By defeating the reigning Olympic champion Shakhobidin Zoirov of Uzbekistan at the Olympic men’s flyweight quarterfinals in the Tokyo Olympics 2020 on August 3, Carlo Paalam is letting everyone know that nothing is impossible for people who work hard on their dreams.
Some may already be aware of the 23-year-old boxer’s story. Surviving the hard-knock life was Carlo’s biggest motivation to pursue the sport. He was only six years old when his parents separated and when he learned to support himself and his family by scavenging in the streets. Life was tough but boxing made him realize something—people like him can still hope for a better life.
In many of his interviews, the Bukidnon-born athlete would fondly recall the first time he ever wore a pair of boxing gloves and headgear. Then nine-year-old Carlo was on his way home from church when he chanced upon a father-and-son in their neighborhood in Cagayan de Oro in the middle of training. Carlo was asked to spar with the kid. Whoever wins gets a bottle of Coke.
With no background in the sport, Carlo was naturally adamant. “Siyempre natakot ako,” he told Radyo Pilipinas. He would get into fights with some kids, yes, but this one was different. His neighbor’s son packs a punch. But then, it was hard to say no to a bottle of Coke at age nine, Carlo recalled to Inquirer laughing. Already wearing the boxing gloves and head gear, he had no chance to turn back. That day, he had his first jab at boxing.
“Nakitaan ako ng tapang. Matapang nga pero dugo-dugo din ang ilong,” he recalled to Inquirer. Seeing his potentials in the sport, the said neighbor invited him to join his son’s training in boxing.
Soon enough, Carlo would join the weekend boxing matches at The Park in CDO. Win or lose, he’d be able to take home money—anywhere from P100 to P200. “Malaking bagay na yun kaysa mangalakal ako ng ilang oras, maghanap ng mga plastic,” he said.
From then on, he stopped scavenging and focused his efforts on boxing. With his earnings from the sport, he got to buy rice for their family. He initially kept his new endeavor a secret from the family. He knew his father Peo Rio Paalam would be against it.
“Nae-encourage akong lumaban dahil sa kahirapan namin,” he once said. Gusto kong makatulong sa pamilya kasi kawawa ang mama at papa ko. Kung di ako magsisikap, hindi kami makakakain ng maayos. Ito ang ibinigay na talent sa akin kaya ginagamit ko para makatulog sa pamilya ko.”
Through boxing, he was able to buy things for himself. A Lakers shirt and a pair of slippers were his first purchases. “Hindi ako nagtsitsinelas noon e,” he told Radyo Pilipinas. “Sobrang saya ko kasi hindi ako makabili nun e.” A coach was also generous enough to buy him a pair of shoes he could use for the ring.
In his interviews, Carlo never fails to mention the name of two-time SEA Games silver medalist Elmer Pamisa who he said helped hone his skills and treated him like a son.
The national boxing team eventually took Carlo under its wing for training in 2013, and in 2016, at age 18, he started representing the Philippines in international matches. He has made the country proud several times—winning the gold medal at the ASTANA/President’s Cup in Kazakhstan in 2017, the 1st Thailand International Boxing Tournament, and the 10th AIBA International Boxing Tournament in 2018. He also snagged the bronze at the Asian Games in Jakarta, and the gold in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games held in the Philippines. He currently ranks at No. 12 in the men’s flyweight division in the Amateur International Boxing Association (AIBA).
Boxing turned his Carlo’s life around. While he used to not have a permanent address, the guy has already built a home for his family, in Barangay Canitoan, Cagayan de Oro. His folks couldn’t be prouder. “Ang sabihin ko lang kay Carlo, isa siyang mabuting anak at matulungin,” Carlo’s father told ABS-CBN Teleradyo in a recent interview.
At the ongoing Tokyo Olympics, Carlo is already assured of a bronze medal in the men’s flyweight division. But it’s not time for Mr. Paalam to say goodbye just yet. On Thursday, August 5, he goes back to the ring for the semifinals. And just like that first boxing match, he ain’t backing out of this one.