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Inspired by ‘idol’ Hidilyn Diaz, powerlifter Achelle Guion takes a shot at history in upcoming Tokyo Paralympics

By Bim Santos Published Aug 13, 2021 6:05 pm

Polio claimed Achelle Guion’s legs when she was a year old, but not her heart, nor her dreams. On August 26, the 49-year-old is set to represent the Philippines in Tokyo, Japan for the 2020 Summer Paralympics in weightlifting.

Guion was the sixth and last Philippine athlete to book a slot in the Games and her berth was a stroke of good fortune. Guion was unable to join the qualifying competitions this year in Thailand and Dubai due to the pandemic. But she got a spot after the International Paralympic Committee extended a bi-partite invitation, which is given to athletes who did not outrightly qualify but has a competitive world ranking based on their previous competitions.

Lady luck may have given Guion a pass at the 11th hour this time, but misfortune has been her constant companion since she was a kid.

Achelle Guion arrives a gym in Cainta to train for the upcoming 2020 Summer Paralympic games in Tokyo later this month. Her competition is set on August 26. Photo by Michael Varcas / The Philippine STAR

Papa's girl
Guion was the youngest among nine siblings growing up in Negros Occidental, and the only one stricken with polio when she was a year and a half years old.

To help get her through schooling, her father resigned from his job as an electrician in a local mining company to take care of her. Mezitle Zanoni Guion Sr. carried her every morning from their house to the nearby school, a distance of two hilly kilometers, from elementary until she finished high school. 

“Sabi nga po nila, papa’s girl daw po ako,” Guion said.

The family then relied on the income of her mother Rispha Hofelina Guion as an elementary school teacher.

But after high school, Guion refused to be tethered to her hometown. No matter her disability, she wanted to go to Metro Manila to pursue higher education.

“Hindi siya nagpapigil,” said Merizha Guion Palo, Achelle’s eldest sister.

Manila scholar
Through the help of their local parish priest, Guion settled down in a Quezon City boarding house and took up Commerce at Trinity College. But as bad luck would have it, the foundation underwriting her scholarship ran into financial trouble and discontinued the financial support. Guion had no choice but to stop schooling during her third year in college and wound up at the house of the non-profit group Tahananang Walang Hagdan in Cainta, Rizal.

Since 1995, when Guion started living in Cainta, she has worked as an IT encoder, as a helper in a local factory wrapping chocolates and lollipops and now, as a helper packing medicines in a nearby facility.

“Kahit na ganiyan siya na may kapansanan hindi siya nahihiya sa sarili niya at tinuluy-tuloy niya kung ano ang kaya niyang maabot,” Merizha said of Achelle.

Achelle's siblings and nieces in Bacolod pose with a tarpaulin expressing their support for Achelle

Achelle’s go-getter character was also what carved up for her a career in sports, in the national team nonetheless.

In 2001, upon the casual invitation of a friend, Guion signed up for a powerlifting competition in Megamall. She initially tried wheelchair racing, but a friend told her that her short arms are not suitable for the sport and she’d be better off in powerlifting.


Top prize
Guion joined her first powerlifting competition in the 45 kilogram category and ended up taking the top prize. 

“Sinama lang ako sa Megamall and tamang tama may palaro. Sumali ako tas pinagbuhat ako. Binuhat ko naman kahit walang training,” Guion recalled. “Naka-gold ako at ang premyo ay medal at grocery packs.”

Guion realized that powerlifting suited her well due to her body type and personal preference.

“Upper body ko po kasi medyo malakas kasi sa bahay sa province may hagdan kami kaya nasanay na ako mag-akyat baba, wala akong wheelchair,” said Guion.

Participants in traditional powerlifting competitions need to do three types of lifts, namely squat, bench press, and deadlift. But in a powerlifting competition for athletes with disabilities, the only discipline is bench press.

Achelle with Tokyo Olympics gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz at a local sports even in 2018. Achelle considers Hidilyn "her idol" and said her gold medal victory is a big boost of inspiration.

National athlete
“Ang wheelchair racing kasi ang layo ng tatakbuhin mo tapos mapapagod ka. Sa billiards naman malayo dadayuhin mo. Sa wheelchair tennis naman minsan mainit sa ilalim ng araw. So I decided na powerlifting kasi may bubong, rain or shine, puwede mag-training,” she added.

In 2003, after continuing to participate in local competitions, Guion was tapped to join the Philippine Team. To date, she has already won one gold medal and two silver medals in international competitions. 

Guion also qualified in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, where she placed sixth among eight competitors in the 44-kg category.

Back in Negros, her family and relatives are once again excited for her second Olympic stint. 

Ang pinapakita niya kasi is she has the ability despite her disability.

“Plano namin magsama-sama dito at manood sana ng laro niya. Sobrang saya at proud kami lahat sa kaniya,” Merizha said.

Though Guion already has Olympic experience, she said that the upcoming Tokyo competition is different due to the training challenges brought by the pandemic.

From thrice a week, her weekly training has been scaled down to twice a week, with her coach only guiding her virtually due to the recent imposition of the enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila.

Her coach Antonio Taguibao, a 63-year-old veteran of the sport, said that it is also challenging to guide Guion through a comptuer due to the irregular shape of her body.

Guion shows off her powerlifting medals from local and international competitions. Michael Varcas / The Philippine STAR

“Kailangan nakatutok ka sa anggulo and then continuous repetition,” said Taguibao.

“Pero ang pinapakita niya kasi is she has the ability despite her disability, yun ang natutuwa ako sa kaniya,” Taguibao added.

As for his outlook on the upcoming Tokyo games, Taguibao said it would be extremely lucky to land a podium finish for his ward, who currently ranks 17th in the world for her weight class.

Guion also acknowledged that the competition is stacked in her weight class.  

“Malakas ang mga kalaban ko pero sabi nga nila, bilog naman ang barbell,” said Guion.

But Guion said that Hidilyn Diaz's gold medal in the recent Olympics is a big boost to her confidence.

"Sabi nga ng family ko, 'Kung kaya ni Hidilyn, kaya mo din yan.' Sabi ko, 'Sige, kaya natin yan gagawin natin yan'," Guion said

Though it may be challenging to bring home a medal, Guion is at the very least looking forward to bringing home a souvenir cap for her father’s collection.

Achelle is carried by her father during their high school graduation to receive her diploma

Before her father passed away in 2011, he always looked forward to the souvenir hats that his youngest daughter brought home for him from international competitions.

Until now, the souvenir hat collection is in their house in Negros, a small measure of gratitude for her father’s lifetime of sacrifices for her.

“Ang tatay ko po ang bumuhat sa akin at hanggang ngayon ay nagbibigay sakin ng inspirasyon,” Guion said.

(Thumbnail and banner photo by Michael Varcas / The Philippine STAR)