ERNEST JOHN “EJ” OBIENA received praises and inspiring words for his noble deed of donating the cash bonus he’s bound to receive for clinching the men’s pole vault bronze medal at the World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon, last Sunday.
“It’s heartwarming…that shows he cares for his fellow athlete,” Philippine Olympic Committee President Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino said.
Former Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) Chairman William “Butch” Ramirez also praised Obiena’s act.
“It’s a very generous, compassionate spirit of a super elite athlete like EJ Obiena,” Ramirez said. “That’s really a good example and I’m praying that Lydia de Vega will recover from her illness.
“I know there are a lot of people, like the PSC, who will help her,” Ramirez added.
Obiena is bound to receive P250,000 in cash incentives for his world championship bronze medal. The bonus is mandated under the Athletes and Coaches Incentives Act with the PSCA tasked to implement the reward.
Obiena made the pledge on Thursday upon his arrival in his training base in Italy.
“On the flight back to my training camp in Italy [from Eugene], it occurred to me that despite my own training needs, Lydia needs this money more than I do,” Obiena said. “So, I am hereby pledging to give this P250,000 once paid, directly to the family of Lydia de Vega for her medical expenses.”
The former Asian Sprint Queen is fighting stage 4 breast cancer. Her daughter, former De La Salle volleyball player Stephanie Mercado-de Koenigswarter, thanked Obiena for the support.
“We really appreciate the help they extended, as well as the other donations,” she said in a brief message to BusinessMirror.
Besides Obiena, his long-time confidante and Coach Jim Lafferty and his wife Carol pledged another P250,000 to the ailing former many-time Asian Games and Southeast Asian Games track champion.
The PSC, through OIC Atty. Guillermo Iroy, donated P300,000 with the POC contributing P100,000 and Tolentino, from his personal funds. Another P100,000. Sportsman and businessman Ronald Mascariñas of Chooks-to-Go also gave de Vega P300,000.
“Money is not important, but how to help his fellow athletes is,” Tolentino said of Obiena’s support to de Vega, who was the country’s toast of athletics a generation ahead of the pole vault champion.
Obiena cleared 5.94 meters to clinch bronze and broke his own Asian record by a centimeter in Oregon. He finished behind world record holder Armand Duplantis (6.21) and American Christopher Nilsen (5.94 first attempt).