Para-swimming champ Ernie Gawilan joins Toyota coastal cleanup, mangrove planting

Para-swimming champ Ernie Gawilan
Asian Para Games gold medalist Ernie Gawilan joined the International Coastal Clean Up’s Toyota-led leg in Lian, Batangas. Credits to TMP.

Para-swimming champion Ernie Gawilan and Palarong Pambansa medalist Edwin Villanueva took a break from their training to join the 2019 International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) over the weekend.

The two Filipino swimming medalists participated in the Toyota Motor Philippines’ (TMP) mangrove planting and coastal clean up drive together with volunteer employees, environmental groups, and the Philippine National Police at the coastal area of Barangay Lumaniag in Lian, Batangas.

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Asian Para Games gold medalist Ernie Gawilan joined the TMP’s nationwide simultaneous coastal cleanup and mangrove planting on September 21 as the Philippines’ Start Your Impossible Ambassador. The TMP’s Start Your Impossible campaign aims to motivate people to push beyond their limits.

The para-athletes joined TMP President Satoru Suzuki at the Lian leg of the Toyota ICC.

The cleanup drive participation is just one of the activities where para swimming gold medalist Ernie Gawilan spreads positivity and inspiration despite being physically challenged.

In June, Gawilan met kid athletes of the Toyota Swim Clinic to inspire them to pursue careers in sports despite difficulties.

The champion swimmer says helping with the clean up drive is a cause worth taking a break from training.

“Syempre masaya kasi kahit sa maliit na paraan nakatulong sa kalikasan (I feel good that even in this small way we can help the environment),” Ernie Gawilan shared in an interview with Good News Pilipinas.

Gawilan also shared a message of encouragement to all Filipinos with disabilities to keep on doing what they love, reach their dreams and, if given a chance, give back to the community.

“Siguro gusto lang malaman din nila na, basta kaya pa nating gumalaw, may pag-asa pa para makatulong tayo sa komunidad (As long as we can still move, we can still help the community),” Gawilan said.

Para-athlete Edwin Villanueva shared that they see their situation as their motivation to achieve what regular athletes are able to do.

“Nagiging motivation namin na kahit ganito kami, pinipilit naming maabot ‘yong kayang gawin ng ibang swimmer (We try to reach what other swimmers achieve despite our disability. That is our motivation),” said Villanueva.

To his fellow para athletes, Ernie Gawilan says, “Huwag nating hayaan na pigilan tayo ng ating kapansanan (Let’s not be discouraged by our disability).”

Gawilan and Villanueva said that their standard measure for achievement are the same as that for regular swimmers.

Bryan Ong, the son of coach Tony Ong who accompanied Gawilan and Villanueva at the TMP ICC inn Batangas, said the para athletes and regular swimmers train together and are each other’s motivational markers. The younger Ong revealed that the determination of the para athletes serve to push them forward.

The para-athletes joined the cleanup team at Lian, Batangas. Credits to TMP.

Gawilan has already secured his spot for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games after winning a silver medal in the 400m freestyle at the 2019 World Para Swimming Series in Singapore in May. Villanueva is poised to compete in the Paralympic Games Qualifiers in early 2020.

The National Para Swimming Team and the swimming team coached by Tony Ong are currently facing another challenge as their training base at the Philsports Arena (formerly the University of Life Theater and Recreational Arena or ULTRA) is under renovation for the upcoming 30th Southeast Asian Games.

The swimmers have been using the pool at La Consolacion College but are hoping they could move their training to a place that is more accessible for the para athletes.

The swimmers are also competing at the para games right after the SEA Games in Clark.

Para athletes have been a source of Filipino pride with the recent gold medal win of paralympian Josephine Medina at the 2019 International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) – Para Bangkok Open.

The Philippine Paradragon Elite Team also bagged golds and secured world records at the first Para-Dragon Boat Competition of the International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF) World Dragon Boat Racing Championships in Thailand.

SEND cheers to Ernie Gawilan, Edwin Villanueva, and Toyota Motor Philippines for giving back to the environment even as they work together to bring sports glory to the country!

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Atom Pornel is a tourism and broadcast journalism major who loves local art and heritage and is passionate about anything good news from the Philippines. Born from a Bicolano-Odionganon father and Waray mother, he has grown appreciation of our diversity as nation.