If I had to pick one word to describe three-time Olympian, Hidilyn Diaz, I would choose “gracious.” Hidilyn is visiting Guam for the week, and she agreed to let me interview her before her weightlifting practice. Unfortunately, I didn’t think things through very well, and I ended up conducting the interview while sitting on some tires behind the gym. The music in the gym was very loud, and all of the seats were occupied by active weightlifters, so we headed out the back door. I scanned the area for a suitable sitting surface and hastily decided that some tires lying on the ground would do just fine. I sat down, and Hidilyn joined me without hesitation.
Hidilyn’s unassuming attitude became all the more impressive once I learned more about her.
Hidilyn (pronounced Heidi Lynn), age 26, has competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the 2012 London Olympics, and the 2016 Rio Olympics. At age 17, Hidilyn was the youngest competitor in the women’s 58-kg weight class at the 2008 Bejing Olympics. And in 2016, Hidilyn became the first Filipino woman to ever win an Olympic medal when she earned a silver medal in Rio.
Hidilyn began weightlifting at age 11. Her cousin, a university student, was coaching a group of young boys in weightlifting. Hidilyn asked to join them, and her cousin began training her. She began competing soon after and was offered a place on the Philippine national team at age 12. Membership on the national team offered a number of perks. Hidilyn received a scholarship to attend school. She was able to travel and see the world when she competed. Most importantly, though, she was able to help provide for her family with her monthly stipend of 4000 Pesos (about $80).
Hidilyn explained: “My family was poor. I lifted weights to provide for my family. I was the breadwinner.”
I asked Hidilyn when she developed a passion for weightlifting. I was surprised when she said, “2014.” By 2014, Hidilyn had already been in the sport for 12 years and competed in two Olympic Games!
Hidilyn explained, “2014 was a difficult year for me. I injured my knee, and recovery was taking a long time. My performance suffered. My coach of ten years was fired from the national team, and I felt lost. I was injured, had no coach, and was beginning to wonder if I should just retire.”
“Mentally, it was very difficult. I had no one guiding me, and I had to decide for myself if weightlifting was what I wanted to do.”
After taking time to reflect, Hidilyn decided to continue her training and aim for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. A friend pointed out that Hidilyn could contend for a medal if she dropped into the 53-kg weight class. Hidilyn made the weight drop, trained hard, and secured a silver medal in Rio becoming the first Filipino in 20 years to win an Olympic medal.
Hidilyn continues to train for four hours a day, while simultaneously attending college to earn a degree in business. She hopes to make a fourth Olympic appearance at the 2020 Games in Tokyo.
In the future, Hidilyn wants to own her own business. She also wants to raise awareness of weightlifting in the Philippines, serve as a mentor to younger weightlifters, and use her experience to help other coaches develop their weightlifters. Consider these points of advice from Hidilyn:
“It is important to spend time on mobility as well as general strength and conditioning.” Focusing only on weightlifting exercises can lead to injuries, boredom and burnout.
Also, “Always look for ways to innovate. Constantly seek new ways to challenge your athletes and keep things interesting for them. “
To Youth Weightlifters:
“Enjoy weightlifting first. Then, dream high. It is the dream that will fuel you. You also need to work hard, but be smart. Sometimes weightlifters work hard, but it is not productive because they are not getting enough rest. You need to rest. Take advice from others. Practice self-discipline and consistency in training. One of the hardest things about weightlifting training is being consistent.”
Advice on Competing:
“Above all, you must believe in yourself. When you step onto the platform, if you do not believe that you can lift the weight, it will not happen.”