Ask a little girl what she wants to be when she grows up and you’ll pretty much get the same answers: to be a princess, a teacher or a doctor. Well, not this 24-year-old Miss Universe Philippines 2021 hopeful.
“My childhood dreams were to be like the patriotic warrior Mulan and a nuclear physicist, like my favorite comic book character, Hulk,” shares Francesca Palabrica, who drove her parents mad when she was a child because she would take things apart (especially clocks) just to see how they worked.
And so it was only natural that Francesca got into martial arts (Wushu and arnis) at age five. She also graduated with a degree in Physics from the Ateneo De Manila University.
When an opportunity to enter the world of pageantry came knocking, the young miss temporarily traded her microscope, jian and pointe shoes for stilettos.
“Mulan’s love for her country is something that I truly admire. Not to mention her Wushu skills,” shares Francesca. “Mulan inspired me to take up the sport as well. I even ended up using the exact same weapon — the jian — that Mulan used in the Disney movie. I was just so interested in everything,” enthuses Francesca, whose first love was really dancing.
“I also wanted to be a scientist/ beauty queen,” she shares.
And so, when an opportunity to enter the world of pageantry came knocking, the young miss temporarily traded her microscope, jian and pointe shoes for stilettos.
A beauty queen/ scientist
At 24, Francesca wears different hats: as a scientist, martial artist, dancer, classical singer, fashion model, and beauty queen.
“I joined MUPH to be an inspiration to women, especially those who wish to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM),” shares Francesca. “Don’t let your gender or other people define you. Anything a man can do, we can, too — in red lipstick and stilettos.”
She adds that there’s also this notion that scientists are nerds and unattractive.
“What better way to challenge that assumption than to be a beauty queen/ scientist?” Francesca adds. “Another reason why I decided to join the pageant is because I was bullied for most of my life.”
And when you’re being bullied, you feel hopeless. It often feels like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.
“I would often look for signs that I could make it out of there, but found it quite difficult,” notes Francesca. “I have risen above those challenges. Now I’m in a position where I can be Miss Universe-Philippines. I want to be that light for people who are undergoing what I’ve experienced before.”
According to Francesca, her interest in physics started because of her passion for dancing.
“I wanted to be a better dancer so I would watch other dancers perform. By doing so, I noticed that if you wanted to turn faster and better, you needed to bring your arms close to your chest. From there, I also learned about torque, momentum, inertia and gravity,” explains Francesca, who during the pandemic did a Physics TikTok to help students understand the subject in a fun way.
Delving deeper into her studies, Francesca learned about radiation, nuclear power, and energy.
Being a queen is something that takes a lot of preparation. It requires the same discipline, hard work, and perseverance demanded by sports.
“Nuclear energy can help solve many problems brought about by fossil fuels,” says Francesca, who interned at the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute in the Atomic Research Division. “For starters, nuclear energy doesn’t produce as much greenhouse gases as fossil fuels. Unlike other renewable sources of energy such as wind or solar energy that are dependent on external factors, nuclear energy can be quite steady. This could be a great way to solve many problems in the world.”
Francesca got into material sciences because of her love for arnis.
In combat, athletes wear foam armor that absorbs the impact and protects their bodies. Despite the armor, however, it is still very common to have big bruises left on your skin from the impact of the padded sticks.
“I myself have experienced that,” she admits. “I wanted to find a way to minimize the impact experienced by players.”
And that led her to learn more about Auxetic materials.
“Auxetic materials get thicker when they’re stretched, instead of growing thinner like most other materials. This kind of foam — when fine-tuned — can be also used as protective gear for the elderly and babies,” explains Francesca, whose mind is as sharp and beautiful as her physical features.
Indeed, as a beauty queen, there should be a perfect balance between mental and physical prowess.
Preparing for the rough road ahead
Right now, Francesca is in the thick of preparations for the upcoming beauty competition. And yes, she puts a premium on her health more than anything else.
“Eating healthy and being physically active not just keep COVID at bay but also help me center myself. My current fitness exercise and fitness regimen is a mixture of dance and arnis,” she shares.
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She does Latin dancesport training with her dance coach Danny Vinculado, especially in cha-cha.
“I still do arnis training with my coach Ryan Gialogo, who is under KAMAO,” adds Francesca, who competed at the National Wushu Championships in the Long Sword Category when she was 16 years old.
Just like being an athlete, one doesn’t simply become a beauty queen overnight.
“Being a queen is something that takes a lot of preparation. It requires the same discipline, hard work, and perseverance demanded by sports,” Francesca says.