MANILA, Philippines – It started with a bottle of Coca-Cola.
Carlo Paalam was just a skinny nine-year-old when he ran into a neighbor preparing boxing exercises.
After hearing mass in Cagayan de Oro, Paalam was tempted to try boxing when his neighbor told him to only train with his son and that the winner would receive a bottle of Coca-Cola.
Now, Paalam is heading to the Olympics for a chance to give the country an elusive gold medal.
“It was after church and when I got home I saw my neighbor, who was a boxer, boxing and training his son,” Paalam said in Filipino. “Then he called me to come over to train with his son.”
“I was scared because the boy was the son of a boxer and he was good. I didn’t want to train with him, but my neighbor gave me a pair of gloves and told me that whoever wins gets a bottle of Coke. Of course I was just a nine year old so I said I would. I was going to buy Coca-Cola. “
A product of a broken family, Paalam had to forage for food in the city by walking around town to collect bottles and plastics and exchange them for some change.
Boxing, he saw, gave him an outlet.
P120 cash prize
“My neighbor saw that I had guts inside the ring even though I had blood running down my face,” Paalam said. “When I train and fight, any prize I get I give to my parents.”
Paalam had his first experience of organized competition at Boxing in the Park in Cagayán de Oro, which takes place every Sunday in the town square.
It was at these amateur events that Paalam decided that he would stop scavenging and focus on boxing, as he could win P120 in just a few minutes instead of walking for hours for scraps.
Weekly fights also led national team coach Elmer Pamisa to discover that the young slugger finally recruited Paalam into the show in 2009.
“My journey started at Boxing in the Park every Sunday and there was a P120 prize, so that’s a big problem for me because instead of looking for bottles and plastic for hours, here I can fight and win money, win or lose. ”Paalam said. “It was there that I was able to show my talent and coach Elmer Pamisa was able to hire me.”
“He was really a dad to me, he really took care of me.”
‘BOXING IS MY LIFE’
Paalam would then go on to become a bronze medalist at the 2018 Asian Games and a gold medal winner at the 2019 Southeast Asian Games.
His accolades at the regional and continental level allowed him to accumulate enough points to qualify him for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games after the AIBA Olympic Boxing Qualifying Tournament was canceled due to COVID-19.
“I never stopped boxing, from the beginning I knew I had to keep going,” Paalam said. “I am grateful for the sport because if it weren’t for this I would not be able to help my family, myself, my brothers and relatives.”
“Boxing is a big part of my life and it will always remind me of where I came from. It was thanks to sport that I can wear clothes that I only dreamed of wearing before. This really is a blessing from God. Nothing is impossible for those who dream big. “
Follow Inquirer Sports special coverage of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics here.
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