Dyrham Palfrey sheds Pambansang Cutie tag in bid for international glory

By Eric Nicole Salta | Photos by Patrick Segovia | Grooming by Bullet Reyes

dyrham palfrey

The story of Dyrham Palfrey is one of resilience and resurgence—no matter what his boyish good looks suggest.

“When I was in high school, there weren’t any varsity teams at all, but whenever I competed, I represented my school,” he says candidly. Coming from a setting where opportunities to hone his chosen craft are sparse can be dispiriting to a young athlete but for someone like this Filipino-British tanker, Palfrey doesn’t need all good things going for him to dive headfirst into the world of competitive swimming.

He was only six years old when he first dipped his toes into the shallow end of the pool after his mother encouraged him to swim to “have something to do in the summer.” But it wasn’t until six years later when Palfrey raced into the ocean at the 2012 Palarong Pambansa in Dagupan, winning gold in the 4×50 relay, that he’d ride the waves and see where the current will take him. After all, one doesn’t merely show up at the nationwide sports fest; athletes need to qualify first for the division meet where Palfrey says “all swimmers will have to swim off against each other and the top four or five will advance to the regionals.”

It’s a testament to his talent but also of how he quietly plays down the perks of a mixed  ethnicity that is, admittedly in the local scene, a surefire ticket to ascendancy. The thought of getting recognition for his luck at the gene pool means less to him more than what the entire flock of girls and guys alike have placed importance to. Last year’s Palarong Pambansa in Albay proved his more modest side. “At first, it was okay and I was pleased,” says Palfrey, before adding with a wry smile, “but it eventually got annoying because some people were bothering me.” Still, the waves he made, thanks to a silver medal in the 200m breaststroke and a remarkably candid pool photo that went viral, caught the eye of National University (NU) scouts spotlighting new talents. He now forms part of the NU swimming varsity team on a scholarship alongside 27 strong teammates from various divisions, balancing rigorous studying, two-hour conditioning sessions twice a week, and early-morning swim training that belies his 17-year-old persona.

Palfrey with friend and fellow swimmer Jgeth Mercado

This is probably why Palfrey belongs in bigger events like the UAAP swimming championships where, even if it was his debut last year, the unique and unrivaled stakes play to his strengths. “That’s where you can find the strongest swimmers in the Philippines. Those I only see in competitions. It was nerve-wracking because it was my first and they were all strong,” he explains. He did however snatch two silvers in relays and a bronze at the 100m breaststroke event, arguably his strongest discipline, and the one that could land him a slot at international meets including his long-term targets Southeast Asian Games and the Youth Olympic Games. “Sana,” Plafrey says wistfully, his hazel eyes gleaming across his handsome angular face.

And if his retaliation to a shitty workout is any indication—“I try not to think about it anymore and just be better next time. I don’t let it get to my head”—Palfrey has set a standard for his peers that will be apparently challenging to beat, let alone match.