TOKYO Olympian Ernest John “EJ” Obiena put premium on his well-being over his climb to No. 3 in the world in men’s pole vault.
“Before being the best athlete, I need to be a better person,” said Obiena during the last episode of #BetterToday conversations in this year’s Power Move Project, an initiative of PLDT Inc. and Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) to promote mental resilience through sports.
In the middle of his tight schedule when he was on vacation from training and competition in Europe, the 27-year-old Obiena shared his story of strength and resilience on the road to become Asia’s best—from overcoming stigma in the sport to balancing his heart and mind as he dreams of bringing glory to the country in the sport he loves.
“To maintain a strong mental headspace, I think it’s a matter of knowing how hard I’ve worked and that I’ve done everything in my capacity going to that day—all the training that I did throughout the year, all those days that I threw up on the side of the track,” he said.
“I deserve to be there, I deserve to compete with the best, and to be one of the best in the sport,” he added.
Obiena’s conviction and commitment to the sport have been validated multiple times, with his record-breaking performances in his latest tournaments, beating other veteran pole vaulters.
“There are a lot of challenges in the sport. Being Asian is one thing, because Asians are not known to excel in pole vault,” he said. “These kinds of stigma did affect me, but I learned to embrace that challenge. I make sure that I win the competition and prove that stereotype is not true.”
Obiena started in the sport through his father, former pole vaulter himself Emerson, who brought him to the Rizal Memorial Stadium when he was just a kid. Now that he’s turned world class, he said that his approach to the game is simply “winning.”
“The best EJ as an athlete is going to be the best person that he is. Therefore, before becoming the best athlete, I need to be a better person,” he said. “From getting knocked down to getting back up to knowing the best approach and mindset—there are a lot of things I can improve on.”
He stressed that his biggest dream is the gold medal at the Paris Olympics in 2024.
Obiena also told the youth to “find something that they truly enjoy, but to also endure the hardship that they are bound to face.”
“Achieving something historic would not come overnight. You need time and a lot of effort. There’s going to be a lot of pain, but stay with it,” he said. “Focus and keep striving. Next thing you know, you’re closer to your goal than you ever were today.”