From scavenger to boxer: Carlo Paalam's journey to an Olympic medalist

MANILA, Philippines – From scavenging landfills in Cagayan de Oro, Filipino flyweight boxer Carlo Paalam has gone a long way to becoming an Olympic medalist.

Carlo Paalam's journey to an Olympic gold

Paalam has just earned another step towards clinching an Olympic gold medal as he won the men’s fly (48-52kg) quarterfinals against Uzbekistan’s Shakhobidin Zoiroc via split decision, 4-0 on Tuesday, August 3.

The 23-year-old boxer's victory has secured the Philippines' fourth medal in the Tokyo Olympics. Paalam is now assured of at least a bronze now that he is on his way to the semifinals.

But now that he is at the cusp of an Olympic gold, many have started sharing the inspiring story of Paalam.

UPDATE: Carlo Paalam wins silver in Tokyo Olympics

Born to a broken family, Paalam grew up in an impoverished household. As a lanky young boy, he had to scavenge in his hometown in Carmen, Cagayan de Oro to help make ends meet. Soon enough, he found a passion for boxing which ultimately turned his life around. He would join backyard matches after picking up garbage to earn money for his family.

Paalam recalled that it was his neighbor who encouraged him to enter a local "Boxing at the Park" after he saw his skills at a backyard boxing match. The Sunday matches were organized by former Cagayan de Oro mayor Oscar Moreno, where the winner received P200 and the loser P150.

The 7-year-old Paalam won his first amateur fight at that local event. He brought rice with his prize but didn't tell his father that it was the fruit of boxing. He lied that he was just lucky to get good stuff scavenging at a city dump.

Things took a good turn for him in 2009 when local officials noticed Paalam's boxing skills and took him in for training. He was given a monthly allowance, and helped get him through school.

Even on training, hiccups to his success were still along the way. It was former boxer turned coach Elmer Pamisa who took Paalam under his wing. He said that while he was abroad for a fight, Paalam was sent away from the training and went back to roaming the streets for garbage.

Pamisa recalled, "Pagbalik ko galing Armenia, [nadatnan ko] si Carlo tumigil sa pagbo-boksing, pinalayas s'ya sa team. Hinanap ko s'ya, nakita ko na naman, nandun sa basketbolan, naghahanap ng basura."

"Sabi ko, 'Bakit ka umalis? Balik ka, ako ang bahala, isugal ko reputasyon ko kasi nakikita ko sa iyo na malaki ang tsansa mo [na umasenso].' Iyak s'ya, ang sabi sa akin, 'Akala ko di na ako makakabalik,'" he added.

Paalam eventually was scouted by the national team for training. In 2016, he started representing the Philippines in several international matches.

Gold medals started pouring in for Paalam as he bagged them at the ASTANA/President’s Cup in Kazakhstan in 2017, the 1st Thailand International Boxing Tournament and the 10th AIBA International Boxing Tournament in 2018. He also won bronze at the Asian Games in Jakarta, and in 2019, took home the gold in the Southeast Asian Games held in the Philippines.

Due to his success in boxing, Paalam has changed his family's life for the better. He has built a house in Barangay Canitoan, Cagayan de Oro and is still looking forward to a bright tomorrow, hopefully with an Olympic gold around his neck.

— Sally, The Summit Express

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