Paano Kita Mapasasalamatan: Bringing hope better future para-athletes amputees

Filipinos go about their daily lives without the certainty of survival and safety due to the ongoing pandemic. But at the end of the day, Filipinos choose to strive hard to overcome the challenges brought by the situation.

In the April 24 episode of Paano Kita Mapasasalamatan, we feature individuals who, despite their prevailing debilitating conditions, still chose to extend help and kindness to fellow paralyzed persons and amputees.

Juvinel Libotlibot is a prosthetics technician who’s blessed with a loving family that always supports him. His father is a carpenter while his mother is a manicurist, and they have always worked hard to provide for him and his brother. When Juvinel was still young, he had high dreams of becoming an electronics engineer. And because of this, he made sure he would do well on his studies.

However, when he was still in school, he would always get sick. He was even diagnosed with tuberculosis when he was in high school. And because of this, he was not able to enter college. Juvinel also considered the hard work that his parents were doing just to fulfill his needs, which made him decide to get a job right after graduating from high school.

When Juvinel got his first job, he thought it was fulfilling work, until he learned it was a scam.  After the agent made him believe that he was going to work as a messenger, he ended up being a houseboy. What’s worse was that his employers were very abusive and didn’t pay him right. He then decided to leave, and landed a job as a fast food chain crewmember. But a tragic incident would change the lives of Juvinel and his family forever. A car hit him and his left leg was affected so severely that it needed amputation. Juvinel and his whole family were greatly devastated.

To improve his situation, Juvinel thought of improvising an artificial leg made of wood that would help him move and walk. And someone was amazed by what he did. Arnold Balais, a champion paraathlete excelling in powerlifting, swimming, and paddling, was impressed not only by the finished artificial leg that Juvinel made, but also by the persistence and determination that Juvinel had. That’s why Arnold decided to give him not only a professionally-made artificial leg, but a job as a prosthetics technician to provide for his family. Showing his deep appreciation, Juvinell gave Arnold a measuring tape symbolizing the all the people he has helped with every pull from the tape.

Arnold currently works as a laboratory instructor and a prosthetics and orthotics technician. He grew up living a simple life with his family, although sometimes, it would be challenging for them to survive every day because of some unfortunate situation and circumstances. For instance, they would experience electricity and water shortage.

Arnold shared that growing up in the province was probably the reason why he became interested in sports. He became a track and field athlete although he originally wanted to play basketball, a game that would unexpectedly change his life forever. One time, he joined a basketball league in their province and during the game, he landed wrongly on his right leg, seriously damaging his right femur. Because of this, his right leg was amputated.

But because of the support from his family, especially from his mother, and the therapy that he got from the rehabilitation center, Arnold was able to recover. He was able to adjust with his new life as an amputee. When he was finally given an artificial leg, he felt complete again and regained his self-confidence. He was also given a job in the rehabilitation center as a coordinator where he was able to handle PWDs who were getting vocational courses. He worked hard because he wanted to give back to his mother who has given most of her time taking care of him. Because of the positive disposition that Arnold had, he was even given the opportunity to undergo training on how to make braces for artificial legs.

During those times, Arnold still couldn’t let go of his dream to become an athlete. Until he met Coach Monty Mendigoria, a sports coach and a fitness professional who was at that time looking for potential powerlifters who could be trained for paralympics in Atlanta. The perfect time came when he saw Arnold in the gym. Coach Monty would notice the huge potential of Arnold as a powerlifter. And Arnold was very grateful for the training that he got under Coach Monty. He was also able to gain more confidence because Coach Monty treated him just like his other clients. He didn’t make Arnold feel like he’s different from the rest. And that was the time when Arnold was exposed to parasports.

That was the beginning of a very meaningful career for Arnold as an athlete. He brought honor to the country as he bagged gold and silver medals in swimming and powerlifting, as well as in boxing. He was also able to conquer mountaineering when he became the very first amputee to reach the top of Mt. Apo in 2013. Now he is a formidable dragon boat champion and the president of PADS or Philippine Accessible Disability Services, Inc. And the person whom Arnold owes a lot to and the one who served as an instrument for him to live his dreams of becoming an athlete, is none other than Coach Monty. Arnold will forever be thankful and grateful for the chance and opportunity that Coach Monty gave him. To show his unwavering appreciation, Arnold gave a sports jacket to Coach Monty that symbolizes their journey together. 

Coach Monty was introduced to sports ever since he was a child especially because he would usually be sick and apart from that, he had asthma. That’s why his dad wanted him to be engaged with sports at a very young age. He was first introduced to swimming, however, Coach Monty didn’t really enjoy it that much because of his asthma. What he wanted more was to play basketball. However, his parents didn’t approve it because according to them, basketball is a rough sport. But Coach Monty still pursued his passion and would even sneak out just to join basketball tryouts. But because of that decision, Coach Monty suffered from a serious elbow injury. And since then, he has been traumatized from playing the sport.

Coach Monty also experienced being bullied in school for his body type and not appearing physically ft. He reached the point where he wanted to transfer to a new school. That experience was what fueled the fire in him to be more fit and be stronger. As he grew up, he became interested in bodybuilding and in powerlifting. It started just as a part of his fitness lifestyle but later on, he immersed himself into serious powerlifting.

He started joining national championships where he was able to compete with national team members. He would often experience severe pain in his lower back because he was pushing himself to the limit. But he realized that what was more fulfilling than being an athlete was being the coach or the mentor who trains other people to reach their full potential. Coach Monty eventually resigned as an official of the powerlifting association of the Philippines and went to extreme sports.

Together with his friends, he built an association for extreme sports, and later on formed the association for skateboarding. But if there’s one person that Coach Monty would always be thankful for. He is Venson Ang, whom he met during his powerlifting days being the president of the powerlifting association of the Philippines that time. Coach Monty was impressed with Venson’s great leadership and he aimed to be like him in the future. And one of the greatest lessons that he learned from Venson was that no person is exempted from the word ‘potential.’ For all the guidance that he’s received and all the learnings that he’s gotten those from Venson, Coach Monty is very thankful to him. He gave him eight baby coy fish which he could take good care of just like how well he treated the athletes who trained under his supervision.

Venson Ang is the owner of Star Samson Gym and former president of the Powerlifting Association of the Philippines. His vision was “to produce more productive and drug-free people through a healthy lifestyle.” Venson shared that the most important value that he learned from his father was humility.

At a young age, he already learned how to appreciate the things that he and his family had. He also grew up to be a hardworking and responsible son because at the age of eight, he already helped in their business as he worked as the cashier of their supermarket and at the age of 13, he was already managing their store and bakery. However, he also experienced burnout, which made Venson decide to quit their business. He then explored the field of fashion designing and painting. He also remodeled and repainted the boarding house which used to be the house of the employees of their supermarket before. However, Venson had a bad experience with the renters that’s why he expanded the small gym which later on became well-known as the Star Samson Gym which has always been very welcoming to those who aim to have a fit lifestyle. And unsurprisingly, Star Samson Gym became home for successful bodybuilders and powerlifters. And Venson owes everything to his dad who has molded him into the person that he has become. He would always be grateful to his father who taught him all the good values that Venson continues to practice up to the present time.

Venson’s self-fulfillment and effective leadership qualities allowed him to inspire and motivate Coach Monty to pass on that hope and kindness to Arnold, guiding him to become a successful para-athlete. Arnold’s success made him reach out to a struggling Juvinel, giving him the needed job opportunity and confidence in himself.

Paano Kita Mapasasalamatan airs Saturdays at 7pm on the Kapamilya Channel, Kapamilya Online Live, and A2Z Channel 11.