A cancer survivor, tearful bets, and perennial underdogs take Palaro spotlight

ILOCOS SUR, Philippines - A cancer survivor becomes a gold medalist, a former fourth placer finally captures a gold, and a son of a former Olympian follows in his father's footsteps as champion - these are just some of the countless inspiring success stories in this year's Palarong Pambansa.

Metro Manila may have bagged the overall championship for the 14th straight time, but many other athletes shone in their own way in the annual multi-game event. 

Cancer survivor Daniela Reggie Dela Pisa melted the hearts of many as the young athlete finally emerged as overall champion in rhythmic gymnastics, bringing home four gold medals in various categories.

Dela Pisa was diagnosed with ovarian cancer 10 years ago. She underwent various treatments, but her desire to perform made her stronger. With the help of her mother Darlene, who is also her coach, the Cebuano trained hard until she reached her goal.

In his third attempt in the 5,000-meter race, Erwin Mancao finally bagged a gold in this year's edition. The Misamis Oriental native broke down in tears after his run, saying he now has the money to build his family's new house. 

From fourth place last year, Calabarzon dethroned defending champion Western Visayas in the semifinals and swept National Capital Region, 9-0, in the finals to finally bag the championship.

The end of Calabarzon's pursuit for gold was a perfect parting gift for their players who suited up for their final year, coach Ronnel Landicho said.

SWEET SWEEP. A year after settling for fourth, the Calabarzon softball team sweeps the tournament.

SWEET SWEEP. A year after settling for fourth, the Calabarzon softball team sweeps the tournament.

Western Visayas also regained its crown in softball elementary, beating first time finals qualifiers Davao Eagles, 15-0. Yet, the team formerly represented the now-dissolved Negros Island region which took home the championship last year.

Gold medalist Edward Josh Buenavista proved that winning runs in the family. 

Drawing inspiration from his two-time Olympian father, Filipino long-distance runner and Olympian Eduardo Buenavista, Josh secured a gold medal in the 3,000-meter steeplechase secondary level.

Mark Gruner Gama hopes to inspire his fellow Cordillerans to have discipline and determination. The Baguio native won a gold medal in wrestling cadets 54 kilograms.

Another Baguio bet Bea Mendoza became Palarong Pambansa's first double-gold medalist in chess, ruling the chess blitz for high school girls. 

Lheslie De Lima of Camarines Sur took home the first gold medal in Palaro 2018. The 13-year-old  clocked 10:06.5 in the 3,000m run. 

De Lima achieved the feat by running barefoot on the hot Tartan track.

Surigao Del Sur's Levie Mie Espuerta, a gold medalist for wrestling girls 56 kilograms, encouraged young girls to try sports such as wrestling. 

"'Wag kayong matakot dahil ang laro na ito ay puwede ito sa babae [at] kung saan [ipinapakita na] hindi na maapi yung mga babae. Nakaka-empower din ito, at puwede rin itong  maging depensa sa sarili," Espuerta said. 

(There's nothing to be scared of because this sport is also for girls. It shows that we can't be stepped on. It empowers, it's also for self-defense.) 

Caraga took home a total of five gold medals in wrestling.

FAMILY INSPIRED. Arnis gold medalist Princes Sheryl Valdez finds motivation in her father.

FAMILY INSPIRED. Arnis gold medalist Princes Sheryl Valdez finds motivation in her father.

Arniss gold medalists Princes Sheryl Valdez and Andrei Fritz Justine Alcarioto both took inspiration from their fathers, who are suffering from illness.

The young athletes from Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat, secured a combined total of 6 gold medals, placing Soccsksargen region at the top of the early medal board.

Meanwhile, not even the war can stop Prince Najeeb Langitao from playing in his first Palaro. The 13-year-old boy is the only delegate from Marawi. 

Despite coming up short in winning at tennis boys secondary, Langitao remains proud. He also hopes to join the University of Santo Tomas tennisters one day. 

In 100-meter hurdles, Western Visayas' Trixie Jane Willy sets a new record of 16.3-seconds for elementary level. Southern Tagalog-Calabarzon's Eliza Cuyom also registered a new record for secondary girls with 14.5 seconds.

Jessel Dialino Lumapas of General Trias, Cavite, broke the Palaro record in the 400-meter race for secondary girls by posting 56.28 seconds. 

Lumipas also won the 100-meter dash for secondary girls.

Her teammate Veruel Verdadero of Dasmariñas, Cavite also broke the Palaro record in the 100-meter race for secondary boys with a time of 10.55 seconds.

GOLDEN GIRL. Jessel Lumapas collects 4 gold medals and a silver in athletics. Photo by Mau Victa/Rappler

GOLDEN GIRL. Jessel Lumapas collects 4 gold medals and a silver in athletics.

Photo by Mau Victa/Rappler

Over in Cagayan Valley, Algin Gomez, a high school student from Aparri town in Cagayan province, posted 6.96 meters to get the gold medal for long jump-secondary boys. 

Tuguegarao City's Rashied Faith Burdeos posted 10.13 meters for shot put elementary boys gave Region 2 its second gold medal, while Jalil Sephraim Taguinod set new marks for 50-meter breaststroke for secondary boys.

Ann Katherine Quitoy of Bacolod City, meanwhile, was the the first to break a record this year. The grade 11 student posted 45.72 meters in javelin throw for secondary girls.

Overall, 40 records were shattered in this year's Palaro, according to Tonisito Umali, DepEd Undersecretary for Legislative Liaison Office, External Partnerships Service and School Sports. 

Each athlete has a story to tell. For some, the multi-sporting event is a culmination of years of hard work and determination. Others, however, see the annual games as merely the beginning of a promising sports career.  - Rappler.com