June 11, 2023

Wrestler. Mother. Champion: SEA Games gold medalist Cristina Villanueva Vergara is a superwoman

Wrestler. Mother. Champion: SEA Games gold medalist Cristina Villanueva Vergara is a superwoman
One Sports' Miguel Dypiangco | Art by Royce Nicdao

Cristina Villanueva Vergara has done more than enough for the Philippines. She won two gold medals in wrestling in the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games almost two decades ago. She has served in the Philippine Navy. She is training the future of Philippine wrestling. And at 44, she wants to do more.

In the 32nd SEA Games in Cambodia, she bucked the host nation and Laos to claim her third wrestling gold for the Philippines.

"Nasa ulap 'yung feeling ko, 'di ako makapaniwala na natalo ko siya," Vergara told One Sports' Miguel Dypiangco. "Kasi iba 'pag may edad ka na kesa sa bata ka, kailangan mo mabilis."

She knows what it's like. In 2003, then carrying the surname Villanueva, she took part in her first SEA Games in Vietnam. She was invited by her coach to try wrestling. She picked up her first gold medal in the women's freestyle 51 kg division.

"Nagkaroon ng chance 'yung wrestling na magkaroon ng babae," she recalled. "First time ko na maglaro sa Vietnam, nag-gold ako."

Vergara did it again in 2005 in the same division. She eventually retired after the 2007 SEA Games in Thailand. It was time to focus on her duties as an enlisted personnel of the Philippine Navy.

"Proud na proud ako na naging part ako ng Navy," Vergara said, recalling how she was given time to prepare for the meets. She gave 20 years to the service.

During the pandemic, she devoted her time to being a wrestling coach, including to her daughter Cathlyn.

When an athlete got injured two months before this year's SEA Games in Cambodia, Vergara stepped up to take the slot. It was a chance to compete with her daughter. 

"'Di ako pwedeng matalo dito, nakakahiya sa anak ko!" she exclaimed.

The biennial meet in Phnom Penh was more than a competition for the flag. For Cristina, it was a challenge for herself to fight time and all the odds.

"Kailangan manalo, ipakita sa anak ko na kahit ganito, kaya ko pa rin mag-medal," she said.

And medal she did, outhustling her foes from Cambodia and Laos in the heavier under-65 kg division.

Her daughter Cathlyn won bronze in the 59 kg weight class.

"I keep pushing her to train smart and harder because she has the opportunity to excel. She can still go to the Olympics because she's still young," Vergara told the media.

There's nothing like winning a gold medal for the country.

"Napakasarap ng feeling na naglalaro pa rin talaga," she mused to One Sports. "Sana bata pa 'ko para marating ko man sana 'yung 'di narating na competition [dati]."

She beat the odds this time. She might be able to do it again.

"Siguro, try ulit kung kakayanin. Kung papalarin, bakit hindi?"

(With reports from Miguel Dypiangco, One Sports)