DAVAO CITY, Philippines — There was no grand entourage when 13-year-old Aaliyah Isabel Pacheco came back here on Wednesday, September 6, from the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games held in Malaysia.

Her parents and her 2-year-old sister Bella arrived around 9 am at the Davao International Airport with a tarpaulin banner and a bouquet of flowers.

They were waiting at the arrival area. Her mother was holding her smartphone, getting ready to take a picture of their champion who will come out any minute. Those who held the tarpaulin banner was Rhea Dupa who represented the City Tourism Office and Bella’s nanny.

Anna, Isabel’s mother, said this is the first time they will welcome her this way.

Isabel competed for the solo free routine at the SEA Games. She came last during the competition with a score of 61.133. It was her first time joining the international sports competition where Filipino athletes took home 24 golds, 33 silvers and 48 bronzes.

But the pride she brought to the city has already made her a winner.

Youngest PH delegate to SEA games

At 13, she became the youngest contestant of the four members of the Synchronized Swimming Philippines team, also the youngest athlete from the country to join this year’s SEA Games. She will turn 14 on September 7.

Isabel will only be staying for three days in Davao as the national team will leave for a competition in Uzbekistan, the fifth country where Isabel would go to since she started getting into sports four years ago.

Triathlete at 10

She was only 10 when she joined the triathlon camp for kids in July 2013. In that same year, she won her first medal in triathlon in October for the Alaska Ironkids 9-10 Girls Category.

Isabel was also into Dancesports who won gold medal for Standard Discipline and bronze for Latin Discipline in the Dancesport National Ranking held on October 18, 2014.

Her first award from an international competition is the silver medal she got during the Panasonic Asia Synchronized Swimming Championships cum 12th Hong-Kong Swimming Open Competition in August last year.

Photos by Zea Io Ming C. Capistrano/davaotoday.com

A gem from Ateneo

Isabel was discovered by Coaches Reina Suarez and Elizabeth Tiambeng during the first Ateneo de Davao University Summer Camp in May 2014.

Mrs. Pacheco said Isabel is really “competitive.”

But Isabel herself believes it is her family’s support which inspires her to do the things she love.

Her family flew in to Kuala Lumpur to cheer for her. Her father held a huge Philippine flag, waving it and shouting “Pilipinas!” when Isabel was called on stage.

After the SEA Games in Malaysia, Jose Nicolas went again to Hong Kong to support Isabel for the 13th Hong-Kong Swimming Open Competition held from August 25 to 27.

Mrs. Pacheco shared that when they were in Davao on Aug. 24, two-year-old Bella had a “nightmare” when she woke up at around 1am. “She was shouting “Pinas! Pinas!” with her hands up in the air like she was also holding the Philippine flag,” Mrs. Pacheco said.

Isabel’s parents said allowing her to live on her own in Manila was a tough decision to make.

Isabel trains with the national team at the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex. Mrs. Pacheco said Isabel comes to Davao twice a year or the whole family visits her in Manila.

“It was a hard decision to make. But we told her if she wants to have a future in her sports she has to train with the national team in Manila,” said Mr. Pacheco in an exclusive interview with Davao Today.

Young and independent

Isabel said living on her own has made her more responsible. She spends her day training for five hours a day. During her break, she finishes school work.

“My classmates don’t know I’m coming home today, so I’m surprising them,” she said. Isabel’s non-traditional school supports her as an athlete. Mrs. Pacheco said school assignments are emailed to her, which she can work on after trainings.

Mr. Pacheco said having better facilities and more trained coaches will really help the sports sector in the country.

“If you look at other athletes in the Philippines are not based in the Philippines. They are training outside,” he said.

Mr. Pacheco said they are glad that the Philippine Sports Commission is headed by Sec. Butch Ramirez whom he described as someone who is “really there for the athletes.”

Photos by Zea Io Ming C. Capistrano/davaotoday.com

‘Encourage children to engage in sports’

He said parents should also encourage their children to try all the sports that they want.

“And if they found something they like, let’s support them,” he said.

Isabel’s parents said getting their children into sports is not about getting the medals.

“We just want them to have fun,” they said.

Finding her niche

Synchronized swimming is a sport not too popular in the Philippines. In fact, the national team only debuted in the SEA Games two years ago.

Isabel shared that the Philippine team will hold a swimming clinic in December to get more athletes like her. She said they are hopeful that their batch can enter the Olympics soon.

She might not have won the SEA Games but losing it only made her more determined to do her best the next time.

The situation of athletes in the country also inspires Isabel to become a synchronized swimming coach someday. (davaotoday.com)

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