For those competing, the goal may the same for everyone but the journey will be unique to each competitor.
Retired corporal Gina Pinangat shares with Canadian Filipino Net the story of her long and colourful journey to the 2018 Invictus Games.
Pinangat arrived in Canada in 1991 from Asingan, Pangasinan on a work visa under the then Foreign Domestic Movement Program (also known as Live-in Caregiver Program). She recalls her first Canadian employers fondly, “I arrived in Quebec in February 1991 under the Foreign Domestic Movement Program and worked for Mr. and Mrs. Alain Perez of the Town of Mont-Royal. They encouraged me to pursue my dreams and life aspirations.”
Upon completion of the requisite Canadian residency in two years, Pinangat received immigrant status in 1993 and began plotting a new life in Canada. She started taking accounting courses at night while eking out a living cleaning wealthy people’s homes. “I continued taking courses until I stumbled upon some information regarding electronics/electrical courses and programs being offered to new immigrants,” Pinangat relates. She grabbed the opportunity and immersed herself in a two-year electronics and computer technology program.
While still in school, she found a job as an operator for the former Nortel Networks. Pinangat remembers, “I was lucky to be there at the right time. My boss at the time hand-picked me to take a course in telecommunications that Nortel offered to its chosen employees.”
However, the telecom bubble of the 1990s reached its peak in the early 2000s leading to a downturn in the industry. By 2001, Nortel Networks laid off about two-thirds of its workforce. Pinangat was one of those laid off. “I was still in school at the time, with one year left until I get my diploma so I persevered, sacrificed and held on until I received my diploma from Institute Teccart in 2002.”
Despite having a diploma, decent work in the telecommunications sector was still hard to find. As luck would have it, Pinangat spotted an ad for a job opening with the Canadian Armed Forces for an aerospace telecommunications and information systems technician. “Since I had the education and experience, I was offered a humongous signing bonus,” she recalls. “I just finished school and wanted a job to pay off my student loans.”
She was posted as a technician at the National Defense Headquarters in Ottawa until her transfer to the Canadian Forces Base in Esquimalt in the Greater Victoria Area in 2005. On health-related issues, Pinangat was given a medical release in 2012.
In October 2018, the retired corporal joined the 39-member strong Team Canada in the 4th Invictus Games held in Sydney, Australia. She finished ninth in the individual powerlifting event and, with Team Canada, participated in the sailing and wheelchair basketball events.
Pinangat initially signed up for archery but quickly realized she couldn’t hold the bow and arrow steady. “During practice, I was the only one searching the ground for my lost arrows while others retrieved theirs from the target!” she recalls. This led her to train instead of in powerlifting.
Living in Victoria, B.C. on Vancouver Island, Pinangat had always wanted to sail so she joined the sailing team. As for wheelchair basketball, she thought it would be easy since she played on her university varsity team back in the Philippines but soon found the sport daunting. “I had to get used to wheeling the chair while dribbling the ball and it took some time to get used to moving and shooting in a seated position.”
The 53-year old embraces the spirit of the Invictus Games saying, “We come back fighting from life-changing injuries or illnesses, proving that by embracing each other with the support of family and friends, we can reclaim our future.” Always determined to move forward, Pinangat has this simple advice for those who want to be on a similar journey, “Be kind.”