Growing up in a very athletic household, getting into sports came naturally for Davaoeña boxer Nesthy Petecio.
Boxing wasn’t her first love though—it was basketball. Raised, however, by a boxer father who once dreamt of winning an Olympic gold medal for the country, Nesthy and her younger siblings Norlan and Nicezza were trained very early on to throw a punch. Teodoro Petecio introduced boxing to his brood as a self-defense tool and so they can steer clear of vices.
At first, Nesthy would only watch Mang Teodoro train her brother, until she started thinking it must be fun to learn it as well. “Na-amaze ako sa suntok-suntok. Sumasabay-sabay ako sa likod,” she told CNN Philippines two years ago. Seeing her interest in the sport, her father decided to teach her the basics, and Nesthy eventually learned to roll with the punches.
Boxing for the money
Nesthy grew up in a poor family—Mang Teodoro is a farmer while her mother ran the Petecio household. In an episode of the Go Hard Girls podcast, she shared that she and her siblings would help their father earn a living by collecting chicken droppings, which are sold as fertilizer to farms and fish ponds. “Mahirap talaga ang buhay namin [noon],” she shared in the interview. “Nakakakain kami pero puro utang.”
So when Nesthy and her siblings realized they could earn money from joining inter-barangay boxing competitions, they made it a point to join. “Manalo o matalo, alam naming may premyo, may pambili kami ng ulam, ng bigas.”
The turning point of Nesthy’s life as a boxer started at the very young age of 11. That was when she joined a boxing match during the Araw ng Davao. Competitions were usually categorized by gender. But this time around, her opponent was male. He was bigger and more experienced. He was intimidating her from the get-go, saying she could get killed in the bout.
But this did not faze Nesthy. When the organizers asked her if she was sure about joining the fight, she confidently answered yes. “Walang pagdududa. Buo ang loob kong makipagsuntukan. Gusto kong subukan,” she shared in the podcast.
There were different sporting events happening at the Rizal Park in Davao City at that time. But the boxing match that drew the biggest crowd was the one with Nesthy in it. People found out a girl was competing with a guy. “Ang alam ko lang combination at that time backward, jab straight, backward, jab straight, paulit-ulit na itinuturo ni Papa sa akin,” she recalled. “Tapos pag na-corner ko na [ang kalaban], dadamihan ko [ng suntok].”
Despite his edge in size and experience, Nesthy won that bout. She did not only take the prize money home but earned, too, the admiration of her fellow Davaoeños. “After ng laban, yung mga nagtitinda doon nilibre ako ng soft drinks, ng pagkain, sobrang tuwa po nilang makakita ng babaeng boksingero.”
It was also in that event when she was discovered by a man named Celestino Rebamonte, who endorsed her to then-national women’s team head coach and 1992 Barcelona Olympics bronze medalist Roel Velasco. She was advised by the coach to join the Philippine National Games in 2007 where she won the gold that would became her ticket to the Philippine National Team.
Chills down her spine
In an interview with Inquirer, Nesthy shared that what inspired her to take boxing seriously was the 2005 SEA Games held in the Philippines. The boxing competitions were then at the University of St. La Salle Coliseum in Bacolod, Negros Occidental.
There were four female athletes who won gold medals in the games. Hearing the Philippine National Anthem play during the awarding rites sent chills down Nesthy’s spine. She remembered telling her father, and her whole family, that she would one day be in the place of one of the four prize-winning women.
It had not been an easy journey for Nesthy, who all these years had to live away from her loved ones in order to train with the national team. In her interviews, she would always mention her family as her motivation and source of inspiration to continue gunning for success. She also had to battle depression for seven months after a heartbreaking loss at the 2018 Asian Games.
“Nung hindi ibinigay sa akin [ang Asian Games gold medal] bumitaw ako kay Lord. Nagtampo ako sa kanya. Kinuwestyon ko talaga sya,” she said in her interview with Go Hard Girls. “Ano pa bang paghihirap ang gusto Mong pagdaanan ko?” she remembered asking. She was so depressed that seeing or holding her boxing gloves alone, or a punching bag, would give her stress and anxiety. What made her mental state worse was going thru a recent heartbreak. She had then broken up with a girlfriend.
In a major funk, Nesthy requested a time out, to heal and recuperate emotionally. In 2019, she picked up where she left off. With the help of her coaches, she made a powerful comeback by winning the gold medal at the 2019 Thailand Open International Boxing Championship, before claiming the gold medal in the AIBA Women’s Boxing World Championships against Russia also in the same year.
In the ongoing 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Nesthy’s already assured of a broze medal. Come Saturday, July 31, she will battle it out with Italy’s Irma Testa, who won via a 5-0 decision over Caroline Veyre of Canada in her own quarterfinal match-up.
The past years have taught Nesthy Petecio important lessons. Now, whenever she feels pressured and anxious, she makes sure to pray and lift everything to God. Yes, they’ve kissed and made up. She knows she can only do her best on the ring and there are things beyond her control. She’s aware that no matter the outcome, she will not drop her faith again. She will continue to power through. Or as she puts it, “Walang hinto hangga’t walang ginto.”