Willa Liana Galvez was with her father, sportswriter Waylon, when the latter went to the World Trade Center in Pasay City to cover the fencing finals of the 2019 Southeast Asian Games hosted by the Philippines.
She was watching from the spectators stand with great interest when the women’s individual sabre finals came up.
The scene featured Jylyln Nicanor, who after getting instructions from her coach Amatov Canlas, and turned back Indonesian champion Diah Permatasari, 10-6, in the final half of their tense duel to win the Philippines’ first fencing gold medal in the SEA Games since 2011.
How Nicanor fought left an impression on young Willa, who went home with her father, with awe and with inspiration in her heart.
Learning how Nicanor trained hard for eight years as a member of the national team, and with only a bronze medal to show in three SEA Games appearances was something Willa learned to appreciate later on.
“Nagka-interest po ako nung napanood ko si Jylyn,” said Willa three years later, as she looked back, days after she joined the 2022 Minime Singapore Fencing Festival from September 2 to 5.
It was her first international event, and she finished 11th out of 29 fencers in the under 12 girls division.
The 11-year old Willa is now starting to go places, three years after picking up a fencing sword and began “dueling” at their living room at age 8 during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, back in May 2020.
For five months, she received online instructions from coaches belonging to former national coach Amatov Canlas’ Canlas Fencing school.
The sixth grader from the University of the East has since done well with her first basic weapon, the foil sword.
“Ang galing niya. Naging idol ko po siya. Siya po iyung una kong idol nung nakakita ako ng nagpe-fencing,” said Willa as she recalled her fascination in every move on the mat that afternoon.
By December of 2020, Willa had her first taste of competition, and took a silver medal in the Canlas Fencing Exhibitions, in the under-10 mixed events.
After that, she impressed her father later when Willa snared a bronze medal in the CF invitationals.
Meanwhile, Nicanor continues to represent the country in local and international meets.
During the 2022 SEA Games, the women’s sabre team composed of Nicanor, Queen Denise Dalmacio, Allaine Nicole Cortey, and Kemberly Camahalan captured the bronze medal after falling to Vietnam, 45-29, in the semifinals.
Willa only managed to watch the finals, but it was enough to spark her curiosity.
And her appetite to learn how to use a sword was further sharpened as she continued staying at home for months during the height of the quarantine lockdowns in 2020.
Willa eventually met Jylyn and finally got to talk to her during the national team’s ongoing training camp, when she and father visited Ormoc City last February during the 2022 Mayor Richard Gomez Cup.
With Nicanor somewhere in the venue competing, Willa claimed a gold medal in the under-12 girls team event, a silver in the under-12 girls singles, and a bronze in the under-10 mixed.
“Pinahanap siya ni Daddy. At duon ko sinabi sa kanya na inspiration ko siya, na makapunta ako someday sa SEA Games at sa Olympics,” added Willa.
It did not stop there, as Willa continued to claim podium finishes in the four other meets in the months that followed.
Her parents, Waylon and Liezle became more impressed when she took a gold and silver in the under-10 mixed singles and team events in the 2022 Duelympics at the Alabang Town Center in May.
Later at the CF Interclub, she settled for a silver, before bagging two bronzes at the 2022 Southeast Asian and Pacific competitions in Ormoc last July.
Next came the One Canlas FC event last month, where she claimed bronze in the under-12 girls and team event.
During Willa’s first outing in Singapore, Willa went 3-2 in pool matches, to gain entry into the Round of 32’s , and after beating CF teammate Aliyah Sofia Diaz 10-7.
After that, Willa lost in the quarterfinals, 5-19 to no. 6 Nur Radzuan Mohd of Malaysia to place 32nd out of 41 fencers in the under-14 event.
It was her first time to compete in the under-14 matches of any local or international event, and went 0-6 in the pool ranked 37th in direct eliminations.
When she faced no. 28 fencer Xurui Mei from China in the Round of 64 direct elimination, she claimed a 15-10 triumph to advance in Round of 32.
From there, Willa lost in the Round of 32 to no. 5 Maaravis Naidu Sita of Singapore, who took it at 15-5.
Willa is definitely going places, considering that she is in the company of many young potentials in the sport.
“Kasabayan nya or same age when she started, including Shy Catantan, who is the youngest sister of one of the country’s top fencers, Sam Catantan,” said Willa’s father, waylon.
Other standouts include the Canlas cousins, Nicol and Yuna.
“Sila ang magkakasama in the last 2 years, tawag sa kanilang apat, paru-paru girls,” observed the father.
Since June this year, the Canlas cousins have shifted to saber, and left Willa to do well in the foils.
“Willa started with coach Chris Canlas. Lahat ng bata lalo pag 11 and below. Lahat yan dumadaan kay Chris for basic fencing (fundamentals),” added Galvez.
With the inspiration that Nicanor has provided to the young Willa, she is now has big goals that she hopes to achieve someday.
But, for now, making it to the UE fencing team’s roster, and being able to compete in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines will be among her first goals.
“She’ll try to make the team next season kasi Grade 7 na siya. First year high school, yan ang actually first goal nya, na makasama sa HS varsity ng UE.
Next for Willa will be more challenging goals, and that is to make the cut in the national team, join the US NCAA meets like Catantan, and maybe, the Olympics.