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Paddling to victory: Australia-supported Philippine dragon boat racing team breaks every stereotype

Like many young Filipinos, Kent once dreamed to be a professional basketball player. His passion for the game however also cost him his dream – an injury during a game led to permanent disability.

“We all thought it was just a mild injury from playing basketball. Three months into the injury, I experienced excruciating pain. Upon seeing a doctor, it turned out that the injury had developed into a tumor which eventually led to the amputation of my right leg when I was 19 years old,” shared Kent.

This life-changing incident left Kent feeling depressed and unable to leave his room. He found it hard to imagine a full and active life, until disability rights advocate John Paul “JP” Maunes invited him to join the Philippines Accessible Disability Services Inc (PADS) Adaptive Dragonboat Racing Team – a non-profit organisation based in Cebu.

JP founded the PADS in 2017 to enable persons with disability (PWDs) to grow and develop as independent, integrated, and empowered citizens of society. Composed of people who are amputees, deaf or blind, they are the Philippines’ first cross-disability adaptive dragon boat racing team.

It was an uphill climb during the early years of PADS. Now serving as its chief executive officer and team manager, JP described the challenges; “First, there was a need to let local governments units and sponsors know and appreciate the benefits of adaptive sport programs. Secondly, we lacked the necessary adaptive sports equipment to enable us to demonstrate how the program works.”

JP said they sought assistance from the Australian Embassy for adaptive sports equipment they could use for their program.

The Embassy’s support allowed PADS to purchase boats, paddles, wheelchairs, and balls that provided PWDs access to adaptive sports like dragon boat racing, wheelchair basketball, kayaking, stand up paddling, goal ball and swimming. This meant that PADS could expand their adaptive sports program to engage more PWDs into a more active life.

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And PADS did more than just rehabilitative sports classes – they went for the gold. Going toe-to-toe with non-disabled teams, PADS consistently won medals at local competitions, including championships in women’s small boat, open small boat and mixed small boat categories of the 1st Naga Invitation Dragon Boat Race. For two straight years, they won the International Paradragon Championship at the Hong Kong International Dragon Boat Races.

In 2018, the PADS Adaptive Dragon Boat Racing Team was conferred the Modern-Day Hero Award during the celebration of National Heroes Day. In 2022, then President Rodrigo Duterte rewarded PADS amputees with state-of-the-art high-end prosthesis in recognition of their back-to-back international victories.

Now 23 years old, Kent has found a new hope. “I realized that disability does not define you. If you believe in yourself and train hard, you can achieve great things,” he said.

“I dreamed of becoming a basketball player, but that dream was taken away from me. Now, I want to be the captain of a dragon boat team. It has become my passion – not only do I experience victories as part of the team, but I also get to be a part of a movement that dispels negative stereotypes and inspire fellow PWDs,” he added.

On 22nd of June 2022, PADS broke ground its first Adaptive Sports and Rehabilitation Center in Mandaue City, Cebu, with support from the Australian Embassy.

“We’re grateful to the Australian Embassy who has been with us since day one. The success of PADS Adaptive Dragon Boat Racing would not be possible without the support of Australia,” said JP.

Created with RNI Films app. Preset 'None'
 
Created with RNI Films app. Preset ‘None’

“Truth to be told, nothing is impossible in sports! It was truly an honour to personally witness and be part of the inspiring successful journey of PADS Dragon Boat Team. This team is truly destined for greatness!” JP said. 

In July 2022, PADS won four gold medals in the 13th International Dragon Boat Federation, Club Crew World Championships.

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