Philippine swimmer Ernie Gawilan is scheduled to fly back to Manila on Monday to prepare for his 2016 Summer Paralympics qualifying campaign. The qualification period officially starts in May of this year. He will be based out of Pasig City’s Philippine Sports Complex where he will be coached by Antonio Ong, Ral Del Rosario and Mark Jude Corpuz. From Davo Ciy, Gawilan is having his airfare to Manila paid for by the mayor’s office. They are also giving him an allowance to pay for costs incurred while training.
In an interview on Monday with the Sun.Star Davao, Gawilan said, “I want to do my best in the qualifying that’s why I’m really excited to be back in training. I’ll train twice a day. I’m focused in 400m freestyle. […] I’m comfortable with the 400m freestyle event `coz I’m more familiar with it.” Currently, Gawilan has a personal best time of 4:55 in the 400 meters. At the 2014 Para Asian Games, he had a bronze medal winning time of 4:59.18. He needs to bring his time down by a little over 5 seconds to 4:49.29 in order to set a qualifying time. His coaches have yet to determine which competition he will participate in in order to try to set an IPC recognized qualifying time. Events are being considered in the United States, Europe and Scotland.
Gawilan won 30% of all his country’s medals at the 2014 Para Asian Games, winning bronze in the men’s SM8 200m Individual Medley, bronze in the men’s S8 400m Freestyle and bronze in the men’s S8 100m Freestyle event. He was the only swimmer to medal for his country at the Games. The country’s other medals were won by powerlifter Achelle Guion, track and field competitor Marites Burce, ten-pin bowlers Samuel Matias and Kim Ian Chi, wheelchair dancers Julius Jun Obero and Rochelle Canoy, and table tennis player Josephine Medina. Unlike their able-bodied counterparts competing in the Asian Games who earned P1 million for gold, P500,000 for silver and P100,000 for bronze, none of them were awarded any prize money.
The S8 classified swimmer was born without legs. He almost was not born, after his mother tried to have an unsuccessful abortion to hide the pregnancy from her husband, as the child was not his. His father abandoned them, his mother died of chlorea when he was five months old and he was then raised by his grandfather. When he was nine years old, Vicente Ferrazzini, a local business man, convinced his grandfather to send him from his home town of Buda to a special training center for people with disabilities in Davo City. In 2000, while working as a housekeeper for nuns at a training center on Samal Island, he discovered his love of swimming. He was discovered in the pool by Mark Jude Corpuz, who convinced him to join a special swim team for people with disabilities. He participated in his first swimming competition at 2008 Philippine Olympic Festival in Cagayan de Oro City, where he finished second. His performance in cargo shorts, which he wore because he left his swimming trunks in Davo, impressed national team coaches who brought him to Manila to train with them.