LAGUNA, Philippines – Conquest is the nature of the beast at Palarong Pambansa, as every game produces a victor and leaves the others with the sting of defeat. At the end of the day, victory remain the greatest prize among all.
But conquest seems to not be a strong enough word to describe the heroics of Jolan Camacho. While other boys his age run in the 100m hurdles, looking forward to the finish line with gleaming hope, the 17-year-old trackster relies on courage alone to offset the odds.
The boy can barely see the finish line.
Born with severely impaired vision, Camacho wowed all spectators when he owned the stage in the Athletics SPED Category, winning gold in almost all events. Not once, but twice.
His performances have redefined the meaning of ‘conquest’ at Palaro.
Born to be a winner
As Rappler entered the Calabarzon headquarters for a conversation with Camacho, he was embroiled in a dispute with his coach. Instead of resting as his coach was insisting, the headstrong Camacho was lacing up his boots for an extra training session.
“Sige na ma’am. Gusto ko po talaga mag train,” the Quezon boy persisted. And in a split second, there he was, running with other visually impaired athletes, leaving his mentor behind with no option but to watch.
(Please, ma’am. I really want to train.)
Despite being born with an incurable condition, Camacho’s coach insists the boy is as physically strong as other competitors.
“Siya ay malakas. Daig pa nga niya ang regular na tao,” shared Coach Corazon Alcala with Rappler.
(He is strong. In fact, he is even stronger than normal people.)
Alcala has been the mentor of Camacho ever since he was in third grade at Central Main Elementary School in Sariaya, Quezon – a center for special education in the province.
With a vision to provide holistic learning for children with disabilities, the said school trains students who are seen to have potential to excel in athletics and sends them to division meets. Eventually, Camacho conquered the regional and national competitions.
“Napaka galing na atleta ni Jolan bata pa lamang siya. May disiplina sa sarili at napaka sipag.” Alcala said.
(Jolan has been a very good athlete ever since he was young. He has discipline and works very hard.)
True to what was said by his coach, Camacho brought home all three gold medals in the 100m hurdle run, shot put, and standing long jump events from the 2012 Palarong Pambansa in Pangasinan. He also placed fourth in the goal ball competition.
The speedy runner won the same awards the following year in Dumaguete City save for the shot put event, where he landed second.
All for his family
While the pursuit of glory is a driving force in Camacho, it comes a distant second to his love of family. Undoubtedly, the strength and courage that this champion shows were drawn from a life filled with hard knocks and unexpected twists.
“Mabait na bata iyan. Hinding hindi ko malilimutan yung mga ginawa niya para sa pamilya niya,” recalled Coach Alcala of a situation where Jolan’s selfless love for his family was shown in a very innocent way.
(He is a very kind kid. I will never forget all the things he did for his family.)
Back in 2012 when Camacho won the nationals, an official asked him what he’d like to do with the cash prize that came together with the title.
The then 15-year-old boy answered in a snap.
“Ipambibili ko po ng bigas.”
(I will buy rice.)
But just as life was starting to get better for the Camacho family, a tragedy caught them off guard. Their mother was recently diagnosed with stage four colon cancer, devastating Jolan while pushing him to strive harder to improve their fortunes the best way he can.
Only this time, what’s at stake is way more than a sack of rice.
“Ipambibili ko po ng gamot ng mama ko ‘yung mapapanalunan ko,” Camacho told Rappler.
(I’ll use the money to buy my mother’s medicines.)
Dreaming is for the brave
Disabilities are often used as an excuse to hide behind curtains of insecurity and are made as reason to never aim for a better life.
It is not the same case with Sariaya’s own though as he has displayed bravery from the day he accepted his disadvantages and chose to step out for higher heights.
“Gusto ko pong pumunta sa ibang bansa para lumaban,” said Camacho. “Para po makilala sa buong mundo. Kayang kaya kahit malabo ang mata.”
(I want to go abroad to compete. I want to be known in the whole world because I can still do it despite my impaired vision.)
This year, Jolan Camacho targets to overwrite history with a greater feat.
“Kung anong kaya ng ‘regular,’ kaya din ng kagaya ko.”
(If ‘regular’ people can do it, people like me can do it too.)
Regardless of what happens at Palaro 2014, Jolan Camacho will have already conquered his disability and proved that the impossible can be made possible with a heart that sees beyond the finish line.