She cried a river and barely slept days before the gold medal match at the 26th Southeast Asian Games in Palembang, Indonesia.
But there was no sign of the emotional baggage that burdened her when Josie Gabuco, Puerto Princesa City’s ring wonder, let her rapid-fire punches fly to defeat Vietnamese Trinh Thi Diem Kie in the pinweight finals of the boxing event.
Winning the gold was a mission Gabuco had vowed to pursue for the Philippines, but this time around it also became a personal goal. The win was a fitting tribute as well to her beloved mother who had died just before the Games.
“I could not stop thinking about my mother the night before my bout. She always supported me and I miss her terribly,” a teary-eyed Gabuco recalled.
This was the second straight gold for this youngest daughter of a tricycle driver and a full-time homemaker in the biennial Games.
But Gabuco, who dreams of becoming a policewoman someday, admitted that her second gold will have a special place in her heart. “This is for my mother. I know she’d be happy for me,” said this single mother.
Loreta, Gabuco’s mother, died of cancer at 57 just weeks before the PLDT-Smart national boxing team left for the SEA Games.
Gabuco vividly recalled their last meeting right after she joined the nationals in a training camp at Manchester, England. “She was still strong and I was planning to bring her to Laguna where I had bought a house from my earnings with the national team. But she didn’t live long enough to see it,” said Gabuco.
By winning the gold, Gabuco earned a total of P400,000. Amateur boxing chairman and sports patron Manny V. Pangilinan gave her P300,000 while P100,000 came from the Philippine Sports Commission. “The bulk of the money will go to the house that I’m paying for on a monthly basis,’’ she said.
Frail-looking, Gabuco created a storm during the 2003 National Boxing Open in Puerto Princesa with her big fighting heart. She was included in the national training pool based at the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex and trained with older and more experienced boxers.
“She stood above the rest with her mental game. She was aggressive and courageous,” recalled former national team member Mitchel Martinez, who recalled that Gabuco liked to spar with members of the men’s team.
Gabuco also dreams of making the Olympics someday although women’s boxing is given less categories than its male counterparts in the world’s greatest sporting show.
Martinez and Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines elite coach and Barcelona Olympics bronze medalist Roel Velasco said that Gabuco is capable of fighting in the heavier classes.
“Josie’s got the attitude and skills to succeed. She’s going to give us more honors not only in the SEAG but in other international competitions,” noted Velasco.
At this, Gabuco flashed her knockout smile. “I don’t have a secret for winning. I follow my coaches and give my best in every bout.”
That’s sound advice that she would have gotten from her mom.