Boxing has always been an integral part of Philippine sports. Several provinces would hold boxing matches during events like fiestas to foster sportsmanship among combatants and give the people entertainment.
Having boxing icons like Manny Pacquiao and Nonito Donaire also boosted the Filipinos’ interest in the sport. So when Nesthy Petecio blazed her way through the women’s boxing competition in the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, everyone was eagerly waiting for updates on her performance.
Even though Petecio lost in the final bout against Japan’s Sena Irie, who went on to win gold for her country, the Filipina boxer is still praised for her achievement of being the first female boxer to bag a silver medal in the Olympics.
As Filipinos celebrate Petecio’s feat that added to the tally of medals this year’s elite athletes have earned, let’s look back at her journey and how she arrived at where she is today.
How boxing gave her a purpose
Born in 1991 in Bago Gallera, Davao City, Petecio was raised from humble beginnings. She would collect chicken droppings and participate in boxing bouts in their province as a way to feed her family.
When she was 11 years old, Petecio would start training hard to acquire the stamina, endurance and strength she needed to succeed inside the ring. Her first competition was during a match in celebration of Araw ng Dabaw.
Her first opponent was against a man. But because she’s a strong, independent woman, she felt excitement rather than fear because that was a chance for her to show that women can keep up with men, even in sports dominated by them.
Petecio admitted that even at a young age, she was always boyish. She showed an affinity for playing basketball and tried her hand in athletics before she found her calling in boxing.
Supporting Petecio’s interest in boxing was her father, who was a boxing coach himself, even though he had reservations at first about his daughter joining the sport. But Nesthy did not allow this to faze her as she secured her first victory in the Araw ng Dabaw.
This win would soon lead her to fall under the mentorship of Roel Velasco, a 1992 Barcelona Olympics bronze medalist.
At 15 years old, Petecio won gold at the 2007 Philippine National Games. She later joined the national team.
Going through highs and lows
Petecio’s first international appearance happened in the 2011 SEA Games, where she brought home a silver in the bantamweight division. Two years later, she won another silver medal in the Myanmar edition of the regional meet, but this time competing in the featherweight division.
The Filipina boxer’s resume quickly listed significant wins such as a silver medal in the 2014 World Championships in Jeju, gold in the 2015 President’s Cup in Jakarta, silver in the 2015 ASBC Women’s Boxing Championships in China, and silver once again in the 2015 Singapore SEA Games bantamweight division.
But like the roller-coaster ride that is life, Petecio also had some low points in her career. One was in a qualifier tournament for the 2016 Rio Olympics, where she was dealt an early exit in Morocco against the country’s candidate Zohra Ez Zahraoui.
She would also suffer an early exit at the Asian Games in Jakarta. In the controversial match, Petecio lost a split decision to China’s Yin Junhua, crushing her hopes of a podium finish. Many, including the Association of Boxing Alliances of the Philippines, regarded the result to be questionable since Petecio was more aggressive than her foe.
This loss put Petecio in a slump as it made her doubt her skills as a boxer. She also questioned herself if she should pursue a career in boxing. Her doubt stemmed from her having to bow out early of the quadrennial meet after she previously won four straight gold medals from different competitions in preparation for the Asian Games.
Her thoughts eventually wandered to working a regular 9-to-5 job if she ever quit boxing. But she knew that she was on the right track of her career as she was doing something she loved. So instead of giving up, Petecio took a break from boxing to allow her wounds to heal and come back to the ring stronger.
For seven months, Petecio suffered depression because of her devastating loss. While she began doubting herself and her skills, some people continued to believe in her. With the much-needed encouragement from her coaches and the people who had faith in her, Petecio bounced back and was again ready to face opponents in the ring.
Petecio demonstrated her passion for the sport and reawakened her determination to bring in more successes under her belt when she won the Thailand Open International Boxing Championship and AIBA Women’s Boxing World Championships. She also bagged gold in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games.
A year later, the Filipina boxer qualified for the Olympics, thus achieving her ultimate career goal. Although she didn’t pass the qualifiers in March 2020 when she lost to Irie, Petecio was given a slot by the International Olympic Committee’s Boxing Task Force because of her ranking.
On to the Olympics
Now given a chance to compete in the Olympics, Petecio was not one to hold back. She started her journey in the highly-acclaimed sports competition with a unanimous victory against Congolese boxer Marcelat Sakobi Matshu.
The Filipina boxer also overcame a height and reach disadvantage to advance against Taipei’s Lin Yu-Ting on a 3-2 split decision.
Petecio went on blazing through the Olympics as she won another perfect 5-0 judgment against Colombia’s Pan Am bronze medallist Yeni Arias. In the semifinals, the Davao native received a 4-1 verdict against Italy’s Irma Testa, leaving her one win away from a gold medal.
In the finals, Petecio would again face Irie, but this time in her hometown. Irie went on to become Japan’s first-ever female boxing medallist, while Petecio earned the silver medal for the tenacity that she’s known for.
The silver of Petecio is both a blessing and a challenge. Although having brought home a medal for the Philippines, she also sees this as encouragement for her to improve on her craft and someday bag gold.
Nonetheless, the boxer from Davao made it clear that she’s a force to be reckoned with in the ring and she won’t let obstacles keep her from her goals in life.