October 07, 2003
Discipline, passion, excitement -- if any of these characteristics can be bottled, then Weena Lim will be all the more rich and famous.
Her youthful appearance easily belies her rich cache of experience. As the first Filipino badminton Olympian (she qualified and competed in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics), she has successfully navigated through the political, emotional road that was her career. Yet it is without remorse, anger nor regret that she looks back on her recent past. Instead, this unassuming woman let us peer into her world that she sailed through with all the energy in every fiber of her body.
One of the Boys
It was only natural for a self-declared tomboy -- having been born into a family with four older brothers -- to eventually get into sports and even compete. The whole family was into bowling, tennis and even pelota. But when she tried her hands at badminton, she really took to the sport even though it was not yet popular at the time.
With jocks ahead of her, Weena also had to be as quick on her feet as she can be. And early on,
she knew that she just hated losing so she tried to be the best she can be in everything she did. "Maybe growing up with four brothers, you tend to be more competitive," she reflects.
At 12, Weena tried out for the Philippine Badminton Association. Getting in the team and playing professionally changed the game. "You have to be disciplined, you have to be punctual, it’s something that you have to do everyday already. You get an allowance, so I think ’oh I have to train,’" she says wryly.
But her love for badminton never waned. Every summer, instead of kicking off her shoes to enjoy the long break, Weena prepared for more rigorous training. A much-awaited season of recreation was exchanged for a sports camp in China. But instead of rebelling, she reveled in this atmosphere.
"We had a lot more players to play with who were a lot stronger. There were more coaches who were more advanced. The Chinese were top-caliber already so we’d learn a lot. It’s like a sports camp with different sports. You live there, there is a hospital, a school within the compound and we don’t go out. And being around good athletes you feel it, di ba?"
During this period, their reward was a simple trip to a fastfood in the city. However, she admits that it was the ideal condition. Having no distractions was very important to the training process. And despite all these, in no way did she feel like she was missing out on anything. "No, I do not feel deprived and that’s nice."
Casually, she mentions that like any arena in the Philippines, sports are very much riddled with
politics. "In badminton, we were not spared from that. We will see kids that will be favored. It is very
hard. Number one, they will not send you
internationally because they favored other kids."
When this happened Weena and her friends organized their own tournaments in Valle Verde. They invited international badminton players who kept them on their toes. Their goal was to gain as much experience as possible.
"We did it privately so we can have exposure. There is a way to go around things. There maybe problems in everything, but being in UP (University of the Philippines) taught me that ... you [have to] find other ways. There’s never a dead end, you will always find a way," she stresses.
Having the support of her family was a comfort that she always had. They exerted no pressure on her to excel nor did they discourage her when politics was obviously tainting the experience for her. They were all simply there for her, ready to support her decisions.
Reaping the Rewards
"Discipline includes punctuality, system in life. You have to persevere and have that fighting spirit. It’s useless to be an athlete if you are not going to be very competitive. I think that is what makes a champion," Weena explains. "You have to hate to lose. That is the difference between a champion and an athlete because if you hate to lose, you will do everything to win. You will always try to do you best. You will take care of your body. Like me, I will always take care of my body, my health because that is my asset as an athlete. If I am physically unable to play then I am useless."
Her friends are also athletes so they share the same love for the sport and the corresponding discipline. If ever they do have a night out, nobody would dare smoke or drink alcohol. They would all go home at a reasonable hour to get much needed rest. She explains one of the lessons she learned in China: one late night and you lose one week of training.
"I am a very disciplined athlete. Being a typical
Povedan, I’d complain but I’d do more. There was no holiday for me, my family schedule was adjusted to my schedule. It was my discipline that helped me a lot," Weena shares.
She says this discipline helped her create a system that allowed her to balance both her
studies and training. Weena graduated cum laude (Bachelor of Arts in Hotel and Restaurant Management) in UP. It was a reward that she was not even aware of.
Looking at it from an outsider’s point of view, she led a very straight, hard life. She takes it all with a smile and sees not the hardships. And even though she declared early on that she was very competitive, winning in the Olympics is something she did not foresee.
But she also believes that there is a reward for
something that you have worked hard for. "At the end of it all, you will get or learn something out of what you’ve worked hard for. You have to work for what you want. Nothing comes easy, then it won’t be sweet. For me the Olympics was the sweetest thing, because I never thought about it."
Another reward was the bronze in the Southeast Asian games. "The SEA games they say is the toughest for badminton because it’s like playing against world champions, Olympic champions. The competitors are from Malaysia,
Thailand, Singapore. [It’s like] even getting a bronze is remote. So when we got a bronze, doubles in the 1997 SEA games, for us it was like a gold."
Take a Sport, Girl
Weena observes that Filipino men are more dominant in the sports area. As part of her job at the Sports Commission, they encouraged women to become involved in sports. It is a project that they have extended to the youths.
However, she is happy that more females are getting involved in sports. "The ratio of female in sports is rising. Now we have power lifters that are women, we have wrestlers that are women and that is a good sign. In martial arts the Filipino medalists are mostly women. It is nice to see that."
Regarding badminton, Weena acknowledges that it used to be viewed as a girl’s game and was snubbed for supposedly being too easy.
Yet it is rare for a Filipino home, especially in the ’80s and ’90s not to have a pair of badminton rackets and a shuttlecock around. "Then the ’80s came. Madonna, fitness were in, that helped a lot too. Only now do people realize how tough badminton is, how tough a sport it is," Weena claims. "I never knew it would be this big. It was too fast, in a year it just zoomed. But it just caught fire. I just worry that it was too fast and it might go out just as fast."
Weena attributes the instant popularity to increase of facilities. However, now that badminton courts have sprouted all over, the interest, in her words, simply zoomed.
Come and Play
Weena has retired from professional badminton. Now she organizes tournaments. She has a management group and promotes badminton in any way. For first time players she advises, "Be ready to run. Be ready to sweat."
"For me, all you need is to be ready to have fun, ready to sweat it out and not even think of losing weight, but you will. It is a good way to get fit," she elaborates. "You know, you might think that badminton is not a strenuous game but it is. There are a lot of sudden movements. The ball is very fast. It does not bounce so you do not have time to prepare. It is really a quick-reaction sport."
Obviously, despite being retired, she loves the sport still. "I will always be involved in badminton. Like the work I do now -- it’s not work. It’s second nature to me, I’ve lived with it seven days a week, I’ve lived, breathed badminton." And for sure, this is not the last of Weena’s moves that we will see.