The time Nesthy Petecio almost quit boxing, and what it says about investing in athletes’ mental health
The whole Philippines is celebrating Nesthy Petecio—and rightfully so. She is the country’s first ever female silver medalist in boxing, and her win assured the Philippines of its best Olympic finish in decades.
It’s chilling to think, then, that she almost quit boxing in 2019 because of a battle with depression. In an exclusive interview on the “Go Hard Girls” podcast, Nesthy Petecio shared how her journey highlights the importance of mental health support for athletes.
‘Makikita ko yung gloves, ayaw ko hawakan.’
It started in 2018. Nesthy had won four consecutive gold medals in the leadup to the Asian Games. She felt her strength was at its peak. But at the Asian Games in Indonesia, Nesthy lost to China’s Yin Jun Hua in a controversial 2-3 decision. Despite news organizations describing Nesthy as the more aggressive fighter, and having knocked down her opponent in the ring, the judges from Bulgaria and Korea scored all rounds for the Chinese fighter, while judges from Turkmenistan and Japan had it in favor of Nesthy.
In her corner, Coach Boy Velasco—the older brother of Coach Roel Velasco, who has 4 decades of experience working with the national team—told her, “I’m sorry, it’s not your fault.” When the decision was announced, Nesthy burst into tears.
“Hindi binigay sa akin, nagtampo ako kay Lord. Lahat ng sakripisyo, nagkwestyon talaga ako. Ano pa bang paghihirap yung gusto mong pagdaanan ko?” Nesthy told “Go Hard Girls” host Ceej Tantengco.
The experience began Nesthy’s slide into a seven-month depression. Her career struggles were complicated by personal troubles; not long after the loss, her girlfriend left her for someone else.
“Na-depress po talaga ako that time. Makikita ko yung gloves, ayaw ko hawakan. Nakikita ko yung punching bag, yung ring, nase-stress ako,” she explained. “Sabi ko, wag nang asahan na may performance na maganda, sobrang down ako. Utak ko lutang, parang ayaw ko na sa boxing.”
Battling depression with psychology
Boxing is one of the few Philippine national teams that regularly consults with a sports psychologist, Coach Marcus Manalo. The same coach who the LPU Pirates trusted as they went from underdogs to finals contenders in the NCAA basketball tournament. He is currently in Tokyo to continue his work with the boxing team, which has now earned multiple medals for the Philippines.
The “Go Hard Girls” podcast captured exclusive audio from one of Coach Marcus’ sessions with the boxing team: “Bago mag-start yung laban, nasa dugout tayo, maraming naglalaro sa utak natin. Hindi bawal yung nerbiyos. Kasama yan sa ginagawa natin. Kung yung attention niyo mapunta sa ibang bagay, hindi pa katapusan ng mundo yun. Walang problema. Kailangan lang maibalik natin.”
Coach Marcus teaches mindfulness meditation techniques to athletes, and provides particular attention to their individual concerns. From right after the Asian Games, Coach Marcus stood by her, giving her a safe space to talk about her feelings and teaching her how to process them in healthier ways.
“Sobrang nakatulong si Coach Marcus. Pag kinakausap nya kami, sarap pakinggan, sobrang mahinahon. Pinapa-remind nya sa amin kung bakit, para saan ito,” Nesthy shared. “Nagpapasalamat talaga ako sa team kasi pinagbigyan nila ako. Unti-unti akong bumabawi, bumabangon.”
Stronger for the struggle
After seven months of battling depression, Nesthy was finally able to get back into fighting form and prepare for the AIBA World Boxing Championships in October 2019. She was up against Russia’s hometown bet in the finals. Enough reason for her to be worried about a repeat of 2018, but she refused to be fazed.
“Buo yung loob ko. Ramdam ko na kasama ko si God. Kung ano man mangyari, alam kong andyan sya. Sabi ko, hindi na ako bibitaw,” she shared.
She won the gold, becoming the second Filipina to become world champion after pioneering Filipina boxer Josie Gabuco. This was followed by a gold medal in the SEA Games, kickstarting the momentum she has ridden all the way to the Olympics—and to a place in Philippine sporting history.
Without the mental health support provided by the national boxing team, without the intervention of Coach Marcus, Nesthy probably would have quit the national team. Her journey highlights the importance of investing in athletes’ mental health. No matter how strong one is physically, a holistic approach to training is key to unlocking our athletes’ full potential.
Listen to the full episode, “Nesthy Petecio knocks down barriers”, on Go Hard Girls. Available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen.