Filipino Olympic boxer Carlo Paalam has come a long way from fighting in the streets.
Back in the day, the Cagayan de Oro native had to swap punches with other kids to win a bottle of soft drinks in backyard fights.
Later on, Paalam was introduced to proper boxing training to learn how to punch and defend himself from bullies.
“May nagsabi sa akin na mag-boxing na lang para matuto akong sumuntok,” he said in an interview with ABS-CBN News prior to the 2017 Southeast Asian Games.
Paalam and some friends once visited a boxing gym in Cagayan de Oro to see whether the sport would appeal to him. He liked what he saw and realized he had the talent for it.
Local officials later saw his promise and included the boy under the province's boxing training program, allowing him to succeed in various youth competitions, such as the Batang Pinoy, Philippine National Games and the national championships.
That's how he became part of the Philippine national team.
Paalam won silver at the 2016 world youth championship in St. Petersburg, Russia; gold at the 2017 President's Cup in Astana, Kazakhstan; the 1st Thailand International Boxing Tournament; and the 10th AIBA International Boxing Tournament in 2018.
Paalam, however, suffered a controversial setback at the 2017 SEA Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur when he was eliminated following a dubious decision loss to Muhamad Fuad Redzuan of the host country.
Two years later, he came back with a vengeance, capturing the gold medal by outclassing Indonesia’s Kornelis Langu in the men’s light flyweight final at the 30th Southeast Asian Games.
Last March, Paalam joined national teammates Nesthy Petecio, Felix Eumir Marcial and Irish Magno among Pinoy boxer competing in Tokyo after making the cut according to the International Olympic Committee Boxing Task Force.
Paalam and Petecio moved up to No. 1 in their respective weight classes of the Olympic qualifying ratings after the boxers ranked above them have already qualified for Tokyo.
When he was just starting out, Paalam was motivated by the prospect of helping his family.
“Nae-encourage akong lumaban dahil sa kahirapan namin. Gusto kong makatulong sa pamilya kasi kawawa ang mama at papa ko. Kung di ako magsisikap, hindi kami makakakain ng maayos,” he said.
“Ito ang ibinigay na talent sa akin kaya ginagamit ko para makatulog sa pamilya ko.”
But now that the stakes are higher, the motivation has surely become stronger for the the boy who used to box for a bottle of soft drinks.
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