BEING a neophyte in collegiate swimming competition, 15-year-old Mary Pauline Malveda Fornea was a sure standout when she struck for seven gold medals in the Commission on Higher Education (Ched) Regional Meet 2010 at the DMMA College of Southern Philippines (DCSP) pool last month.

She sank down older and more experienced swimmers who were also eager to qualify for a slot into Team Southern Mindanao that is set to compete in the 2010 Ched National Games on Feb. 22 to 28 in Manila.

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Pawie, as she is fondly called, swept the women's 800-meter freestyle, 200m butterfly, 200 individual medley )M), 400-meter freestyle and 400 IM golds. She also anchored Davao City's sterling victories in 4x50 freestyle relay and 4x50 medley relay events.

This University of the Philippines (UP) -Mindanao BS Food Technology freshman is, thus, expected to carry the colors for the regional swimming team in the national championship.

Pawie is the only child of Paulino and Ofelia Fornea Jr. She was born on March 13, 1994 in Makati City. She, however, finished her elementary education at the Kapitan Tomas Monteverde Sr. Elementary School in 2005 and completed her secondary education at the Davao City National High School in 2009. The Fornea family holds residence at the Wellsprings Village in Cataluna Pequeno, Talomo District.

The five-foot-two ace is a Department of Science and Technology (DOST) scholar. Pawie is indeed an excellent student and athlete.

She got into swimming at age 10.

“Gusto ko po talagang lumangoy. Mahilig po ako sa tubig kahit noong bata pa po ako (I really love to swim. I love to be in the water ever since I was young),” she told this writer.

She said it was her choice to swim. Her parents encouraged her to also stay in the sport as it was good for her asthma.

She first competed in the 2nd Mindanao Novice Swim Meet in 2004 at the Ladislawa Country Club and won three gold medals and one bronze in girls 9 to 10 category.

"I was very happy to win golds in my first tournament. My labor in training paid off," she said.

In the 2007 Davao Region Athletic Association (Davraa) Meets, she helped the city bag two relay golds. She followed it up with golds in the Philippine National Red Cross 1st Invitational Water Safety Olympics in Manila and in the Holiday Gym and Spa Sportsfest 2008 1,200m swimathon.

A year later, she copped the girls 200-meter butterfly and 400-meter freestyle golds in the 2008 Davraa Meet. She was also a part of the city's 4x100 freestyle gold medal team.

In 2009, she captured four golds in the G-League Swim Meet in Cagayan de Oro City. She topped the 200-meter freestyle, 200m IM, 100m butterfly and 800-meter freestyle. She also clinched four golds in the Ched City Meet.

It was also last year that she tried her mettle in triathlon.

"I was curious about triathlon. I then wanted to be triathlete. My parents were very supportive. My run and bike coach Arthur Compra encouraged me as well," she said.

She joined the Triad Kids Triathlon at the Rancho Palos Verdes and Country Club and finished runner-up.

She emerged champion in her category in the 3rd Leg Speedo National Age-Group Triathlon in Cagayan de Oro City and in the 6th Mayor's Cup Triathlon here.

She also topped her category in the 2009 Emcor Anniversary Fun Run.

There is just no stopping Pawie.

She shared, "I just train on Saturdays and Sundays. I'm focused on my studies during weekdays because I have to maintain my DOST scholarship."

She was first a member of the Plunge and Swim Club and later joined the First United Swim Club of veteran coach Jun Rodriguez whom she said improved her swimming skills.

She, too, is a member of the Water Safety Department of the PNRC-Davao City chapter as junior lifeguard.

"It is my privilege to help my co-swimmers. I encourage kids to swim and get into sports. With Coach Jun's help, my swimming skills are enhanced," she added.

When not studying or training, she plays the guitar and the keyboard. Truly, making her a well-rounded teenager.

About being an athlete though, Pawie said: "I love the life of an athlete. The training may be painful but at he end of the day, I am fulfilled because I have done something worthwhile for my future. I'm happy to be an athlete because I get to meet new friends, learn to be responsible with my time and in everything I do. My sports help me to become physically and mentally fit. I learn to appreciate every development that happens to my life. I get to enjoy both being a student and an athlete."

She cited Coach Arthur as her inspiration to be who she is now.

"He was the first Ironman/Strongman triathlete of the Philippines. He had been a champion many times. I want to follow his footsteps. He made me believe in myself and in what I can achieve. I get to appreciate being a triathlete because he shared all his experiences to me as a triathlete. He is the best coach because he was once the best athlete the country had ever produced. I'm so thankful to him," she said.

She thanked her parents, friends, bestfriends, UP Mindanao, her elementary and secondary schools, fellow athletes and God for all their love and support.

She considers breaking her personal record and winning a gold medal as her greatest achievement as an athlete.

"My greatest dream is to represent the country in international competitions like the Ironman in Hawaii and win a gold in the Olympics," she ended.