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Paula blazes Wesley trail

Ian Suyu

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Philippine-born badminton player Paula Lynn Obañana is proud to represent the Stars and Stripes. / PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF Paula Lynn Obanana/Instagram

Grandmaster Wesley So renounced his Filipino citizenship after being granted a passport by the United States that made him eligible to see international action under the American flag.
But it wasn’t the first time for the Philippines to lose an elite athlete to the US.

Around 15 years ago, a national badminton team member from Dumaguete City named Paula Lynn Obañana packed her bags for Minnesota to join her mother in making ends meet for the family.

At first, she tried working several jobs to keep her busy, but when she visited San Francisco to check a local badminton club two years later, her love affair with the sport had been revived.

She picked up the racket again and started competing at an elite level, similar to what she was doing back in college when she saw action for De La Salle University in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines.

Her biggest break came in 2010 when she partnered with Eva Lee in shooting for a slot in the 2012 London Olympics.

Knowing that she has strong potential to represent the United States in future competitions, a Minnesota State Representative sponsored her naturalization until she official became a US citizen in 2011.

Although she missed qualifying for the Summer Games in London, Obañana and Lee made it in the women’s doubles event of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, formally making her the first Philippine-born player to campaign in the Olympics under the American flag.

“It’s so surreal. It’s like living my dream,” said Obañana, now 35, in an interview made before seeing action in the Rio Olympics five years ago.

“I’m really proud to represent the United States. It’s like the No. 1 team in the world.”

But playing for the country with the best sports program in the world wasn’t an overnight process.

Obañana was already considered as a powerhouse in badminton since her high school days at Silliman University in Dumaguete City.

She landed an athletic scholarship at La Salle and made it to the national badminton team, where she became part of the movement that popularized badminton in the country.

“So, you are a member of the Philippine national team. We are looking forward to seeing you in the USA Team in the Olympics,” the American consul in Manila told her when she was still trying to secure a US visa back in 2006.

“It’s funny because I wasn’t going to the US for badminton at that time.”

Now, Obañana is happily married while working as a performance coach in California.

Her badminton days may be coming to an end, but she always gives credit to the place where everything started.

“Of course, I also give a lot of credit to where my roots are, to where I started. If not for that, I wouldn’t be where I am right now,” she said.

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