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From picking trash to plucking an Olympic medal: Meet Carlo Paalam, the fourth Filipino medalist at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics

By Brooke Villanueva Published Aug 03, 2021 4:26 pm

A Pinoy boxer, who is now guaranteed of at least a bronze medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, has come a long way from his roots in Cagayan de Oro scavenging for trash.

The son of a bakery helper, Carlo Paalam, 23, used to make a living in search of discarded recyclable items that he could resell for a slim profit. Elmer Pamisa, a national boxer-turned-coach, recalled coming across him in his hometown Cagayan de Oro in 2010. “Nakita ko ‘yan, nangangalakal, namumulot ng basura sa amin, binebenta. Sabi ko, mag-boxing ka nalang, baka dito ka pa aasenso,” Pamisa said in a story by the Philippine STAR's Nelson Beltran. 

It didn’t take long for Paalam to realize it was worth a shot. He later found himself joining some boxing tourneys put together at the park by then CDO Mayor Oscar Moreno, which fueled his passion for the sport and later got him a spot on the city’s youth team.

That didn’t last long, though. After some kind of misunderstanding, he got kicked out of the group. Pamisa again found Paalam looking through people’s garbage on the streets. “Sabi ko, ‘Bakit ka umalis? Balik ka, ako ang bahala. Isugal ko reputasyon ko kasi nakikita ko sa iyo na malaki ang tsansa mo.’ Iyak siya, ang sabi sa akin, ‘Akala ko hindi na ako makakabalik.’”

Carlo Paalam after his win versus Shakhobidin Zoirov of Uzbekistan | Photo from AFP

With trust, he found his way back into the boxing ring—this time, stronger than ever. He won tilts after tilts, which eventually led him into the Association of Boxing Alliances in the Philippines (Abap) in 2013.

Paalam then pulled off a string of victories early in his career, such as bronze medals from the 2016 AIBA Youth Asian and World Boxing Championships as well as the 2018 Asian Games. He even clinched the highly coveted gold at the Southeast Asian Games in 2019.

Paalam’s promising talent and incredible potential remain evident to this day. In fact, he has just became the fourth Filipino medalist at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. With his most recent win against Shakhobidin Zoirov of Uzbekistan in the men’s flyweight quarterfinals, he has now secured at least a bronze medal for the Philippines. The boxing champion is set to advance to the semis and, with the way things are going, it’s definitely looking good.

Article thumbnails from AFP