LAGUNA, Philippines — After three Palarong Pambansa attempts, Zeanne Cabrera finally hit the jackpot.

And what better way to bag the gold than in front of the cheering crowd in your hometown.

In her third and last try in the biggest sporting spectacle in the country, Laguna’s very own 16-year-old Palaro veteran stepped into the throwing zone with years of frustration on her mind. She gathered for one final throw, and in a matter of seconds, became the first gold medalist of Palaro 2014.

Registering a personal best of 40.31 meters, Cabrera – the third among seven children – ended her winless skid in the Palaro. After admittedly losing focus in last year’s edition in Dumaguete where she failed to make it to the podium, the Binan-based thrower more than made up for it by wrapping up her high school career with an emphatic result.

“Masaya ako ngayon kasi natalo ako last year,” Cabrera told Rappler shortly after her last throw. “Last year kasi wala ako sa focus kasi nawalan ako ng concentration.”

In 2013, Cabrera, who will pursue her craft in Far Eastern University, lost her phone during the games. She admitted to losing focus due to the incident and it cost her big.

The St. Michael’s College of Laguna standout finished sixth, way behind the leaders in Dumaguete.

Homecourt edge

Playing in familiar territory, Cabrera trained early for her last shot at Palaro glory. Building up for this event, she managed to set her previous record of 38.87 meters at the Regional finals in Lucena City, Quezon.

But the Palarong Pambansa, she says, is a whole different level. Last year’s gold medalist from Western Visayas, Jerremay Rubias, has beaten her in all their matchups since 2012 and will try to defend her crown as she sees action in Laguna this year.

Their rivalry goes back to three years ago when Cabrera tasted her first loss to Rubias at the Philippine Sports Commission’s Grassroots Program Batang Pinoy in Iloilo.

“Dun ko natikman una kong pagkatalo sa kanya. Simula nun, gusto ko na siya matalo,” she shared. (That’s when I first lost to Rubias. Since then, I’ve been wanting to defeat her.)

Breathing in the air she is accustomed to, Cabrera did not let the ghosts of Dumaguete and Iloilo haunt her again – especially in front of a cheering homecrowd – as she took on the challenge that was Rubias.

Although her personal best fell short of Stephenie Cimatu’s national record of 41.27 meters, her 2014 finish was better than her rival’s 39.59 meter-finish in Dumaguete.

“Hindi ‘yun lucky shot, resulta ‘yun ng mahaba naming training,” the Zamboanga-born athlete said. (It wasn’t a lucky shot, it was the result of our long training.)

From hoops to javelin

But before she picked up the javelin, Cabrera’s first love was basketball.

Playing in pocket tournaments in her hometown, Cabrera tried her luck shooting hoops and even went on to represent her school in competitions but it came to a point when she had to choose between basketball and javelin throw.

“Syempre pinili ko po kung saan ako mas may future,” Cabrera said. (I picked the sport I thought I had more potential in)

And the rest is history.

NCR’s Monica Andaya placed second while dethroned Palaro champion Rubias of Tangalan, Aklan copped the bronze.

By reaching the pinnacle of success at the Palarong Pambansa, Cabrera now sets her sights on donning the national colors at the ASEAN Schools Games to be held on December in Marikina City.