From Near Death Experience to Swimming World Champion, Meet Ernie Gawilan Who Proves Nothing Is Impossible

Life often weaves stories of extraordinary individuals whose journeys inspire and move us. This is what comforts athletes when the odds seem insurmountable. The resilience and indomitable spirit that reside within them can transform their struggles into a source of inspiration for countless others. Such is the story of Ernie Gawilan who defied the odds to become the Philippines’ first-ever gold medalist at the Asian Para Games.

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Ernie’s journey began with a harrowing and heart-rending twist of fate. He miraculously survived a pre-birth attempt on his life. However, this resulted in the loss of both lower legs and an underdeveloped left arm. This marked the start of the hardships he would face in life.

A second chance

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Following the failed abortion attempt, Ernie’s father abandoned the family, leaving his mother to care for him. Sadly, only five months after Ernie was born, his mother tragically lost her life to cholera, leaving the baby without parents. But in this tough time, Ernie’s grandfather became his caretaker and support.

Ernie’s life took a positive turn when, at the age of nine, he crossed paths with businessman Vicente Ferrazzini. Ferrazzini’s encouragement led Ernie’s grandfather to send him to the Our Lady of Victory Training Centre, a facility dedicated to individuals with disabilities, where he was lovingly cared for by the Maryknoll sisters of St. Dominic.

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From housekeeper to paralympic swimming champion

Ernie Gawilan’s life changed when he started working at a religious training center. His love for swimming began there. In a 2014 interview, he humorously mentioned surviving an abortion, saying, “I must have been a good swimmer even in my mother’s womb; I just swam.”

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During his childhood, Ernie faced relentless bullying due to his physical differences. He said, “When I am in the water my physical disability was not visible … I look like a normal person.” Recognizing his natural talent, swimming coach Jude Corpuz invited him to join a swimming team designed for individuals with disabilities.

Ernie’s journey from the Philippine Olympic Festival in 2008 to international competitions earned him a collection of medals, making him a celebrated figure in the Paralympic world. He used the love and support of those around him to overcome the shame he initially felt for his physical differences. Now he is emerging as an inspiration for others facing similar challenges.

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Ernie Gawilan’s remarkable journey from adversity to triumph is an inspiration to us all. Born with severe physical disabilities, he overcame abandonment and bullying to become a Paralympic swimming champion, winning a gold medal at the Asian Para Games. Now, he’s preparing for the Paris Paralympic Games in 2024 but the question that lingers in the air is this: can he clinch victory in Paris, defying the odds once again?

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