Start 'em young, they say. Two Filipino child prodigies emerged as champions in their respective sports during international competitions.
Aleia Aielle Aguilar, 5, won the Kids 1 Girls White Belt 16kg-B of the 2022 Abu Dhabi World Jiu-Jitsu Festival in the United Arab Emirates, becoming the country's youngest jiu-jitsu world champion.
Aleia, daughter of Alvin Aguilar—considered as the founding father of Philippine mixed martial arts—made Brazil's Gabriela Vercosa tap out via submission.
Prior to the championship, Aleia dominated home bet Maria El Halabi in the semifinals with a clean 6-0.
“I’m beyond happy that my baby girl is now the Philippines' youngest world champion," said Alvin, who’s also the president and founder of the longest Filipino MMA promotion in Universal Reality Combat Championship. "We will continue to work hard to bring honor to our country."
Alvin also shared a video celebrating his daughter's feat.
Aleia's mother Maybelline Masuda, a former jiu-jitsu world champion in 2009 and gold medalist in the 2014 Asian Beach Games, believes her daughter was born into the sport.
Maybelline recalled how she was bringing then three-week old Aleia with her during training.
"Every training day, competition day, she grew up with jiu-jitsu in her life and it eventually became her dream to compete,” the proud mother said.
Bince Rafael Operiano, 9, also made a name for himself as champion of the 6th Eastern Asia Youth Chess Championship in Bangkok in Thailand.
Bince, who hails from Busac town in Oas municipality in Albay, Bicol, represented the Philippines during the international competition last Nov. 4 to 13. There, he won a trophy and four medals—outplaying 20 other players from different countries in the Under 10 category.
He last won the Boys Under 9 category of the National Youth and Schools Chess Championships Grand Finals last Sept. 16 to 23 in Zamboanga Del Norte. Bince's makings as a chess grandmaster manifested when his 6-year-old self won the National Age Chess Group Kiddie tournament in his hometown before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Albay 3rd District Rep. Fernando Cabredo took to Facebook to celebrate the young chess champion's achievement. Cabredo, however, also shared that the victory proved to be bittersweet, saying the Operianos have limited funds and had to depend on sponsorships to secure plane tickets.
"[W]hile waiting for the plane ticket sponsored by the Philippine Sports Commission, Bince and his father (Ben) spent three nights at the airport with those benches as their bed," the lawmaker said, adding the Bince had to go to Thailand first without his father.
Bince, according to Cabredo, was found crying by the parents of other competitors as he's waiting for his father.
He braved the first game with no parent around to cheer him on, Cabredo noted. Eventually, he felt pressured and lost to his opponents in the first games.
"Fortunately, his father arrived in time for the next games and finally around to personally cheer on his son," Cabredo said. "From then on, Bince have won the succeeding rounds and eventually made it to the top."
Bince will be conferred a special National Master title when he turns 10, Cabredo said.
PhilSTAR L!fe reached out to the parents of Aleia and Bince for further comment.