Silliman University High School (SUHS) celebrated last August its 100th year in making a mark in society and producing competent graduates. In the same month, as if by fate, the school was also given the honor of having an alumna carry the name of Silliman in the most prestigious sporting event in the world.
Paula Lynn Obañana, a world-class badminton player from Dumaguete City, is a Sillimanian at heart. With parents as alumni of Silliman University (SU) who also went on to work there, Paula had been enrolled in the School of Basic Education since kindergarten, and she graduated from SUHS in 2002.
“Six years in the making,” she said. That was how long it took her to be able to represent the USA in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“I am still overwhelmed of what I have accomplished after all those years competing internationally in badminton. It was indeed physically and mentally draining, not to mention the financial aspect,” she said.
Asst. Prof. Manolito Saldivar, her coach back in her days in SU, was the one who first took notice of her incredible potential. This discovery kick-started the numerous achievements she had acquired in her career.
She still vividly remembers her younger years in SU, where her abilities were first honed and tested. “I [trained] in the SU Gymnasium as early as 4:30 to 7:00 a.m. and back at 5:30 to 9:00 p.m. preparing for local, regional, and national tournaments,” she recalled.
As more opportunities presented themselves, Paula strived to train harder. At 12 years old, she became the youngest to join the Philippine National Team and was the only member then who was granted training outside Manila.
Bringing with her the Silliman spirit, she spent her college years studying in De La Salle University in Manila. Determined to develop as an athlete, she continued to compete as a varsity player.
Two days before turning 21, she joined her family in the US, who migrated there in 2006.
“So, you are a member of the Philippine National Team; we are looking forward seeing you in the USA Team and in the Olympics,” said the consul who interviewed them in the US Embassy, as she recounted. After a two-year hiatus from badminton, she eventually found her way back into the sport. She would later meet Eva Lee, who would be her partner in her journey in the doubles category.
Starting off with the rank of 243 in the world, the duo competed in many international competitions, even ranking 17th at some point. They almost made it to the 2012 Olympics in London, falling short of only a hundred points to qualify.
That lost opportunity did not discourage them, but only drove them further to rank first in the US upon qualifying for the 2016 Olympics.
The road to Rio, however, ended for her last Aug. 14, when she and her partner were eliminated from the tournament after losing to China’s representatives, sisters Ying and Yu Luo.
Standing proud and true even in defeat, she acknowledges the fact that making it to the Olympics was no easy task.
“I wanted to forget the struggles I went through, but I cannot avoid it because I believe it’s part of the process,” she said.
Remaining focused on her goals, she was forced to sacrifice her social life. Moreover, the financial constraints of being an athlete was something that Paula couldn’t get away from. Her prayers were answered when Yonex, a Japanese sporting equipment company, and a generous person referred to as “Mr. Alex” were generous enough to sponsor the duo’s adventures.
Amid her struggles, the never-ending support from her family and friends, her passion for badminton, and her faith in God kept her going. She considers her “Olympic journey” a time well spent.
“I learned to deal with people with different personalities amidst cultural diversities. The journey has taught me to be more patient and goal-focused to attain what I want in my life.”
Paula considers their game against China as her “last intense game” before she retires. Still, in her plans for the future, she plans to build a legacy and inspire young athletes by sharing to them the knowledge and skills she had acquired through the years.
For the young ones out there who dream of making it to the Olympics one day, she urges them to never give up on their dreams and to be prepared for all the sacrifices that would pay off in the end.
To this day, Paula’s Silliman education remains as her guiding star not only in her everyday challenges, but also in making her dreams a reality. She said:
“The faith and truth Silliman has given me served as my light as I propelled towards my mission—to be an Olympian. Despite the odds and the struggles I went through, because of that faith, I remain victorious.”