New Delhi:When you tune in to watch the Olympics this August, who will you be looking out for? Asafa Powell? Michael Phelps? The Williams sisters or Leander Paes and Mahesh Bupathi? For every big name in action at Beijing will be thousands of lesser-known ones for whom just making it that far has been a victory.
Sheila Perez is a diver from Philippines who is representing her country at the Olympics. Today she dives off a springboard, but 11 years ago, Sheila Mae Perez used to jump off a pier and into the sea in the Filipino city of Davao. Perez spent her childhood diving for scrap metal to help her poverty stricken family make a living. Now, at 22 years of age, the only female diver in the Philippines Olympic team says her tough background could be an advantage.
Perez' story is as up and down as her trampoline routine. She was discovered in 1997 by local sports officials and sent to Manila for training. She made it to the Sydney Olympics in 2000 finishing 32nd in a field of 56. But she truly shot to fame after winning three golds in the South East Asian Games in 2005 and being widely acknowledged as the best diver from the region.
That is probably the reason why the entire country is pinning its hopes of its first Olympic gold from the 22 year old. That despite some tremendous odds. Diving is not a popular sport in the Philippines, the country won its last Olympic medal in 1996, and her Chinese coach, who communicates through sign language because he speaks no filipino, says he'll be happy if his wards just make it to the final.
"If you ask other people it seems impossible to win. But I'm out to win and I always say 'it's everybody's game'. What if everyone else makes a mistake and I don't," Sheila Mae Perez said.
Its this never give up spirit that has seen Sheila Mae Perez come this far. Her rags to riches story is now a television drama and the endorsements are coming her way. All she wants now is an Olympic gold.