Diver's Olympic quest bolstered by her Catholic faith
By Catholic News Service
DAVAO CITY, Philippines (CNS)—Sheila Mae Perez hugged her mother and slipped a piece of paper into her hand before leaving for Beijing in June.
"What's this?" Virginia Perez recalled asking her daughter at the time. "Just read it every day, Nanay (mother)," the 22-year-old diver answered before leaving for Beijing for pre-Olympic training.
On the paper was a prayer the young athlete had composed and wanted her parents to say each day she was away, Virginia Perez said Aug. 6. She spoke to the Asian church news agency UCA News at the family home in Davao City.
Her husband, Zenon, read part of their daughter's prayer written in the local dialect: "You are good all the time, Lord. You give us happiness and liberation. Help me in Beijing."
Sheila Mae Perez is one of 15 athletes representing the Philippines in the Olympic Games in Beijing. The veteran of the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, and Rexel Ryan Fabriga, another Catholic and a first-time Olympian, will compete in 10-meter platform diving events.
"I was touched by my daughter's faith in God," said Virginia Perez, who is active in the local base ecclesial community.
Zenon Perez, a shipping-cargo checker, recalled his daughter growing up at Sasa wharf, where the family used to live.
"The wharf was her playground," he said. Back then, he said, she helped buy rice and food for the family by salvaging metal scraps from rusty ships, earning 150 pesos (US$3.40) a day.
Both parents told UCA News that prayers have become their "powerful secret" since their daughter started competitive diving.
In 1996, Sheila Mae represented Sasa Elementary School in the national games for primary- and secondary-school students.
The following year she was selected to train in Manila under national diving coach Nestor Anselmo. At the 2001 Southeast Asian Games in Malaysia, she won a silver medal in the 3-meter springboard and a bronze in the 10-meter platform events.
A few years later, she made Philippine diving history when she won three gold medals at the 2005 Southeast Asian Games in the Philippines—the first athlete from the country to achieve such a feat, her mother noted proudly.
"But it was when Sheila Mae's back was injured after those SEA Games that her personal relationship with the Lord intensified," Virginia Perez recalled. She noted that her daughter has since carried a red rosary, which she took to China.
Perez recovered well enough from her injury to win two medals—a gold in the 3-meter springboard and a silver in the 1-meter springboard—at the SEA Games in Thailand last year.
Fabriga, 22, is also from Davao's wharf area. On Aug. 6, his mother told UCA News that he also turned to prayer when he was injured at 17.
"He prayed a lot for his quick recovery and God did not fail him," 46-year-old Armaluz Fabriga said.
On July 26, Davao's So Kim Cheng Sports Foundation Awards named Fabriga Athlete of the Year and elevated Perez to its Hall of Fame after naming her Athlete of the Year for three years.
Fabriga started diving competitively at 15 as a member of the Philippine diving team during the 2000 International Swimming Federation Diving Grand Prix in Hong Kong. He placed fourth for synchronized diving and placed 28th out of 113 contenders in the individual category. He went on to win a gold and a bronze medal in the 2005 SEA Games.
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