Not only does 29-year-old powerlifter Joyce Reboton looks to compete at the World Games in the US, she also wants to be the next one to put Filipino athletes on the map
Photos courtesy of Joyce Reboton
When weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz won the Philippines’ first-ever Olympic gold medal in Tokyo last year, everyone felt a whole new hope for Filipino athletes.
Diaz had been proving for a while now that we are world-class talents, but the first gold signified that nothing is impossible, even when the support available isn’t the best it could be.
Twenty-nine-year-old Filipino powerlifter Joyce Reboton saw Diaz’s success, took it to heart, and is now following in her proverbial footsteps as she tries to make it to the 2022 World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, in the United States.
Widely known as the highest level of competition in powerlifting, the Games sees representatives from all around the world compete against each other, and Reboton holds the distinction for being the only Philippine representative headed to the US.
The strong and stocky Reboton—who works as a barista in Pampanga for a day job—began powerlifting in 2014, after trying out different lifting sports such as strongman, CrossFit, and weightlifting.
She gravitated toward this type of sport, claiming a love for lifting heavy things. After finding a home in powerlifting, her trainer Willord Capulong invited her to try competing in a local competition organized by the Powerlifting Association of the Philippines.
She won that meet, kickstarting a love for competition that eventually took her to many more meets both in the Philippines and around the world. Her most prestigious wins include bagging first place at the 2018 Asian Powerlifting Championships in India and the 2021 championship in Turkey, first at the 2019 Asian Pacific Championship in Australia, and third place at the 2021 World Classic Powerlifting Championship in Sweden, before qualifying for the World Games.
Funding in the way of big dreams
The natural strength and talent Reboton has made her start dreaming big. “Gusto ko din maging face ng sport na ito,” she says confidently. “Kung merong Hidilyn [Diaz] sa weightlifting, gusto ko ako naman sa powerlifting.
“Noong una [akong nag-compete], parang wala lang, pero naramdaman ko ‘yung sobrang saya nung nakapag-uwi ako ng bronze medal sa deadlift event sa competition sa Indonesia. Iba na eh, kapag hawak mo ang Philippine flag, nakakaproud.”
(I also want to be the face of this sport. If there is a Hidilyn Diaz for weightlifting, I want to be that for powerlifting. When I first competed internationally, it was like nothing, but I felt so much happiness when I brought home a bronze medal from a deadlift event in a competition in Indonesia. It’s really different when you’re holding the Philippine flag. It makes me feel proud.)
While it would seem that Reboton’s natural skills would make her journey smooth, she reveals that like many other athletes in various sports in the Philippines, there is a huge financial obstacle in the way of her dreams of international glory.
She and her team barely made it to the Asian Equipped Powerlifting Championship in Turkey, the last event that could qualify her to the World Games. With no government support, they resorted to selling coffee and hair products to raise funds, according to her coach. Now, once again, they lack the considerable funds necessary to make the trip to the US despite Reboton’s feats.
The Philippine Sports Commission prepared a budget to send the team, but the Senate denied it, telling them to go seek private sponsors instead. With no sponsors yet willing to help Reboton and her team out, Capulong turned to setting up a crowdsourcing page, which is still far from their goal of P253,640 that they need to raise in a little over three months—but they have not yet given up hope.
“Nakakapagod din na bukod sa training, iniisip ko pa kung paano makakagawa ng paraan upang may makain ang pamilya ko. Nakakalungkot na hanggang ngayon, wala pa ring mahanap na sponsor,” Reboton says.
“Mahirap maging breadwinner at maging winner sa sport, pero nilalakasan ko ang loob ko para sa mga kapwa kong powerlifters na naniniwala na may kinabukasan ang sport namin.”
(It’s tiring that aside from training, I also have to worry about how to feed my family. It’s sad that until now, we still can’t find a sponsor. It’s hard to be the breadwinner and be a winner in my sport at the same time, but I am being strong for my fellow powerlifters who believe that there is a future in our sport.)
Powerlifting with optimism
Despite the disappointing and sometimes frustrating state of the sport Reboton and her team are experiencing now, she is still optimistic about the future of Philippine powerlifting, encouraging aspiring athletes to try and live their dreams.
“Para sa lahat po na gusto mag-try mag-powerlifting, mapa-bata o matanda, it’s never too late to try. Kailangan n’yo lang pong simulan,” she says. “If kailangan n’yo po ng guidance, you can message me. Sa mga competitive lifters po na gusto makasali sa Philippine team, join lang po tayo ng local competitions and let your numbers speak for you.
“And lastly, sa mga taong kumakayod pa rin para sa pangarap nila, huwag n’yong tigilang maniwala na makakamit mo ’yan—in His perfect time.”
(To all those who want to try powerlifting, whether you are young or old, it’s never too late to try. You just have to start. If you need guidance, you can message me. To competitive lifters who want to join the Philippine team, just join local competitions and let your numbers speak for you. And lastly, to all who are still grinding to reach their dreams, don’t stop believing that you’ll achieve them—in His perfect time.)
With a positive outlook and unmatched work ethic, even when things seem difficult and challenging, there’s more than a glimmer of hope that the talented Reboton can still make it to the US and be the next homegrown athlete to bring glory to the Philippines.
Follow Reboton on Instagram at @joycerebtn. You can also contribute to her campaign to make it to the 2021 World Games at this page.