Being a Filipino-American citizen, gymnast Ava Verdeflor could have chosen to train for – and eventually represent – the United States in international sports events. This would, after all, give her a better chance at winning medals in various competitions.
Instead, the 15-year-old chose to represent the Philippines, the country where she and her parents were born. Now, she is competing in the Nanjing Youth Olympic Games (YOG) for her homeland.
“It’s the Philippines. I love the country. The entire country’s watching me so I hope I made Filipinos proud,” Verdeflor said.
On Wednesday, August 20, Verdeflor competed in the qualifiers of the all-around event of the YOG artistic gymnastics competition. She was ranked 11th with a 49.800 score. Filipino spectators said she awed the audience with her performance.
“I did pretty well considering that I fell a few times. I had a couple of mistakes. I’m really proud of what I’ve done in the competition so far,” she added.
Verdeflor started the sport as a hobby when she was 6 years old. Both she and her parents didn’t expect that her love for the sport would lead her to the Youth Olympics.
“She was an energetic child. We wanted her to have an outlet where she can divert her energy. We put her there for recreational purposes but the coaches saw her potential and trained her,” Lea Verdeflor, Ava’s mother said.
Her trainings lead her to various competitions. The YOG, her mother said, is her biggest one yet.
“She’s been working all her life for this moment when she can represent the Philippines. Given that other athletes are also excellent, I think she’s done well,” Lea said.
Being an athlete is never easy, Ava said. She admitted that she tried to quit gymnastics several times in her young career.
“Gymnastics is a big part of my life because I’ve been in it for so long. I can’t really imagine life without it,” she added.
She advises other young athletes to stay true to their passion and never quit.
“Do not give up. You really need to keep pushing yourself even through the hard days. The hard days are when you really test yourself. That’s when it truly matters and that forms who you are and what you are,” the young Olympian said.
The road to Rio
For Verdeflor, her experience in the Youth Olympics is a stepping stone to her ultimate goal – to represent the Philippines in the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics.
“I’ll be 17 then so I’m really excited for that and for anything else that will come my way. This is really important to me,” Verdeflor said.
On Saturday, August 23, Verdeflor will compete in the women’s uneven bars finals, an event in artistic gymnastics. She will once again fulfill her dream of representing the Philippines in the international stage.
She said she’s not expecting anything but to give her best for the country.
“We are pure Filipinos. Our loyalty is to the land where we were born. Our loyalty is to the Philippines. But don’t get me wrong, I also love the US, it has given our family all these opportunities to better our lives,” her mother added.