By Eddie Alinea/Special to BusinessMirror
LYDIA DE VEGA battled many of the best in the world of track and field during her prime in the 1980s up until the mid-1990s—that’s when she was crowned as “Asia’s Fastest Woman” and/or “Asian Sprint Queen.”
Now back in the country after a 17-year stint as coach in a school in Singapore, Diay, as she is fondly called by family, friends and fans, now 57, is racing for her life, although, most, likely, as she did in her sprinting career, she’ll survive and win.
“She’s now in stable, condition, although still critical, according to her doctors,” her former daughter Stephanie “Paneng” Mercado-de Koenigswarter, a former top volleyball player, told a phone interview on Friday.
“Anything is possible according to the doctors who said my Mom will also undergo a battery of tests,” added Mercado-de Koenigswarter, a former star at De La Salle who’s married to David Koenigswarter, a pilot.
“We still can’t talk to her because she remains sedated and she can’t still accept visitors,” she said. “That’s why we’re asking all those who want to visit my Mom that we hope they understand the present situation.”
De Vega was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018 but kept it to herself and her family. She was up and about when she helped carry the Southeast Asian Games flag during the opening ceremony of the 30th Southeast Asian Games the country hosted in 2019.
She confided to this writer about a “life threating condition” she was experiencing then but refused to say it was the Big C. “You’re a journalist and you might announce it to the whole world,” she said at that time.
Now, her cancer has reached stage 4.
Help has come the De Vega’s way with the Philippine Sports Commission, through Officer-In-Charge and Executive Director Atty. Guillermo Iroy, implementing President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos’s instruction last week to extend the government’s all-out support to the sports heroine.
The PSC executive director assured that the agency will be following President Marcos’s directive to help De Vega.
“The PSC already extended a financial assistance to Diay’s family and I’ll be convening the PSC board sometime next week to ask for more assistance,” Iroy said.
On Friday, the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) Executive Board announced its own financial assistance to De Vega, with POC President Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino also personally extending support to the former athletics superstar.
De Vega first rose to international prominence in 1979 when she won almost every race she saw action in. She participated in 95 races since she was discovered a year or so earlier and 53 of them were in the international field, including two International Amateur Athletic Federation (now World Athletics) championships.
The Sports Communicators Organization of the Philippines enshrined De Vega to its Hall of Fame after she collected 14 gold medals in her favorite 100 meters, eight in 200 meters, three in 400 meters and two in long jump.
De Vega was named Athlete of the Year by the Philippine Sportswriters Association thrice—1982, 1986 and 1987.
She also competed in triple jump, an event introduced for women in 1990, which she won in her first try in the 1993 National Open.
De Vega was the first and only woman sprinter to rule the 100 meters back-top-back in the Asian Games—in 1982 in New Delhi in and 1986 in Seoul.
She, too, won a golden sprint double at the Asian Amateur Athletic Association (4 As) Championships in 1983 in Singapore and 1987 in Jakarta, the city where she scored a hat trick by ruling the 100 and 200 meters and long jump in the 14th Southeast Asian Games.