New law gives him $11,250

Filipino wheelchair racer Jerrold Pete Mangliwan is going home with an $11,250 bounty after bagging two golds and one silver this week - nearly a third of his country's total athletics tally.

The 36-year-old was among a vocal group of para-sportsmen who campaigned successfully for a landmark law passed by the Philippines government last month, as payouts were bumped up for athletes with disabilities at major competitions.

For instance, an ASEAN Para Games (APG) gold is worth 150,000 pesos (S$4,500) - six times the 25,000 pesos before and now half that of a SEA Games gold.

APG silvers and bronzes are tagged at 75,000 pesos and 30,000 pesos each respectively - up from 15,000 pesos and 10,000 pesos.

In comparison, Singapore's para-athletes get $2,000 for each gold at the Dec 3-9 showpiece, with no bonuses for the lesser medals.

"It's a big break for us to be recognised close to able-bodied Filipino athletes," Mangliwan told The Straits Times, breathing heavily but beaming widely after his victory in the men's 200m (T52) final.

"After a long, hard fight, the law is a very nice gesture to us in sports.

"More importantly, it encourages others to join in as well."

In a two-man race, the Manila native upset Thailand's Peth Rungsri - who won two golds in the previous two days - to cross the finish line in a Games record time of 32.39sec.

On Sunday, he had also set a new Games mark in the men's 100m T52 final (18.40), adding to his silver in the men's 400m T52 race.

"It's always nice to beat the Thai Express," said the chirpy civil servant, referring to Thailand's dominance in track and field.

While he has already helped advance the para-athlete cause in his country, Mangliwan believes more can be done in terms of funding, resources and education to boost the talent pool.

Late bloomers are more than welcome - he himself took up wheelchair racing just six years ago at the behest of a friend.

He is a speedster on wheels today, but after losing the use of his legs to polio at age two, Mangliwan was afraid to take up sports due to perceptions and barriers against those with disabilities.

He said: "Sometimes, you weren't made to feel welcome at a basketball court and sports gym.

"But in early 2009, my friend told me to get on the track, just give racing a go. Boy, did I have fun."

That same year at the APG in Kuala Lumpur, he stormed to two golds and one silver. However, he gave the 2011 Indonesia edition a miss because of work commitments.

To earn the right to shock Thai adversaries in Singapore, he has trained almost daily for six months, lifting dumb-bells but mainly fine-tuning his rolling routine on the track.

"It's all about staying calm and true to the way you spin the wheel, regardless of what's happening around you.

"When you look at the medals, what it means for the Philippines, all the pain and repetition is worth it," he said.

With every medal he wins, a man who was once too shy to join a gym is inspiring more like him to enter the sporting arena.

This article was first published on December 8, 2015.
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