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Weight off their minds: Olympian's online workouts feed Philippines families

Hidilyn Diaz is one of the Philippines' best known athletes
Hidilyn Diaz is one of the Philippines' best known athletes Ted ALJIBE AFP/File
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Manila (AFP)

Filipina weightlifting star Hidilyn Diaz noticed live-streamed concerts were collecting money for coronavirus relief and was struck by inspiration: why not raise funds with an online workout?

Since then the Olympic silver-medallist -- and strong contender for her country's first Games gold -- has made enough money to buy food packs for hundreds of hard-hit families in the Philippines.

Diaz has done it all from Malaysia, where she was training to qualify for the now-postponed Tokyo Olympics when much of the world locked down against the virus in March.

"I thought (distribution) would be impossible because I'm not physically present," Diaz, 29, told AFP.

"It's a good thing that I have trusted friends and trusted family members who understand why we need to do a fundraising."

That circle of supporters has handed out the packages, which include vegetables, eggs and rice, to more than 400 families.

The food was bought with donations from about 50 people who joined sessions that lasted up to three hours, and gave them a rare chance to train with an elite athlete.

- 'Losing my mind' -

Diaz rose to fame in 2016 after snagging a surprise silver in the 53 kilogramme category in Rio, becoming the Philippines' first female Olympic medallist and ending the nation's 20-year medal drought at the Games.

Two years later, she won gold at the Asian Games in Indonesia.

However, her quest to qualify for Tokyo is on hold ahead of the Games' rescheduled opening in July 2021.

"I thought all the hard work would soon be over... then it was extended," she said. "But I'm still thankful I can still continue with (the training) I need to do."

Still, the lockdown broke her daily training regimen, keeping her away from weights for 14 days for the first time in her career.

"I felt like I was losing my mind already. I've been carrying the barbell for 18 years and all of a sudden it's gone. Those were the kinds of anxiety that I felt," she said.

But she got access to some equipment, and with her coach's urging, got back to work. She was relieved to find her strength was still there.

Instead of a Tokyo berth, the past months have been about a different kind of accomplishment for Diaz: helping her countrymen get through the coronavirus crisis.

Rosemelyn Francisco's family in Zamboanga City, Diaz's home town, is one of the first to get help from the athlete's initiative, and is deeply grateful.

Her family was not wealthy to begin with, and the pandemic has cost her husband his construction job.

"The food she donated has all everything we need, including eggs," said Francisco, 27.

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