ERNIE Agat Gawilan was born without legs. But he stood taller than the rest when he made the Philippine national flag raised and the national anthem played twice after bagging back-to-back gold medals in the just-concluded 8th Asean Para Games swimming competition at the OCBC Aquatic Center in Singapore.
Aside from the double gold feat in men's 400-meter freestyle SM8 and men's 200m individual medley (IM), he also copped a silver in men's 100m freestyle, broke two Games records and grabbed a seat to the prestigious 2016 Rio Paralympics in Brazil.
The 24-year-old Davao City native said he's overjoyed by God's blessings in his life considering that he really never thought of winning golds or breaking records as he was only eyeing a spot in the Rio spectacle.
"Murag kulbaan ko ug excited pud Ma'am kay makatungtong rajud ko sa pinakadako na event sa tibuok kalibutan ug ang makadula nako top players sa lahi-lahing nasud. Mao nani ang pinakadakong achievement nako ang makadula sa Paralympics (I'm quite nervous and excited `coz I can step on the stage of the greatest event in the world and I will play with the best athletes of other countries. It would be my greatest achievement to be play in the Paralympics)," he said in a Facebook interview last Tuesday.
His training of over one year, according to him, readied him for the rigors of the competition.
FOR MOM AND DAD
Ernie grew up sans paternal care. His mother died when he was about five months old.
"Akong Papa gibiyaan ko pagka-anak nako (My father abandoned us when I was born)," he shared.
His grandparents raised him instead.
Nevertheless, he still dedicated his recent victories to his parents.
Ernie's physical deformity was inborn, he said. "Ana akong Lolo sa buhi pa siya, gusto daw ko ipalaglag sa akong Mama kay nabuntis man siya sa laing laki. Naa naman syay asawa tapos nabuntis siya sa lain. Mao daw gusto ko niya ipalaglag para dili mahibaw-an sa iyang asawa (My grandfather when he was still alive told me that my mother wanted to abort me as she got impregnated by another man although she already had a husband).'
But Ernie didn't hold any grudge against his parents, adding in the vernacular, "I'm still thankful to my father and mother for without them I won't be here."
Although Ernie was cared for by his grandparents, the late businessman Vicente Ferrazzini sponsored him and brought him to Our Lady of Victory Training Center for Handicapped Youth, a foundation, in Sasa, Davao City where he lived. He was then 10.
"Sir Enting was so kind to me. I'm grateful for his help as well as to Sister Cecilia Wood and the board and staff of the training center," he said.
Ernie started swimming when he was 12 since the foundation has a beach resort in the Island Garden City of Samal.
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 pertaining to Jude Corpuz, head coach of Aqua Tierra swimming team.
Since then, Ernie 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.
Last year, he salvaged three bronze medals in the Asian Para Games held in Incheon, South Korea.