DABAWENYO swimmer Ernie Agat Gawilan was born without legs but he will stand taller than the rest of us when he dons the country's colors and plunges into action in the men's 200-meter individual medley-SM7 event of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.
"Hope nako Ma'am na makasulod sa final then all out na tana jud or ma-break man lang nako akong previous rank sa 2016 Rio Paralympics (I hope to reach the final and go all out or break my previous ranks in 2016 Rio Olympics)," Ernie said in one of our recent Messenger conversations.
He is seeing action in three events in the quadrennial Games including his favorite 400m freestyle on August 29 and 100m backstroke on August 30. But it will be his first time to swim in the 200m IM in the Paralympics as he did not compete in that event in Rio.
Ernie said, "400m free Ma'am akong favorite og dako pud akong chance na makasulod sa final (My favorite the 400m freestyle and I have a good chance to enter the finals)."
He was quick to say that even though his rivals have submitted better personal best times in his three events, he remains confident to put up an impressive finish since he went to Tokyo as a man on a mission and nothing less.
Ernie said he's nervous but excited because this will be his second Paralympics appearance.
It can be recalled that he made quite a show at the Gelora Bung Karno Aquatics Stadium in Jakarta, Indonesia after he smashed the Asian Para Games record in men's 400-meter freestyle S7 event on top of winning a total of three gold medals and two silvers in the 2018 Asian Games.
The 30-year-old tanker, an Asian Para Games 2018 triple gold medalist in Jakarta, Indonesia, said he is dedicating his Tokyo stint to his late grandparents -- Lola Pedro and Lola Nina of the Matigsalug Tribe in Bukidnon, who raised him when his father abandoned them after he was born and his mother passed away when he was five months old. Hence, he grew up without parental care.
The late Davao businessman Vicente Ferrazzini sponsored him and brought him to Our Lady of Victory Training Center for Handicapped Youth, a foundation in Sasa, Davao City that became his new home. He was about 11 or 12 then.
Since the foundation had a beach resort at the Island Garden City of Samal, he then learned to swim there.
One of the foundation caregivers who came to the beach resort was also a swimming coach who taught him the ropes of the sport. He was referring to Jude Corpuz, head coach of Aqua Tierra swimming team.
Since then, Ernie has competed in swimming competitions including events by Speedo or Philippine Aquatic Sports Association (Pasa) and G-League.
He entered the national para-swimming team in 2009 following his impressive showing in Philippine Olympic Festival held in Cagayan de Oro City where he won one gold and two silvers.
He also collected a total of seven Asean Para Games golds, two silvers, and two bronzes. He's also a regular campaigner for Davao City in past national events.
Ernie bought a residential home in Igacos with the millions he received as cash incentives for his Jakarta Para Games feat.
Last June, he clinched a bronze for the Philippines in the Internationale Deutsche Meisterschaften (IDM) Berlin 2021 World Para Swimming Series in Berlin, Germany.
We're rooting and praying for you, Ernie!