From summer lessons to championship dreams: Paulo Embesan's quest for gold at Palarong Pambansa 2024

From summer lessons to championship dreams: Paulo Embesan's quest for gold at Palarong Pambansa 2024
Photos from Pangasinan Aqua Dragons Swim Club Facebook page (left), and Local Government of Sison Facebook page

A SINGLE breath makes all the difference between victory and defeat, and for swimmers, this is the reality.

For 18-year-old Paulo Embesan, a Grade 12 student from Northern Luzon Adventist College Academy, all bets are off in his last chance to compete and represent the Ilocos Region in the country’s largest sporting competition -- the Palarong Pambansa.

With a burning passion and the presence and support of his family and peers, Embesan sets out to compete this July with his eyes set on the gold.

Palarong Pambansa 2024 will be held in July in Cebu City.

Embesan has had a stellar career as a swimmer, but where he got his start was more a matter of circumstance.

During the summer of 2015, Embesan was asked to accompany a cousin of his for summer swimming lessons.

He was later on urged to join their school’s swim team by a classmate whom he bonded with over the fact that they had the same swimming coach from the last summer’s swimming lessons, a remarkable coincidence.

Embesan said he had been hesitant at first to join but seeing no harm in trying again, he eventually gave in and joined the swim team.

This set of circumstances had kindled a passion within Embesan and started him on a path to achieving many great things as a swimmer.

In his sixth grade, only a year after joining the competitive world of swimming, Embesan had already reached a level where he was able to qualify for the Ilocos Region’s Regional sports meet, the R1AA.

Unfortunately, he was unable to qualify for the Palarong Pambansa in his first year competing for the regional stage. The following year, although Embesan once again qualified for the R1AA, the Covid-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of the sporting event.

But the years-long isolation that the whole world had to endure had not deterred Embesan from continuing on his passion.

As the world had started to once again open up after 2020, Embesan once again started preparing to compete in more swimming competitions, eventually resulting in him qualifying once again for the 2023 R1AA.

This time, through his determination to win, Embesan earned his place to compete in the 2023 Palarong Pambansa, which was held in Marikina City, Metro Manila. He went home with a bronze medal in the 4×10 Swimming Relay event together with his teammates Rio Florido of Dagupan City, Ryan Zack Belen of La Union, and Anton Paulo Dominick Della of San Fernando City.

In February 2024, Embesan also joined an international swimming competition -- the Asian Open School Invitational Aquatics Championships held in the Assumption University Aquatic Center, Suvarnabhumi Campus, in Thailand.

Although he went home with a bronze medal in the 50-meter freestyle, he won only one out of the nine events he had competed in. This, he said, is a fact that will haunt him.

The loss, as he considers it, really left a mark on him. He said it was a “frog in a well” moment for him as he learned how big the world truly is.

The most recent R1AA held in Ilocos Norte, however, saw Embesan winning four gold medals: one for the 400-meter Medley Relay for secondary boys, another for the 50-meter freestyle, one for the 100-meter freestyle, and another one for the 200-meter freestyle events for secondary boys. This earned him his last shot to compete at this year’s Palarong Pambansa.

Looking beyond this year’s competitions, Embesan plans to focus more on his academic goals, as he embarks on his college journey, taking on the challenge of becoming a civil engineer. He plans, though, on competing when the opportunity arises.

Knowing that this will be his last year competing in the Palarong Pambansa, Embesan has been thoroughly preparing and motivating himself to do his utmost in the competition.

He said this year’s Palarong Pambansa will be his hardest yet and that the two months of preparation between the R1AA meet and the Palarong Pambansa will probably not be sufficient for him and his teammates. With a rigorous and strict training regimen, however, he said they will do their best to be in perfect condition for the competition.

“Buong puso at buong dangal na naniniwalang kakayanin ko ito sa tulong ng Diyos. Walang imposible,” he said.

As the competition nears, Embesan has been hard at work preparing and training in order to give his best performance in the events he will be competing in.

He said he has been prioritizing conditioning and strengthening both his body and mind.

His daily routine consists of a breakfast of five eggs for protein, then swim training from 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., followed by a lunch of rice, vegetables and meat for a nutritionally balanced meal, then in the afternoon, more swim training from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. He then ends his day with more eggs for dinner with or without rice, and a session of calm meditation and stretches to optimize his body’s recovery.

Embesan said that there are moments when he lacks the energy to push through, but with the help and encouragement from his coaches, teammates, friends, and family, particularly his mother -- his staunchest supporter -- alongside his uncles, aunts and late grandparents, he finds the strength to persevere.

He said he is determined to excel at the Palarong Pambansa 2024, assuring that he is prepared to give it his all.

“Wag na wag mong lalabanan ang tubig dahil mas lalo kang lulubog, but be more focused on moving forward and upward, not downward,” was Embesan’s message to those who aim to be just like him. (Kirby Clint Antoni, UP Tacloban intern)

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