Close encounters with Hidilyn Diaz


When Hidilyn Diaz left for the 2016 Rio Olympics to compete in the 53-kg. women’s weightlifting category, her name was virtually unheard of by majority of the Filipino public. Today, she has become everyone’s “golden girl” for giving the country its first ever Olympic gold almost a century since the Philippines first competed in the 1924 Paris Olympics. In this special feature, some friends share their stories to NewsFeed 360 about their first encounters with Hidilyn Diaz.

The mural in Hidilyn’s gym in Mampang says it all: Nothing is impossible.

Candid and straightforward

At the holding room with Coach Aldanete and Nestor Colonia before facing the press.

When Hidilyn Diaz stood on that podium with a snappy salute, singing the Philippine National Anthem with tears streaming down her face, the heart of Filipinos everywhere collectively swelled with pride and joy because of her historic gold medal win in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. 

Brands and corporate entities are now falling all over themselves to shower Hidilyn with rewards and everything is well deserved because she has brought immense glory and honor to the Philippines and her countrymen. I remember a time, however, when she and the national weightlifting team had nary a support, except for this power company operating in Mindanao that cared enough to provide financial support.

I first got to know Hidilyn Diaz in July 2016 when she – along with fellow lifter Nestor Colonia and their coach Alfonsito Aldanete – arrived at the Alsons Power Group headquarters in Makati to receive the $3,500 support for their trip to Brazil where they will be competing in the 2016 Rio Olympics. 

Hidilyn flexing her muscles before flying to Brazil to compete in the women’s 53-kg. category at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

She was soft-spoken and seemed a bit shy, but she gamely flexed her muscles while we took photos. I asked for a groupie with her and the team, and was brazen enough to borrow the red jacket from Coach Aldanete who graciously acquiesced to my request. Just before the camera clicked, I whispered, “Kunwari member din ako ng weightlifting team ha” – which got Hidilyn breaking into a giggly smile. 

During lunch, she shared how her cousin “Kuya Allen” got her into weightlifting, and how it helped put her through school through scholarships as she came from a poor family in Mampang, Zamboanga City. She recalled how she would carry wood to help build up her muscles. Alsons communications head Junjun Contreras observed that many Filipino athletes really need financial support, especially those who are into sports that are not as popular as boxing or basketball.   

Hidilyn flanked by Alsons officials Junjun Contreras and Tirso Santillan

The next encounter with Hidilyn Diaz happened during a hastily-organized press conference in August 2016 to welcome and congratulate her for winning the silver. We could tell she was under the weather, having come straight from the airport – but Hidilyn maintained her composure and answered questions from the media – who could barely fit in the Alsons board room – in a candid, straightforward manner. During that press con, Alsons Power Group also announced the Alsons Power-Hidilyn Diaz Scholarship Program for aspiring weightlifters which we suggested and helped conceptualize. 

During the August 2016 press con at the Alsons headquarters in Makati. With Hidilyn are (from left) Alsons’ communications head Junjun Contreras, Coach Alfonsito Aldanete, weightlifter Nestor Colonia, Zamboanga City councilor and former national weightlifting coach Elbert Atilano and Alsons Power Group’s Tirso Santillan.

Looking back, I can only marvel at how Hidilyn has come so far, sparking not only pride but most importantly, hope at a time when this country needs it the most.  – Bing Parel

Hidilyn breaks into a smile during a groupie with Bing Parel, Coach Aldanete (second from left) and fellow weightlifters from Zamboanga.

Shy and unassuming

Members of the media arrived early during the hastily-organized press con in August 2016 following Hidilyn’s arrival from Rio where she won an Olympic silver.

I met Hidilyn Diaz for the first time in 2017, when we organized a photo shoot for the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement to establish the Alsons Scholarship Program. As we were busy setting up in the boardroom, I was surprised to see Hidilyn already in the room quietly sitting in one corner. I introduced myself as the PR agency representative. Hidilyn shook my hand and apologized, thinking that she was late for the activity. I assured her that she was just right on time. 

After the photo shoot, the bosses of our client took some time to chat with Hidilyn. At one point, they were teasing her about getting that elusive gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Hidilyn just timidly smiled at them, saying she will try her best and work hard for it.  

That first meeting with Hidilyn was followed by a few more encounters, from the launching of the first batch of scholars in Zamboanga to doing publicity and send-off activities for some of the scholars who competed in international weightlifting tournaments.  During all those times, Hidilyn struck me as someone who was a bit shy and unassuming. She was also respectful to everyone. She would only talk when spoken to. But she is very proud of the young weightlifters of  Zamboanga, consistently saying that they can and will be better than her. Hidilyn was not selfish with her time and talent. That’s why she deserves all the blessings she has right now. 

Unfortunately, I was not able to have my photo taken with Hidilyn. Looking back, I was probably busy during those encounters or too shy to ask for one. All I have as proof is a picture of Hidilyn’s gym near her home in Mampang, Zamboanga City when we visited a day before it was formally opened to the public. 

I feel blessed and proud to have met Hidilyn Diaz. It’s not every day that you get to meet an Olympic silver and gold medalist. – Jenny Villona

PH’s weightlifting fairy

With Grace Diez during the Summit Bottled Water #ThirstForTheWin campaign

It’s an incredible moment to have met the Philippines’ first ever Olympic gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz—she’s our very own weightlifting fairy and I’m so proud of her. 

During the time when she was an ambassador of the Summit Bottled Water #ThirstForTheWin campaign and our PR firm WSP was tasked to help out on the press event, she passionately and happily declared how she does weightlifting not only because she loves the sport but also because she loves the Philippines. 

And now that she’s won the elusive gold for the country, I can’t help but be in awe of the hard work she put into this, motivated by her love for the Philippines. Thankfully, in turn, Filipinos are celebrating her, too. She’s such an inspiration. – Grace C. Diez

A true legend

With Carl Cuevas in August 2016

Last-minute press conferences are often common for PR practitioners like me, usually organized to announce breaking major announcements or in certain cases, to address major crisis situations. But the one we organized back in August 17, 2016 was different: I got to meet a future legend.

I remember it was my then-boss, Joy Cabrillos, recommending to our client to quickly mount a press conference to announce their support for a weightlifter who had won a silver medal at the recently held 2016 Rio Olympics. I haven’t heard much about Hidilyn before, aside from the fact that a company had been supporting her for quite some time as she was a resident in the community where the local powerplant operated. 

It was early morning, and the team barely had time to set up a proper press conference since, if I remember correctly, Hidilyn and her team came fresh from the airport. The event was pretty simple and straightforward, but quite unusual for the media to arrive at the venue at such an early time. I was tasked to be her handler. 

To be honest, I was nervous since she could be tired and jetlagged, or worse, might have an “attitude.” But she was never any of those. All I saw was someone who was humble and gracious. She was tired, but accommodated all media questions and requests for interviews. She never had a problematic attitude, and was thoughtful enough to think of her other weightlifting team members, asking for additional help for them. I remember the humility she showed that day, and that despite the media interactions with major titles and news outlets she had, she was most excited at meeting the writer from Yes! magazine. 

Because of my job, I would sometimes get jaded or on the other hand, starstruck with big personalities I meet. 

But meeting Hidilyn was different. 

She was someone passionate about her craft and about representing our country. And you rarely meet people like that, and little did I know that in that short encounter, I’d get to meet someone who would become a true legend. – Carl Cuevas

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