Last year, the Philippine Accessible Disability Services (PADS) Adaptive Dragon Boat Racing Team made headlines for winning the gold at the 400-meter Standard Boat Paradragon category of the Hong Kong International Dragon Boat Races. This victory was especially remarkable since the team was only a year old, and it was their first time to participate in an international competition.
Tomorrow, they’re returning to Hong Kong not only to defend their title, but to test their strength against those of standard dragon boat teams. They’ll be competing in a total of seven categories, including 400-meter open standard boat, 400-meter mixed standard boat, 200-meter open short boat, and 200-meter mixed short boat.
From last year’s 35-member team, their delegation has now grown to include 47 members, including 43 paddlers, two physiotherapists, and two coaches.
“Mas prepared kami ngayon, kasi last time parang subok lang iyon,” says JP Maunes, founder of PADS and manager of the dragon boat racing team. “We heard na mas pinaghahandaan na kami ng kalaban kasi nakita nila ’yung capabilities ng PADS, so naghanda rin kami nang mas maayos and rigid ang training para madefend natin ng mabuti ’yung title.”
The team spent three months preparing for the competition. Over the past three weeks they’ve doubled the intensity of their training and increased their practice sessions from four times a week to six times a week.
Maunes says his respect for the team has increased after watching how hard they’ve trained. “Pagod na pagod na talaga but they really never gave up on the training. They keep on pushing themselves and that shows how big their heart is and how huge their love for the sport is,” he says.
For their part, he and the coaches push the paddlers to their limits. “As [our team captain] Arnold says, it’s a matter of building the character of the paddler so that when they face the reality of this world, ready sila. They’ll be able to face all the challenges they might experience.”
As always, the team’s goal is not just to win glory for themselves, but to inspire their fellow PWDs and show the world what persons with disabilities are capable of.
In this regard, they’ve certainly made a huge impact that extends beyond our borders: JP was elated to receive a Facebook message from a Japanese man named Ryo, who had seen their activities on Youtube, and was inspired to form his own adaptive dragon boat racing team in Tokyo.
Ryo said his team had joined the Hong Kong International Dragon Boat Races because they wanted to meet PADS, find out more about their story, and ask for advice on forming an adaptive dragon boat team. “It warms our hearts. It’s an honor for the team knowing that Japan is a developed country and also one of the leading countries in paralympic sports, and how they started to learn from us, from a developing country like the Philippines,” says Maunes.
When asked what advice they plan on giving the Tokyo Dragon Boat Team, PADS team captain Arnold Balais says, “Kuha sila ng matiyaga na coach. Kasi kailangan matiyaga ka—hindi mo siya makukuha nang one time lang, kasi you need a lot of patience sa tao na magtatrain sa kanila. Importante na member na makuha nila is matiyaga and willing talaga matuto, kasi mahirap talaga. Kailangan malakas din ang mental [strength] ng mga athletes mo.”
To motivate his own teammates, Balais tells them, “Gawin natin ’to para sa sarili natin, para siyempre healthy tayo and ’yung goal natin is maka-reach pa tayo ng mga PWD na lumabas sila, magpakita sila.”
“Through dragon boats, nakikita na kami locally sa television, sa newspaper,” Balais adds. “Kahit konti lang, nakapagbigay kami ng pag-asa sa parents nila at sa mga PWD na meron palang pwede pang gawin kahit may kapansanan sila.”
One example of PADS’ increasing visibility is the Alaxan FR commercial they starred in, which just came out last weekend. As the commercial will be aired on local networks, it will certainly go a long way in showing Filipinos that PWDs are perfectly capable of excelling in sports.
As they depart for Hong Kong on June 21, Balais is asking for prayers for the paddlers’ health and safety. “Dasal, dasal, dasal, para successful ’yung pagpunta namin at pagrace doon, kasi pinaghandaan talaga namin ’to at ayaw naman naming masayang lang dahil nagkaproblema or nagkasakit. And ’yung focus na may isa kaming goal, pupunta kami doon to race and race only.”
“We offer this sa bayan natin at sa lahat ng mga may kapansanan,” Balais adds. “Para sa kanila ito. Gagawin namin ito para ma-uplift ’yung spirit nila, mabigyan sila ng inspirasyon, at eventually maangat natin yung estado ng bawat buhay ng Pilipinong may kapansanan.”
If you’d like to watch PADS Adaptive Dragon Boat Racing Team at the Hong Kong International Dragon Boat Races, PADS will post livestream links on their Facebook page.