From fighting for her life to fighting for gold, Daniela de la Pisa tried her best to survive.
And on a fateful Saturday morning, she proved that she was born to be a winner.
The 16-year-old De la Pisa had once again asserted her brilliance after clinching three medals in the women’s rhythmic gymnastics individual category of the 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum.
De la Pisa posted 17.750 points in hoops to claim the gold medal over Izzah Amzan and Amy Dict Weg Kwan of Malaysia, who tallied 16.500 points and 15.900 points to settle for the silver and bronze medals, respectively.
Few minutes later, she stormed back as she scored 15.600 points in balls and 16.100 in clubs to clinch two more bronze medals and completely steal the spotlight from other fancied athletes competing in Day 8 of the prestigious biennial meet.
With the win, De la Pisa emerged as the first Filipino rhythmic gymnast to win a SEA Games gold medal since Maria Victoria Jacinto collected three mints in the Palembang edition of the meet in 2011.
But more than that, she had proven that she can win a SEA Games gold despite a condition that nearly took her life — Stage 3 ovarian cancer.
“Actually, we didn’t want her to continue competing because of her condition, which was diagnosed when she was four years old,” said De la Pisa’s mother, Darlene, who is also a former gymnast together with her brother, Allen Casteñeda, who is a current national team mentor in rhythmic gymnastics.
“But she really wanted it so we just supported her.”
De la Pisa’s father agreed, saying that her mom had to coach her in the early part of her career to make sure that her sickness would not get in the way of her athletic career.
“Daniela really wanted it. I actually wanted her to stop, but I know that she will be fine because her mother was there to coach her.”
Now cancer-free, De la Pisa made a lot of noise in various age-group tournaments, including the Palarong Pambansa last year that served as her ticket to the national squad.
In preparation for the biennial meet, De la Pisa flew to Budapest to train under the watchful eyes of Hungarian mentor Dora Vass.
“I’ve been training in Hungary for the past four months together with Breanna Labadan,” De la Pisa said, stressing that leaving her family behind is far more challenging than winning her battle with cancer.
“It was actually hard to be away from my family. In fact, I used to cry every day last month because I really miss my family.”
But the lights of the Olympics are too bright for her to ignore.
“I’m not yet sure about my future. I haven’t thought about it. But what’s sure is that I want to compete in the Olympics,” De la Pisa said.
Her mother said playing in the Olympics has always been on her bucket list.
“I always knew that she could do it because I was her first coach back when she started when she was seven years old.” Darlene said.
“I never got scared of her pursuing what she wanted because I know that she can do it. I knew that one day she would reach this feat because she was really focused during her training.”
Darlene emphasized that if her daughter managed to beat the “Big C” and win a gold medal in the SEA Games, seeing action in the Olympics is not far from reality.
After all, she’s a winner — on and off the mat.