A man whose legs did not completely develop because of a botched abortion eventually became a champion swimmer by the goodness of God.
Life News said 30-year-old Ernie Gawilan, a Filipino, survived an abortion his mother attempted in 1991 to hide her pregnancy. This resulted in Gawilan being born with an underdeveloped left arm and legs. But despite his physical disability, Gawilan won for the Philippines its first gold medal in the 2018 Asian Para Games.
In fact, Gawilan won two silver medals and three gold medals in the 2018 Asian Para Games that was held in Indonesia. The International Paralympic Committee said Gawilan "became the first Filipino athlete from any sport to win a gold medal at the Asian Para Games when he triumphed in the SM7 200m individual medley at the 2018 Games in Indonesia."
Gawilan first joined the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Though he did not win in the competition, most interesting in his participation was he ended up being part of a short movie.
"His journey to the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro was adapted into a five-minute film called 'Gawilan' which was released in 2017. The film was directed and produced by US-based Filipino filmmaker Kelsy Lua, and became a runner-up in the Best Film category at the 2019 Istorya Ng Pag-Asa [Stories of Hope] film festival in the Philippines," the International Paralympic Committee highlighted in Gawilan's bio.
Prior to the Paralympic Games, Gawilan competed in the 2015 International Paralympic Swimming World Championships held in Glasgow, Great Britain for the Men's 100m Freestyle S8, Men's 400m Freestyle S8, and Men's 100 m Backstroke S8 where he ranked 13, 11, and 15, respectively.
Gawilan was awarded by the So Kim Cheng Sports Foundation and the Davao City Sports Council as Male Athlete of the Year in 2019. He is now in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games competing for the Men's 200m medley and 400m freestyle S7.
Life News said Gawilan joked in a 2014 interview with SPIN.ph that he is such a "good swimmer" he survived his abortion.
"I must have been a good swimmer even in my mother's womb because I survived the abortion. I just swam," Gawilan said.
In the interview, Gawilan disclosed that his father abandoned him and then his mother died from cholera when he was only 5 months old. His grandparents raised him. He narrated how he suffered bullying because of his deformity. When he was nine years old, a businessman was able to convince his grandmother to send him to a youth center for the disabled.
Gawilan became a housekeeper in 2000 for the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic who were located in Samal Island's Our Lady of Victory Training Center. This opened the door for him to discover his love of water. Swimming Coach Jude Corpuz noticed his desire to swim and his potential for the sport so he was invited to become a part of his team for disabled persons.
Gawilan joined the 2008 Philippine Olympic Festival, his first ever swimming competition that he almost did not get to compete in for he forgot to bring his swimming trunks. The committee allowed him to join in his cargo pants after much pleading. He won second place, which led him to join the national team because the first place winner, Arnel Aba, noticed his efforts and brought him to Manila as part of the national team.
From there, Gawilan has traveled to many countries competing in swimming and has now reached Japan for the 2020 Paralympics.
The road to becoming a champion wasn't easy, however. A fellow teammate, Rose Charlie Bustos, revealed that Gawilan wasn't happy with himself and blamed God for his condition.
"I did not care about God before," Bustos quoted Gawilan as saying. "I blamed Him of what I have become, of how He created me, and my ending to be unloved and alone"
Gawilan, however, eventually encountered God through swimming, and realized that "God has never abandoned him," Bustos said.
The swimmer himself thanked God for his recovery after falling ill while training for the 2016 Paralympics.
"Last month I got sick, sir, but I was able to get back because of my faith in God," Gawilan told a local news outlet at the time. "Without Him I cannot make it, I trust everything in Him."
According to reports on the 2020 Paralympic Games, Gawilan ranked fifth in his heat for the individual Men's 200m medley and finished an overall place of ninth, one rank short to compete for the medal round. This means he won't be advancing to the finals for the said medley. He still has the freestyle division to compete in on Sunday.