By Martin Dale Bolima
(July 30, 2021) – Hidilyn Diaz’s strength and conditioning coach Julius Naranjo knows first-hand the hell some Filipinos can unleash on social media.
After all, he was on the receiving end of it just two years ago. In June 2019, former Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) chairman Aparicio Mequi posted on Facebook some scathing remarks directed mainly at Naranjo, and to an extent, Diaz as well.
“She (Diaz) wanted PSC to hire him as her strength and conditioning coach with a salary of $1,500 and condo inclusive of utilities at $400 or a total of $1,900 a month!” claimed Mequi. “Now, this fella is from Guam named Julius Irvin Naranjo. If he really cares for and loves Hidilyn, why doesn’t he just help her without asking for remuneration? Does he have a working visa? If none, then BOI (Bureau of Immigration) should deport him as soon as possible!”
Mequi’s rant came after Diaz’s viral plea for financial help, which got caught in a maelstrom of scorn from rabid supporters of the government. Mequi noted that the PSC didn’t grant Diaz’s request.
“Hopefully, she will not use this as an excuse if she doesn’t win a medal in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.”
Netizens were quick to gang up on Naranjo, who’s also Diaz’s boyfriend. Many questioned his motives, some calling him bad names, while others even implored Diaz to dump him. The overriding theme of the bashing: Naranjo was simply riding Diaz’s coattails for fame and fortune.
Diaz and Naranjo, who first met during the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games, remained silent. Together, they absorbed all the vilification, which also took a toll on Diaz’s arduous preparations for the Tokyo Olympics.
But life, of course, always finds a way. Diaz stood by Naranjo. Naranjo stood by Diaz. And in a curious case of happenstance or destiny or maybe even irony, the former national weightlifter from Guam did end up coaching Diaz—about a year into their budding romance.
The son of a Filipino father and a Japanese mother, Naranjo stepped in when Diaz’s former coach stepped down. His salary was shouldered by the MVP Sports Foundation, which helped Diaz shore up her team she eventually called Team HD. The rest is, well, history. Not that it was smooth sailing. Diaz didn’t necessarily buy into her boyfriend’s training methods at first.
“Iba ‘yung method nung former coach kay Julius,” admitted Diaz in a recent report by Inquirer. “Nung una siyempre parang ‘Ang weird naman ng training na ‘to.’ Hindi ako naniwala sa training niya.”
But after almost a year, Diaz trusted Naranjo as a mentor, the way she trusted him as a partner.
“Mga nine months din before ako maniwala na magaling siya,” said Diaz. “Kasi nakikita ko na ‘yung resulta, nakita ko na ‘yung performance ko na gumaganda.”
On Monday night, the world saw what Diaz had been seeing over the past years: Refined techniques, increased strength, added explosiveness. Best believe that Mequi and the netizens who had bashed Naranjo in 2019 saw the same thing, or at least heard or read about it.
Naranjo saw his aspirations of making it to the Summer Games after suffering a career-ending back injury. But last Monday, he lived his dream through his dream girl.
“It has just hit me now. I’ve experienced my first Olympics, and I am grateful to finally achieve one of my dreams, but the added bonus was to help bring the Philippines its first-ever gold medal!” wrote Naranjo on Instagram.
Indeed, life always finds a way. In one glorious night for Philippine sports, a once embattled Naranjo was vindicated by the love of his life. It was, to say the least, poetic justice. Naranjo and Diaz’s unwavering love and trust were rewarded with gold and fortune and fame, all while their detractors are eating humble pie.
He could’ve rubbed it in, but like Diaz, the 30-year-old Naranjo instead chose to be grateful for the entire journey. He shared that a woman approached her in the Athletes’ Village after Diaz’s milestone performance to say how much she got inspired by the weightlifting wonder, who of course, continues to inspire him as well.
“This hit me so hard because we only focused on bringing the best results we can and everything else we left it all for God to decide. But I then realized that the impact of what she had accomplished would empower young women from around the world. This inspired me so much and gives me the drive to continue to be better,” added Naranjo.
Yes, Diaz did all the heavy lifting. But “the fella from Guam,” derided and ridiculed two years ago, deserves a ton of credit too, working tirelessly and unassumingly behind the scenes to prepare Diaz for her historic moment.
Now, Naranjo and the Diaz are a golden couple and could take their relationship to the next level. Maybe from the podium to the altar. But whatever happens next, there is no doubt that Naranjo has earned his keep. Can’t raise hell about that. (PM)