Olympian Ian Nietes Lariba passed away Sunday evening after a long battle with leukemia. She was 23.
Lariba, fondly known as Yanyan, was the first-ever Filipino to qualify for the Summer Olympics back in 2016. She was also the country’s flagbearer in the Rio Games.
It was her last international tournament before being diagnosed with leukemia last May of 2017.
Lariba was born on October 13, 1994 in Cagayan de Oro.
At the age of nine, she started playing table tennis. From there, the De La Salle University discovered her in the Palarong Pambansa.
Then came history.
“Sinasabi ko sa sarili ko na if I play, I wanted to play like an underdog, but with a heart of a champion so parang alam ko kasi na inaasahan ako ng team,” Lariba told Tiebreaker Times about her experience in the UAAP back in 2015.
Lariba went on an unprecedented unbeaten run in singles competition in her five-year stay in La Salle. She would win three championships with the Lady Paddlers, and three Most Valuable Players to boot.
In her final year, she achieved the highest award to be bestowed on a student-athlete: The UAAP Athlete of the Year awards back in Seasons 77 and 78.
“Sobrang overwhelming kasi for five years minsan lang mangyari yung double back-to-back. Sobrang happy ko kasi lahat ng team, coaches, lineup nagtiyaga talaga, nagsipag talaga,” she reflected. “Mindset lang po talaga namin is one game at a time. We weren’t forward-looking and we took it step by step.”
She also competed in two Southeast Asian Games back in 2013 and 2015.
In 2016, she qualified for the 2016 Olympics in a qualifying tournament held in Hong Kong.
A year later, she was diagnosed with leukemia.
“Before (the diagnosis), may mga symptoms na pala na inignore ko like the bruises, yung madali magpasa, excessive weight loss and then yung nahihilo,” recalled Lariba. “Marami ng nakapansin na pumayat daw ako.”
Lariba then took a blood test, the results of which changed the whole complexion of the scenario. “Dun nakita yung abnormalities kaya inadmit ako kaagad-agad. Kase yung sa blood count yung tinitignan kase dun yung red blood cells, white blood cells, and then yung platelets.
“Nung nakita yung akin, halos lahat abnormal, not within the range. Yung RBC ko, hemoglobin, mababa sa range. Tapos yung nakita nila na very abnormal was yung white blood cells ko, very high. So yun nung nakita nila they did some tests pa like yung bone marrow aspirate and then dun nga nila nakita na it was positive for leukemia,” added the Finance graduate.
Last November, she was able to recover. And she never lost that smile.
“Parang day by day I treat it as parang training lang din.
“‘Di ba (sa) training there are challenges everyday, I just have to overcome them throughout the day,” Lariba said. “At least at the end of the day, I get to stand up still. Parang nangyari sa akin I became more appreciative of the days that pass by.”
Last August 26, she suffered a relapse.
Throughout her entire ordeal, she was never alone.