Di mo ba nararamdaman ‘yon?' sabi ko. ‘Lahat kami dito sa bahay, sa'yo na naka-focus,’” said Lea.
(I told him, ‘Son, that’s not true. If we didn’t love you, then we would have just left you to die. But no, son. We love you. Can’t you feel that? Everyone at home is focused on you.)
There is also the issue of finances. Lea said a prosthetic leg for Mark was supposed to cost around P98,000.
The senior high school teacher married to a hardware store owner was thankful for their PhilHealth benefits, as it gave them a discount for Mark’s prosthetic leg, which they bought at about P60,000.
They now have to buy the boy a new one because his old prosthetic leg is already too small for him.
But the Salazar family persisted and stayed strong for Mark.
His 3 older siblings even help his parents in checking on him throughout the day. Lea also said they have been getting donations from friends, even local government officials.
Diving back into hope
Lea himself coaches Mark, as she had been member of her school’s swimming varsity team when she was young.
“Uunahin naman kasi po ang drills. Isusunod po namin tig-200 [meters] na stroke. Tapos po no'n, ta-time-an po ako. Tsaka maga-IM (individual medley) po ako, mga gano’n,” said Mark when asked how a typical day of training looks like for him.
(We first do drills. We then do around 200 meters of each stroke. She’ll time me. Then I will do my IM.)
“Sasabihin ko po sa Mama ko salamat po sa pagtuturo niyo kong lumangoy at salamat din po sa suporta niyo sa akin (I want to say thank you, Mama, for teaching me how to swim and for supporting me),” said Mark.
How did swimming changed Mark? A lot, according to his mom and coach.
He no longer threw tantrums after he joined Central Luzon’s swimming team.
“Tsaka nakita ko sa kanya 'yong initiative. Kahit 'yong pagod na ko galing school, 'Mama, magpa-practice ako.' Kahit 'yong nandito kami [sa Palaro] na gusto ko nang mag-rest, 'Mama, magwa-warm-up ako. Makikita mo sa kanya talaga 'yong eagerness na lumangoy,” said Lea.
(And I saw his intiative. Even if I’m already tired from school, he’ll tell me, ‘Mama, I want to practice.’ While we’re here in Palaro and I already want to rest, he’ll still say, ‘Mama, I want to do warm-ups.’ You’ll see the eagerness in him to swim.)
As for Mark, he hopes his story would inspire other amputees like him to continue reaching for their dreams.
“Kung naririnig po nila itong sinasabi ko po, sana naman naman din po sila makahanap din po sila ng way na magiging ganto po. Kasi minsan po may nakita po ako, sabi daw, wala na daw siyang pag-asang maging ano ganito, ganyan. Kaya po, sana lang po maging ganito din po sila kagaya ng sa akin,” said Mark.
(If they can hear what I’m saying, I hope they will be able to find a way to help themselves. One time, I saw a person like me say it is hopeless. That’s why I want them to remain positive, to keep on hoping like me.) – Rappler.com