Nigerian sports journalist Chisom interviews Paralympic powerlifter Adeline Dumapong from the Philippines to uncover what happens behind the scenes at the Paralympic Games from her “golden bronze” at the 2000 competition at Sydney to the perseverance and grit it takes to forge a decades-long career.
Chisom (0:05): Hello, and welcome to the final episode of Strong Women, Better World Podcast Series: Season two, where we continue our exciting journey to Tokyo Olympics and Paralympic games. Today, we will head to the Philippines to meet one of the strongest women in the world. Our GSMP sister Adeline Dumapong, a para powerlifter, a mom of a beautiful, beautiful teenage daughter. Like our other GSMP sisters heading to the Olympics. Adeline has made huge sacrifices, physically, mentally, socially, emotionally, and yes, financially in the quest to uplift her country, her family and herself. And we are super, super, super, super proud to call her sister. I am Chisom Mbonu-Ezeoke, from Nigeria, a sports broadcast journalist. And it is my great pleasure to welcome you to this podcast. As we celebrate one of the most amazing and powerful athletes the world has ever seen. And her recent journey in pursuit of the Tokyo Paralympic games, as you quickly realize, she's an inspiration to me. And I dare say millions of women, not just young girls and young women, but women in general, at the end of the podcast, you will certainly understand why. At 47 years old Adeline Dumapong has spent the last four years in pursuit of competing in her six Paralympic games in Tokyo. Yep. You heard that right. Six, this super woman has been to the Paralympics five times. So more than 20 years ago, she made her powerlifting debut at the 2000 Sydney pride in big games and became the first ever Filipino athlete to win a medal in the paralympics when she snatched a bronze medal and took the podium. I will let her tell you more about her amazing stories. So ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls please welcome. My sister and one of the world's strongest women Adeline Dumapong, from the Philippines. Welcome to this podcast and that your story has been so amazing. And it's an absolute honor to be interviewing you today. So thanks for joining us on the Strong Women Better World Podcast.
Adeline (2:18): Hello, Chisom, thank you for those very kind words, but I shout out I went to the five Paralympic games, but, you know, I met so many athletes who have achieved more and you know, and really I am in awe of all of them. So I'm glad to be an inspiration to others, but I am also inspired by all these beautiful athletes. And my heart goes out to all the athletes out there, both able-bodied athletes and athletes with disabilities. And yes so greetings to all the listeners of this podcast. Thank you for having me here.
Chisom (2:57): I mean, thank you so much, Adeline. I think this is what I love about, you know, strong women. You guys definitely make the world a better place. It's so exciting to hear you give a shout out and, you know, acknowledgement of other sisters and other athletes around the world. So thank you for that. That's what makes you an even greater person, but let's start with, you know, this, uh, global sisterhood of art so people can understand our beautiful blended GSMP family dynamics. So people might be wondering why I'm calling you my sister. I mean, I'm from Nigeria, I'm African, you're from the Philippines asking colors, different. Everything is different, but you are definitely my sister. So just let people understand, you know what this is about this sisterhood and brotherhood.
Adeline (3:42): So we're both part of the GSMP or the Global Sports Mentoring Program, right. And for me, I, I joined the program in 2016. So, what was your, what's your batch? When did you join?
Chisom (3:55): 2017, the year after you.
Adeline (3:58): Okay. Yeah, so when I first went there, I was really pleasantly surprised, you know, for this family atmosphere of being there and being able to meet with leaders in their own rights from different countries. And so we talked about civility and sports and somehow we connected and I, I really liked the idea of having sisters and brothers from all over the world. And of course it's a, it's a project of the US Department of State. Right. I was stop here and yeah. And ever since that bag, you know, I really felt like even if we are all far away from each other and especially now that we just connect online, there's still that strong connection that somewhere in the world people who think like me extremely doing are doing their best to make the world a better place.
Chisom (4:51): Yes. And for me, I was there in 2017 and like you, it was a very pleasant and amazing experience. And people really don't understand when I tell them, oh my sister in France or my sister in Brazil, but this is truly a sisterhood. We help out each other. So this makes this interview for me even that much more, you know, meaningful and precious. So, you know, but as we all know, COVID disrupted the four year cycle of the game, game was supposed to be in 2020. Now happening in 2021, but I think more importantly, it's the rhythms for the qualifying events, and the rhythms for the athletes, you know, so we know that this hits close to home for you. Can you tell us about the news you received this weekend and how you're doing.
Adeline (5:40): Okay. So first of all, I'm doing very well. Yes. The news I received because because of the pandemic, we were not able to go to the qualifiers. You see, when we as athletes, right? Wanting to compete with the Paralympic games there's, there are after the Rio games in 2016, that the road to Tokyo started already. So there, there are competitions that we have to attend, there are mandatory competitions. I can only speak for my sport, the powerlifting. So we have to attend, like, one competition official competition for a year. So we were able to go to Mexico in 2017 and then then 2018 in Japan. But we were not able to join in 2019. And then in 2020 it was postponed. So they gave us a chance to join this year in May, in Thailand and in Dubai last June. But we were not able to go. I mean, all the funds of the government of course, goes to the four for the Covid prevention and, you know, the group to address the COVID pandemic. And so of course we have to take a backseat, as well as we have here in the Philippines, we have lots of lockdown. So there was not really very good access to training the training centers, because those are the, I mean, we use the gym, right. But the gym is the first to be closed. So there was, there was really no way to train right. And then, so we decided to apply for the bipartite qualifiers. Just the other day we received the news that out of the four powerlifters there's only one got in and that's might be made from the lower-class division, lower weight division. And so I'm disappointed. In a way, but again, I am actually relieved because I know that I didn't really train that well. And so I think it's going to be, of course we all want to, for me, I believe that, you know, as an athlete, it's okay to lose. There are times when you lose and times when you win, it's okay if you lose, if know that you really did your best. But without training without really good training. And then I go to the Paralympic games and, you know, just go there for participation. It's really not for me. So that's their release part. And my teammate who was chosen to go, she had access to the gym. So I think she really deserves to go. So I'm very happy for her. This is her second Paralympic games. So. Yeah.
Chisom (8:29): I mean, I'm so, so sorry to hear about this, even though you are relieved, but this is also something that people prepare for or have their minds at that. So, I mean, I can't even begin to know, know what that would feel like, but, you know, I can understand just what you most defeated or I'm trying to understand it. Thank you for that energy that you have. That's that's good to see that to feel disappointed, but still happy for, for your teammates. So thank you. Thank you for that. So now, Let's talk about this part of the games, your first one in 2000, you got that bronze medal for the Philippines. The first one again, whoop. You know, I keep telling people that I have very famous and powerful sister. So you guys keep making me proud, but what was it like that first time to hear your name and the name of your country through the speakers in that arena? Was it everything you imagined? Put us inside the emotions you were feeling.
Adeline (9:30): So it was year, 2000. The first time the Philippines has ever participated in the Paralympic games. I never really imagined what it would feel like to participate in that level of competition. So I had no expectations. Except that, you know, when we, when we got there, I was culture shock maybe because that was the very first time the largest competition I've ever been to. And you know, I went to the stage and it was just a small competition. So there was another one, but yeah, the Sydney Paralympic games was the first one and I was so intimidated because we were there was only two athletes. One for the athletics and me for the power lifting. And it was both our first time in the Paralympic games, our officials, the officials were with us would say. Oh, don't feel any pressure we're just here, you know, for the experience to participate. Yeah, they can say that, but us athletes you want to, you want to be able to perform well. So competition came, no expectation. My coaches say just do what you have to do, give your best. You want to have a good record. Okay, I was up against Nigeria and I remember clearly it was Nigeria, USA, UK, Emma Brown. And then there's this other guy, from Egypt. Yeah. And then the Philippines, and then there were others, but they were the one, the ones I remember clearly because the three of us, Nigeria, USA, and Philippines, we lifted the same weights. Well, fortunately, because the first one, UK took the gold and then Egypt took the silver, and then there we three of us USA, Nigeria, and the Philippines, we all lifted the same weights. It's just. I was my body weight was lighter, that’s why I got the Bronze medal. But it was totally unexpected at that time we don't have this. That's my thoughts. Right. And we did not receive, you know, the Filipino community in Sydney did not know that the Philippines was participating in that competition. So it was really just the, the president who's blind and the wife who were in the audience cheering for us. They did have a camera, but they did have the video recorder, but when they saw my name went up to third, they were so excited that the camera failed. So I really had very, very limited pictures of that momentous event. I was in shock. You see through. I mean, maybe not. So, and then they said, yeah, you have to go to the doping test and then you come back for the medal ceremony. And so I was there and of course it was the, the flag was being raised and it was the national Anthem of the UK. And, but I saw our flag being raised and it just really, I was really teary eyed because, you know, wow. It was my first time to go. Nobody expected me there. My coach was crying, actually. She was crying. I think the impact of that medal really I realized, okay, I'm not just winning for myself, but I’m winning for the whole country, especially for the disabled sports, because at that time there was really zero recognition from the government for the para athletes. Our president, I mean, the organizations president had to beg the government to give us support to go to Sydney. Winning that medal, although it was a bronze medal statement I think that it’s just like winning diamond because yeah, I did not win just for myself, but I won for most, especially, of course for the disabled people, really it was very emotional. And then when I went out to meet the president and the wife, because like we were quiet for a while and then, and then, “you won!” you know, they were really very thankful, but I was really very thankful also for them, for giving me the opportunity to be able to participate in the paralympic games.
Chisom (14:02): I think that in Nigeria, we call that bronze medal, especially in situations where people didn't expect them to get it. We call it the golden bronze. We say she got the golden bronze. Because it's also part of the spirit of the Olympics and the Paralympics, because it's not just about winning, it is, there's also winning in participation. And I reckon that you probably, or definitely inspired a ton or hundreds, thousands of Filipino athletes disabled athletes and even people with disability. I mean, this is all, this is absolutely fantastic. And super proud moment for you. Now, for me as someone who did a track in school, you know, I know how nerve wrecking, you know, the moment before going to, before going on your max can be, so walk us through the morning of your competition. You know, did you sleep the night before? How nervous were you, what was going through your mind?
Adeline (15:06): It was nerve wrecking. But as I said, just because it was my first Paralympic games, I tried to deceive myself. I tried to say, oh, I’m relaxed, I’m relaxed, but really, you know, outwardly my coach would say, yeah, just do your usual routine. You know? And then I was like, yeah, I'm okay. I'm not nervous, but really inside. Like I slept early, but I couldn't sleep. And then I would just, you know, doze off and then get up again. And you know, those things. It was really nerve wrecking.
Chisom (15:41): Did you eat that morning though?
Adeline (15:45): Barely because I had to finish first. They check the equipment, they check the weight and all that. So we have that after doing all that, there's like time to time to eat and do your stuff. Really. I was so nervous as well as I usually do. So. Yeah.
Chisom (16:06): Okay. Like the saying goes right. Age is nothing but a number. That's what, what it says. So, and then you are living proof of that. Definitely. So how have you stayed motivated all these years to continue to push yourself?
Adeline (16:20): It was hard, right. To be motivated at first, at first, when we came back from the Paralympic games where I won the medal, it was all good. I was so motivated because it started for awhile. It's like I became the face of the para sports in the Philippines, you know, being in, being one of the pioneers. And so we started the fight for recognition. We wanted recognition and support from the government. So it was all very exciting. We went to the Senate, we went to Congress, you know, read all these position papers and do all these interviews. And yeah, I was right there with the group, however, as the years passed by, you know, I also have to earn a living for myself, I have to, you know, all those things, life was happening at the same time. And I don't know. I guess it's really just my personality, not to give up on things that I have started. As I said, life was happening. You know, I got married, I had a daughter, I worked, I did all that. But the one thing that was constant was my sport. In a way, I guess, because I like doing it. I love doing it because I did it. Even if I am not getting paid for it. I guess that's what you call love for sport. So yeah, that's what kept me going for this whole thing. But yeah, but right now, as you mentioned, I'm 47 years old. And although my mind and my heart really is still there. And I think I can still have another, another paralympic games. I don't know that physically of course I can feel now the cricks and cracks of my body. And I know that I really have to prepare for my retirement soon. We cannot be athletes forever.
Chisom (18:05): You've heard of athletes who have a weird pregame routines. I know someone like Serena Williams, when she walks on court, she never walks after the first service. She never walks back. From the umpire, she goes the opposite side after every first game, you know? So for you, I mean, do you have any superstitions? Do you smell your shoes? Do you do anything of that sort?
Adeline (18:35): No, I don't. No, actually really I don't have that, but I do pray a lot more before the competition.
Chisom (18:48): Yeah, so many young girls out there who have a subtype of physical or intellectual disabilities, but from birth or acquired later in life. No. Can you tell us about the challenges girls with disabilities grow up with? That may be different than the challenges girls facing the girls who are not living with disabilities face.
Chisom (19:09): What words of wisdom can you share with people without disabilities when interacting with a person with disability? This is something I'd also like to learn myself.
Adeline (19:19): The challenges that the girls or children without and with disabilities somehow it's the same. However, if you have a disability there is the added challenge of being very different from, you know, being different from the community. And now people's minds are kind of opening up. But before, during my time. It was like, I am very lucky because I have always had the support and the love of my family. But here in the Philippines, it's like disability. There's a stigma attached to being to the disability is either you're cursed or you're paying for your parents scenes. Or things like that. Even my parents telling me. Some, some parents were telling them like, why do they have to let me go to school? I can just stay at home, you know? And. When you're a teenager without disabilities awkward. And when you have a disability, it's more awkward, uh, it's more awkward, but yeah. I need three. I give through having a disability. And when growing up I would feel insecure about, you know, there's a boy I like, but the boy I like has, you know, likes me, but he likes the other girl better. The one who can walk, you know, things like that. Then of course, I know that because I'm still involved with young children with disabilities and it’ll come up, that topic will come up again and again. I think that's human nature, but because we're, we're very different. I think my, my nugget of wisdom for children or for young women with disabilities. Is that courage. I think you have to know that whatever it is, you're feeling, you're not the only one who's feeling those children or those women who have no disability. Or those, those who do not have disabilities, they also have insecurities. So I mean, you know, it's normal to have those feelings and don't give into that feeling of self-pity of insecurity. You know, you have to fasten yourself and no matter what stage you are in, you have to live fully. If you have a disability, just participate. You know, be part of the action because it is our responsibility, as well as people with disabilities to show the world that we deserve to be part of whatever world they are in, the whole thing, you know, and ask for those without disabilities, because this has been asked, uh, just, I think two days ago a woman asked me. “So how do we really interact with people with disabilities” and, you know, but I told her just don't be awkward with us. Treat us like how do you treat a next door neighbor, don't be awkward because if you feel awkward to interact with us, then we will feel it. And we can also respond with the same awkwardness. Sometimes it's because she told me, you know, sometimes it's not easy because she thinks that we might be too sensitive. And I said, yes, of course, of course, I understand that clearly. But then again, you have to stop that, you know, that voice inside and try to look at us as normal as you can. Yeah, because I think that's the only way if we go past that, but don't be, you know, you might hurt her feelings or if you listen to all that stuff going on behind, then I don't think you be able to see the person behind the disability. Because you're always focused on the disability, but if you try, you know, you can just always try. And I told her, and I guess I'm telling you now just don't be awkward. Just be yourself. And I think that's the first step.
Chisom (23:23): Oh, that that's, that's so powerful. It's simple, but very powerful. Don't be awkward with us. I liked what you said. If you don't do that, then you'll be able to see the person behind the disability, because a person with disability is not the disability. That person is still a person, you know, with the soul and the heart and emotions, just like the rest of us. So you are absolutely right about that. And, you know, we love hearing, you know, about your future aspirations. So, so sad, you know, going to your sixth Olympics this time, I'm sure you know, that you have, you know, the entire GSMP family here to help you achieve your goals. You know, as the UT team says all the time, I'm sure you’ve heard it. We are never alone. And our family webs of support keeps growing. So, you know, what's that next step for you? What's next for you?
Adeline (24:15): As an athlete because I thought I always talked to my coach, do you think I can still do this or do you think, so? I feel like that I can still be an athlete because what I promised myself is that when I no longer get a medal, when I no longer win in the lowest level of competition, which is the Asian Para Games, you know, the 11 countries. Then I think this, the time when I have to gracefully retiring being an athlete, because I believe that being an athlete, of course, you always want to win a medal for your country because otherwise I'm not gonna win you don't you have no business being an athlete. When you're an athlete representing your country, the goal is to win. Right? So, as an athlete, my coach told me that I can still do it. I do not know, but yeah. Right now for two years, maybe I can still be there after two years. Let me check again. So I will continue to train as an athlete. But as a person, I am not just an athlete. So as an athlete that I will continue to be to train and, you know, shoot for the 2024 Paralympic games, but I have to check that after two years and that as a person with a disability who wants to make an impact to the world, I want to be able to start my own non-profit. I want to be able to help, not the kind of help, Chisom, that’s so big. I mean, you know, I just want to be able to give personalized help to persons with disabilities, that kind of nonprofit that I want to strike is to be able to give personalized care that one person needs. So I'm calling it Enabling Filipino disability, one life at a time. Cause I believe that you have to do for one person what you want to do for a thousand that's so far, the plan.
Chisom (26:20): That is that is absolutely fantastic. And I'm sure you know, that you have the support of every single GSMP member, you know, from the team to all your sisters and. And your brothers. So we'll definitely be here rooting for you. I'm personally, I will keep rooting for you because of Paris, 2024. I hope to see you there. This pandemic also affected me. Now I can go as a journalist. If you're there for the 2024 Olympic games in Paris, I'll definitely be there. It has been an absolute pleasure, chatting with you, Adeline I've thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you for the words of wisdom, the nuggets, you know, taking us through your journey as a Paralympian, as an athlete to your family life as well. We've totally, totally enjoyed it. So thank you so much. And we'd also like to thank our audience for tuning in to this special edition of the Strong Women, Better World Podcast Series. And sadly, this is the end of this special Olympics and Paralympics package, but not to worry, we will be back for a new season in September. So stay tuned. And in the meantime, you can always listen to our first season on your favorite podcasting platform until then stay healthy, stay safe and stay blessed.