From Grit to Great: What’s Life Like For Pinay Student Athletes Abroad
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Who run the world? Girls!
Being a student is already a lot of responsibility, with tons and tons of requirements on our plates. These girls, however, are equipped with so much grit, excelling both in academics and sports.
Raissa Regatta Eugenie Dizon Gavino, “Raine” for short, is a 19-year-old student majoring in both Finance & Accounting at the University of New Mexico, USA. Anica Abaquin, on the other hand, is an 18-year-old studying International Relations, with a minor in International Business at Boston University on the east coast.
Learn more about these two Filipina athletes studying abroad for college!
When did you first get into sports?
Raine: “I first got into sports at the age of 4. I started swimming with my siblings and cousins just because our parents believed it was a life skill we needed to learn. I also got into Taekwondo at the age of 8 and fencing at the age of 12. However, swimming was really the only sport that stuck to me and I have been competing competitively since 2006.”
Anica: “My journey in sports started when I was as young as 4 years old. I was a ballet dancer until the age of 13, but it was during the end of my time as a dancer that I also discovered fencing at the age of 9. For a few years, I attempted to balance taking ballet and fencing classes at the same time, but when I started fencing competitively I had to make the decision to pursue dancing as a side hobby instead so I could focus on training for fencing. Since then, I have been actively participating in local and international competitions for fencing and I recently joined the Boston University Fencing Club as the Women’s Foil Team Captain.”
Who are your athlete role models?
Raine: “The obvious answer would be my sister, Raegan Gavino, who is the Ateneo de Manila University Swimming Team Captain. She constantly puts her team in front of herself and is always willing to do what is necessary for the needs of her team. I also admire my teammates, the University of New Mexico Lobos. We all have different goals as we all come from different countries, but the one goal we all have in mind is success. Success in both a team aspect and an individual aspect. These ladies, along with my sister, inspire me to be the best athlete and person I can be. Whether it be in or out of the pool, they constantly push me to be the best version of myself.”
Anica: “One of my athlete role models is Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first Muslim woman wearing a hijab to represent the United States at the Olympics. She also became the first female Muslim-American athlete to win an Olympic medal. I believe she is the epitome of what it means to be not only a strong athlete, but also an empowered woman in today’s society. She has been an instrument of change inside and outside of the fencing community by breaking cultural norms and speaking up for those who cannot be heard through her service in the US Department of State’s Empowering Women and Girls Initiative and her e-retail shop Louella which offers affordable alternative fashion for the Muslim market. She serves as an inspiration for me, and so many other women in sports, and I only hope that I can one day make as great of a difference.”
How do you think your experiences as an athlete differ from your male counterparts?
Raine: I am lucky enough to have not experienced any difference of treatment as an athlete from my male counterparts. I, however, see that there is a huge difference in pay, expectations, and even interviews at the professional level. These issues have been brought up by countless female athletes and I’m happy to say that change is being made in the right direction. I believe if I were to continue onto the professional level in the future, I wouldn’t feel much difference because of how respected female athletes such as Serena Williams and Megan Rapinoe have spoken up on behalf of female athletes.
Anica: In fencing, we are separated by gender, age, and sword type during our competitions. However, my previous and current teams are composed of athletes who are different in gender, age, and ethnicity. I train closely with my male teammates whom I get to “fight” or practice with during our training sessions. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have grown up in the Philippine fencing community because of how inclusive they are of people’s differences. The fencing community has always respected us, women athletes, for the hard work we put into being equally strong fencers and have always celebrated our accomplishments.
However, because of the social constructs built around women, both athletes and non-athletes alike, I have previously experienced challenges as a woman in sports. When I first joined fencing, I was faced by this expectation to be “tougher” or to be “more aggressive” when I fenced. As someone who grew up dancing ballet her whole life, it was not in my nature to fit into that stereotype. For a long time, I thought I had to change completely and to forget my roots as a dancer to mold into the type of fencer others wanted me to be. However, my perspective shifted when one of my male coaches, who also grew up as a ballerina, told me to never be ashamed of my background as a dancer and to use the grace, agility, and athleticism ballet has given me to leverage my skills as a fencer. I have since learned that everyone has their own unique style of playing and it is only when you find it, and choose to embrace it, that you become a true athlete.
What is your proudest moment as an athlete?
Raine: My proudest moment was when I was named Junior National Team Captain of the Philippine Team in 2018. It was probably the worst swimming competition of my life, yet the best. I had terrible performances but my team did phenomenal. After each bad race, I would separate myself from the crowd for about 10 minutes and reflect on how I did. I then moved on from my race in a short amount of time, which is something that takes a lot of patience and courage to do, and I joined my team and cheered each one of them on. This made me proud because I realized how much I’ve grown as a person and a swimmer.
Anica: One of my proudest moments as an athlete happened during my first international fencing competition in 2016. I was fortunate enough to have scored the winning point in the match, securing a bronze medal for my team and me. However, what I treasure most about that moment isn’t in the medal that came with winning, rather it’s in the pride and privilege that came with representing the Philippines. It was a surreal and indescribable experience to stand on the podium and to hold the Philippine flag tall and high. Although it was a small award, it gave me hope for what Filipino athletes can achieve and the recognition we can finally attain from the international sports community. It was the first moment I felt truly proud to be Filipino.
What advice would you give to an aspiring athlete?
Raine: “Be true to yourself and remember where you come from. It is so important not to lose yourself and to keep yourself grounded especially as success comes. Don’t limit yourself to what others think you are capable of. Make sure you know what you want, and make sure you do the work necessary to get where you want to be. Also, have fun! And always find ways to have fun because what’s the point of sports without it?”
Anica: “One advice I would give to aspiring athletes is to enjoy this journey of growth. With all the stress and pressure that comes with sports, it’s so easy to forget the small moments. Whether it’s the thrill of learning a new move or the frustration of losing a match, cherish these moments. All of these small victories and losses make of your experience, and it will shape the athlete you will choose to become. Be present in each moment and live passionately!”
Sports is more than just about physical fitness; rather, it is about building grit and character. Raine and Anica serve as a huge inspiration to athletes who aspire to be greater than they already are.
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Tags: Boston UniversityeducationFeatureFinance and Accountinginternational relationsstudy abroadstudy in usaUniversity of New Mexico
About the author
Angel is a storyteller who enjoys a good cup of coffee while listening to her family and friends’ everyday stories. As a Development Communication graduate, she firmly believes that communities are the birthing ground of change where real people with real stories are just waiting to be heard. She is passionate about learning, coffee, and the next generation. On her spare time, you can find her happily lost in bookstore shelves, grocery alleys, coffee shops… or taking a nap.