Philippine Pride: Obero and Marquez Bring Home Gold in Wheelchair Dancesport World Championship

What started as a therapy for the differently-abled blossomed into an art and sport—and later on, into a victory that changes lives. Julius Jun Obero, who started as a participant in Tahanang Walang Hagdan’s therapeutic program, never thought that his disability would take him around the world. After bagging top awards in past competitions held in Korea and Taiwan, Julius, together with new partner Rhea Marquez, lorded over the 2015 IPC Wheelchair Dancesport World Championships in Rome, Italy last November 7 and 8, bringing home the gold in the Combi Freestyle Latin Class 2 category and ranking 4th in the Latin Class 2 Dancesport.

The Filipino pair shocked the world in the freestyle round, showcasing an amazing, soulful routine that propelled them to the top place, and ending the winning streak of Russian couple Galina Ryzhkova and Viacheslav Osipov. The former champions brought home silver, while Svetlana Kukushkina and Maksim Sedakov, also from Russia, took home the bronze medal*.

Wheelchair dancesport is not yet widely known in the Philippines, although several TV participations have been made by BMG and Tahanang Walang Hagdan—such as in Pilipinas Got Talent in 2013. An International Friendship Games Wheelchair Dancesport Competition also took place in October 2013 in Manila.

"We were really shocked that we were one of the top 3 couples out of 23 who were called to be awarded," says Rhea, a 22-year old dance athlete who is also one of the top Amateur dancers in the country, dancing with his brother Roque. "Before the announcement of who will be on the third place, we already quietly expecting that the 3rd slot is for us. But then, everything didn't fall into what we have been expecting!"

"It was the first time in history that our country, the Philippines, made a name in the field of wheelchair dancesport, not just a name but a World Title. It was a great feeling when other countries in the competition were shouting and clapping their hands cheering for our victory. But the feeling that gave me real goosebumps is when our National Anthem was played in front of the people and competitors who had diverse nationalities," recalls Rhea.

"I also realized that being a person having disabilities does not mean having to sit and lie in the wheelchair or in the bed for the rest of their lives. Differently-abled people made me realize that they can do a lot just like us who are able. We have to treat them as one of us, never different, never disabled," adds Rhea.

This triumph is an inspiration to all Filipinos—physically-challenged or not—as well as to all dancers who are doubting their skills and who are losing hope that they will make it someday. Indeed, disability is not a hindrance to anything. Congratulations to my BMG teammates, Julius and Rhea!

Julius and Rhea are coached by multiple-time national champion, Genice “Bong” Marquez—founder and coach of BMG.

Have you seen wheelchair dancers in action? What do you think about wheelchair dancesport?

2nd photo from top: DS Photo Dancesport
3rd to 7th photos: Jacek Rada Photography

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