Ernie Gawilan trains at sea for Tokyo Paralympics

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 11) – When swimming activities were not permitted and sports centers were closed due to movement restrictions brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, top Filipino para-swimmer Ernie Gawilan knew that he had to do something for his Tokyo Paralympics preparations.

Gawilan told CNN Philippines that he spent most of his time training at sea in his hometown Davao City during the lockdown period.

"Umuwi ako doon dahil nag-lockdown dito sa Manila. Ang kinagandahan rin kasi, kahit na may lockdown dito sa bansa natin, nakakapag-ensayo pa rin ako kasi malapit kami sa dagat," said Gawilan, who was scouted in 2008 by national team coaches who saw him swimming in the sea.

[Translation: I went home to Davao City because Manila was placed under lockdown. What is good, despite the lockdown here in our country, is I can still train because we are near the sea.]

The 30-year-old para-swimmer admitted training at sea, usually 3-4 times a week, was difficult for him since he's used to practicing in lap pools and his coach was not in Davao City.

"Iba pa rin yung andyan yung coach mo kasi gina-guide ka kung paano mag-execute sa training (It is very different if my coach was around since he is guiding me how to execute my training)," Gawilan added.

National para-swimming team head coach Tony Ong told CNN Philippines that he oversaw Gawilan's sea training through video calls, taken by Gawilan's friend.

"Hawak ng kaibigan niya yung phone tapos naka-Zoom kami, tinitingnan ko na lang yung stroke. Pero sa dagat siya lumalangoy, naka-bangka yung kaibigan habang sinusundan yung ginagawa ni Ernie," said Ong.

[Translation: His friend holds the phone while we're in a Zoom call and looking into his strokes. As he swims in the sea, his friend is in a boat and follows Ernie.]

Gawilan pointed out the sea's condition also made it harder to train in coastal waters. He said he took time to observe the waves and marine creatures that may distract him while swimming.

He added that he usually trained at sea in the morning because the waters get warmer in the afternoon, especially during low tide.

"Kung mahina yung alon, pupunta ako sa laot. Minsan naman, pa-horizontal para mas mahaba yung malangoy ko na laps. Medyo nakakatakot sa malalim," said Gawilan.

[Translation: If the waves are low, I will swim to the open sea. Sometimes, I would swim horizontally so that I can swim more laps. It's a bit risky when I swim in deep waters.]

Gawilan and the rest of the Philippine para-swimming team eventually returned to pool training last month in Quezon City to gear up for their stint in the World Para Swimming World Series.

RELATED: Gawilan, 3 other PH para-swimmers to formalize Tokyo Paralympics stint in Berlin meet 

In the swimming meet slated June 17-20 in Berlin, Germany, Gawilan will swim in review classification races to formalize his Tokyo Paralympics stint. He clinched the Paralympic berth after beating the qualifying time in his gold medal finish at the 400-meter S7 freestyle event during the 2018 Asian Para Games.

"Target ko rin na kahit makadikit man lang ako sa record ko para at least matantya namin kung hanggang saan ang kaya kong time sa Paralympics, (My target is to equal my personal record so that we can assess the time that I need to meet during the Paralympics,)" Gawilan said.

The Davao native is expected to compete in the 400-meter freestyle, 100-meter backstroke, and 200-meter individual medley events in the Tokyo Paralympics once he successfully hurdles his review classification races in Berlin.