Nesthy Petecio was 11 years old when she was threatened by a bigger man who wanted to kill her.
At that time, Nesthy had no intention to become a boxer. She only discovered the sport through her father Teodoro and siblings, with the intention of helping her family earn extra income.
“Kapag may mga inter-barangay o palaro, sumasali kami kasi alam naming may premyo eh. Manalo o matalo, alam naming may premyo… kumbaga, hindi ko pa hilig ang boxing,” Nesthy revealed in a 2020 interview with the Go Hard Girls podcast.
Walang pagdududa doon. Buo ang loob ko n’un. Gusto kong makipagsuntukan.
Instead, Nesthy was passionate about basketball. She packed basketball uniforms in her school bag so she could shoot hoops after class.
But an opportunity to earn extra money cropped up when a boxing event was mounted in Davao. The only catch was, Nesthy needed to face a bigger and more experienced male boxer who even had choice words for someone like her — a rookie female dipping her toes into a man's world.
“Siguro, kabado din po ang kalaban ko kasi sinasabihan na niya ako na itigil ko na raw kasi papatayin niya ako. Tinatanong din nila ako kung kaya ko ba. Sabi ko, ‘Opo, kaya ko po.’ Diba, walang pagdududa doon. Buo ang loob ko n’un. Gusto kong makipagsuntukan,” Nesthy shared.
Undaunted by the bigger male aggressor, Nesthy proved her mettle in her debut fight.
By the end of the match, the opponent was defeated by Nesthy. She quickly gained local attention for her unwavering spirit. But what struck the audience the most was how a young woman dominated a combat sport that’s considered by many to be a man’s game.
“After ng laban na iyon, yung mga nagtitinda doon, nilibre nila ako ng softdrinks at pagkain. Sobrang tuwa po nila na first time, babae,” Nesthy recalled.
The event was the start of Nesthy’s historic career in boxing. She was afterwards invited to join the national team where she would hone her skills under Roel Velasco, a respected veteran in the sport.
Velasco, the older brother of Olympic silver medallist Mansueto "Onyok" Velasco, is a retired boxer who represented the Philippines at the 1992 Summer Olympics, where he won a bronze medal. He is currently a coach of the Philippine Boxing Team.
After months of training, Nesthy made her debut at a youth local boxing championship in 2007 where she clinched a gold medal. She was 15 years old at that time.
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The Filipina boxer went on to capture medals and receive recognition in the 2012 Asian Championships; 2011 and 2013 Southeast Asian Games; 2014 AIBA Women’s World Championships; 2014 Asian Games; and the 2015 Indonesia President’s Cup.
Amid the challenges of training and competing away from hometown of Davao, Nesthy relied on her able support system. Her coach helped her buy groceries and her fellow athletes shared their food and exchanged tips about the sport.
But then, a heartbreaking loss at the women’s featherweight match at the 2018 Asian Game drove Nesthy to depression. It was a controversial loss against China’s Yin Junhua via split decision which was described as one of the “nastiest judging calls” in amateur boxing history.
To make matters worse, she broke up with her girlfriend.
“When I lost my opening bout at the 2018 Asian Games, I really wanted to stop. I was going to look for a job. I was looking for other options. At that time, I was really feeling down. I was feeling depressed, I was stressed,” Nesthy admitted in an interview with Olympics.com.
Nesthy was so depressed that seeing or holding boxing gloves at that time gave her stress and anxiety.
“Nung hindi ibinigay sa akin (ang Asian Games gold medal), bumitaw ako kay Lord. Nagtampo ako sa kanya. Kinuwestyon ko talaga siya. Ano pa bang paghihirap ang gusto Mong pagdaanan ko,” Nesthy recalled.
Nesthy then took some time off to heal. In 2019, she made a statement comeback at the Thailand Open International Boxing Championship and AIBA Women’s Boxing World Championships—both in the same year, both of which she won.
In 2020, Nesthy finally fulfilled a longtime goal. She qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in the women’s featherweight division. She was denied an outright berth after Japan's Sena Irie defeated her in their qualifying match at the Olympic Boxing Qualifiers in Jordan last March 2020. But a lucky break came after the International Olympic Committee's Boxing Task Force gave her an Olympic slot due to her ranking.
“Throughout my 13 years in boxing, with what I’ve already achieved and the gold medals in international events. And aside from the Olympics being my father’s dream, this is the highest dream of every athlete,” Nesthy said.
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After years of hardships, Nesthy made history as she clinched the Olympic silver medal in the women’s boxing featherweight division after losing anew to Irie in their finals match via unanimous decision. Despite the finals setback, Nesthy is sure of her place in history as she is the first Filipina to win silver in Olympic boxing.
Nesthy knows that her boxing career is far from over. Emotional after her finals match, she told ONE Sports that she’s still on a quest to win a gold medal for the Philippines.
“Chasing the gold pa rin tayo, may Paris pa po,” she assured.
Banner and thumbnail photo by Luis Robayo/AFP