The Philippines has suffered from an exodus of great sporting talents in the past couple of years, the most notable of which is chess grandmaster Wesley So to the United States. And just recently, Yuka Saso decided to choose her Japanese citizenship and carry the Hinomaru beside her name in competitions.
However, the country has also seen numerous Filipinos of foreign heritage or origin choose the Three Stars and the Sun as their banner. Such is the case of Alleah Finnegan in gymnastics and Ariana Drake in diving who both competed at the 31st Southeast Asian Games for the first time.
More rarely, though, is someone of elite status – moreover an Olympic medalist at that – switching allegiance to the Philippines.
And such was the surprise that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics multi-medalist swimmer Kayla Sanchez bring to the unassuming nation when she decided to take her talents and experience to the country.
For the 21-year-old standout, it was a matter of long talks and thoughts between her, the Philippine Swimming Inc., Swimming Canada, and her family. And Sanchez believes now is the right time to carry on with the next phase of her swimming career.
“It was a matter of timing, a question of timing,” she shared. “And now I’m older, I’m more independent, and I think now’s a good time to bring what I do, what I love here in the Philippines. And I think it’s a bigger picture and a bigger meaning using what I do and what I love to help inspire Filipinos like me to commit to [the] sport, and show what they are capable of in swimming or doing sport and be competitive.
“I’m very humbled to be a part of it and I’m proud of my heritage — I’m proud to be a Filipino. I’m so excited for this new journey, and I hope you guys are excited, too.”
As the Sanchez family has stayed in Canada since 2003, leaving the place she loved to call home for most of her life was not an easy task. For her, however, choosing to be a difference-maker on the other side of the world fuelled her decision to go on with her plans of choosing her parents’ birth country — the Philippines.
“It was a difficult decision. But in the end, as I said I’m proud to be a Filipino, and if I’m able to inspire young kids or Filipinos in general just to start swimming, to start sports. It just means the world to me and adds extra meaning to what I do.”
As early as January of this year, the University of British Columbia-commit had already broached to Swimming Canada of the possibility of her competing for the Philippines. And after her productive stint at the 2022 FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary just a few weeks ago, the North American swimming body released the young standout.
According to CBC.ca, Swimming Canada’s high-performance director and national team coach said in a statement that Sanchez “has been a great team member, centre member, and swimmer for Canada and we will miss her.”
The feeling is mutual as the world junior record holder believes that she owes who and where she is right now to her former federation’s care and guidance.
Sanchez said, “I love my teammates. I love all of them. They’ve helped me so much, and I wouldn’t be the person I am, the person and athlete I am today without their help and their support, so I’m just forever grateful to them.”
“Exactly. So, I will bring that same energy here,” she expressed. “Yeah, I’m very for the team, I will always do what’s best for the country that I am representing. That is why if we had the opportunity for a medal in a relay, I would hundred- percent make sure that I’m ready and fresh for that relay.
“So, definitely, I’m bringing that same patriotism here. I wanna see the Philippines succeed and I wanna do well.”
Getting positive feedback from fellow national swimmers about the difference and inspiration the World Short Course triple champion can give them, Sanchez is just happy to be that person who could help rekindle the fire for Philippine swimming.
The daughter of a Pampanga-born father and Baguio-rooted mother said, “I am humbled and I’m honored to be in this position. Swimming is my career — it’s what I love doing. So, to be able to inspire and to help? I’m proud to be in that position.
“So it’s exciting. It’s a new journey, it’s a new adventure for me. So, probably, I’ll learn more and grow from here.”
For Kayla and Team Pilipinas, they are just getting started.