Because she did it again, “powerhouse” may well be her middle name.
Filipino weightlifter Hidilyn Francisco Diaz-Naranjo, now 31, added three more gold medals to complete her collection and finally became a world champion at the ongoing IWF World Weightlifting Championships held in Bogota, Colombia, starting Dec. 5.
Hidilyn reigned over Rosalba Morales of Colombia and Ana Gabriela Lopez Ferrer of Mexico in the women’s 55-kg category by winning in the snatch (93 kg), clean and jerk (114 kg) and total lift (207 kg). “Not our best showing,” posted her coach and husband, Julius Naranjo, on social media, “but a historical one, [she] being the first Filipina to win in world championships.”
And although it was her last lift in the category, the victory was just the start in a series of qualifying games to determine her ranking and boost her title-retention bid in the Olympic Games come 2024 in Paris, France, where she will move either down to 49 kg or up to 59 kg.
Only last year at the Tokyo Olympics, Hidilyn achieved the ultimate goal of her career: becoming the first Filipino athlete to ever win an Olympic gold medal for her country, and after almost a century of drought. Thirteen years ago, she was heard saying that, someday, she would carry the Philippine flag as weightlifter gold medalist in the Olympics. Her declaration was prophetic. To boot, she also became an Olympic weightlifting record holder in the same category, even if it was just a bonus.
From news items, features and interviews on multimedia platforms, Filipinos have become aware that Hidilyn’s metallic journey began in the early 2000s when, as a preteen, she walked long distances to fetch water for her family’s use.
The fifth of six children of Eduardo (a tricycle driver, farmer and fisher) and Emelita Diaz (a homemaker) of Mampang, Zamboanga City, Hidilyn stretched her youthful muscles and strengthened her bones, probably unaware that she was building the strongest foundation for a career in weightlifting, though it is not as popular a spectator sport in the country as basketball or boxing.
Eager to lift barbells with her male cousins led by Catalino Diaz, her first weightlifting coach, the young Hidilyn started the process using makeshift lifting equipment made from tree branches, mag wheels, or concrete. To fund her training, she did odd part-time jobs selling vegetables or washing jeepneys, and was only 11 when she first competed in Batang Pinoy in Palawan.
After competing in various local and national events, she became part of the national weightlifting team two years later.
Narrative of sacrifices
Hidilyn’s rise to fame and glory was peppered with challenges that, throughout her years of hard training, pushed her body to the limit, reinforced her heart for triumph, and steeled her mind.
In 2017, after her name was included in, and later removed from, a matrix of personalities allegedly bent on deposing then President Rodrigo Duterte, Hidilyn plunged into her dream head-on and unfettered.
Propelled by her desire to support her family (as dramatized in the now-defunct tv series “Maalaala Mo Kaya”) and bring honor to her country, she continued adding more sheen to her collection of bronze, silver and gold medals won in the Southeast Asian Games and Asian Games in a span of 15 years—a narrative of sacrifices molded into success.
At present a staff sergeant of the Philippine Air Force, Hidilyn was recruited in 2013 into the military, where she was given Air Force Specialty Code skills in weightlifting. Her military career, coupled with education acquired from Universidad de Zamboanga, De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde and online classes, has transformed the girl into a woman of grace and grit, an exemplary daughter, sister, and now a wife.
Hidilyn Diaz and Julius Naranjo, a native of Guam and himself a weightlifter, met in a weightlifting competition. He eventually became her coach. Five years after their first meeting and exactly a year after she bagged the gold medal in Tokyo, they tied the knot at St. Ignatius Church in Baguio City.
Their marriage is marked by a prenuptial agreement.
Before the Tokyo awarding ceremony, Julius gave the “miraculous medal” he was wearing to Hidilyn, a devout Catholic who attributes her athletic prowess to her unwavering faith. She does a small sign of the cross before every competition and reverently mutters “Thank you, Lord!” repeatedly after every successful lift, with a wave and a smile.
Richer by more than P30 million right after winning the Olympic gold, the driven Hidilyn continues to boost her financial well-being with endorsements of certain products such as sports apparel, an energy drink, a brand of toothpaste. She maintains her own YouTube vlog and has more than 66,000 subscribers.
Indeed, the year 2022 has shown that whatever the challenges she faces vis a vis her goals, as long as she’s determined and happy to represent the country in international competitions, she will do it.
Imagine Hidilyn in action: She sniffs the smelling salts, walks confidently to the podium, and claps her powdered palms together. Then she grasps the bar with iron-clad resolve, lifts the metal plates, the five Olympic rings colorfully tattooed on her left triceps visible, her eyes focused on conquest—and wins!
A snappy salute to the strongest Filipino woman in the world, whose surname can very well be “powerhouse.”