At a very young age of 9, Hidilyn was already lifting weights. The weights she carried were firewood, and she does this almost everyday at their backyard in Barangay Mampang, Zamboanga City.
The fourth of five siblings, Hidilyn had been observing two of her cousins who are trained weightlifters and seemed to be inspired to try the sport out. She progressed from lifting firewood to "barra" - a heavy tool used to dig holes in the soil - and eventually lifted plates - the ones used by Catalino and Allen, her cousins. Catalino eventually became her coach. Little by little, Hidilyn was able to lift more than 15 kilos.
At first, Emelita, Hidilyn's mother, was not convinced of sending Hidilyn to be a weightlifter, as she would have preferred that she finish her college studies. "Hidilyn is a good girl, she helps me with the chores, but she seems to enjoy practicing weightlifting with her cousins even when she was still small," the mother recalled.
Hidilyn had only two years of college education, taking up Computer Science at Universidad de Zamboanga.
"I asked her why she decided to stop (school), and I realized she really wanted to be an athlete," Emelita said.
The little weightlifter
Emelita reminisced Hidilyn's first win. "It was in Palawan, in a competition called 'Batang Pinoy' that Hidilyn won. That was the start. It was her first gold medal," Emelita recounted.
From then on, Hidilyn never went home empty-handed. She had been joining competitions locally and internationally, including the 2008 Summer Olympics as the youngest competitor in the women's 58 kg category, and the 2007 SEA Games in Thailand, where she won the bronze medal at 16 years old.
She would train rigorously even in her pre-teen years. "She always finds time to practice," Emelita said, adding "the gym was far from our home, but she would find a way to hitch a ride to get there, since we did not have pamasahe(fare) for her."
According to Emelita, Hidilyn's determination to succeed in the sport was very evident even in her early years.
Mommy's silver birthday gift
"At around 2 a.m. Monday (Aug. 8), we were already up. I lighted some candles at the altar and prayed the rosary for Hidilyn," shares Emelita. "In the middle of the rosary, our relatives exclaimed that Hidilyn got the bronze. Right then, I was already overjoyed."
Shortly after, the same relatives announced that Hidilyn actually got the silver medal for the women's 53-kg weightlifting category in the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. "We never got to finish the rosary, but we really thanked and praised God for the glory."
Hidilyn won the silver medal on Aug. 8, which is coincidentally Emelita's birthday.
"It is indeed a victory not only for us, but for our country," Emelita exclaimed.
A millionaire in the family
Hidilyn is ensured with at least P5 million for her win from the Philippine Government, to include scholarship entitlement and retirement benefits. The local government of Zamboanga City will also be providing a P500 thousand incentive for her. Numerous other rewards await the ZamboangueAa Olympian upon her return.
Emelita and family members, when interviewed, were still clueless as to the benefits Hidilyn will receive, and how she will spend it. "It's all up to her," she said. Emelita remembers Hidilyn's interest to go back to school and enjoy the benefits of the scholarship, although there are no details as to which university she would go.
Hidilyn has been supporting her cousins' education with her earnings from the competitions. Her father is a tricycle driver.
A hero's welcome
Hidilyn arrived in Manila on August 11 and met with President Rodrigo Duterte, who is also a Mindanaoan in Davao. She arrived in Zamboanga City on August 14.
She is the first athlete in 20 years to be able to reap a medal in the Olympics, after Onyok Velasco's silver win in the light flyweight boxing competition in the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics.
Source: Philippine Information Agency