Joanie Delgaco on Becoming the First Filipina Olympic Rower

Against the Current: Joanie Delgaco on Her Journey to Olympic Rowing

MARTIN BAUTISTA colorblock dress. Photographed by Mark Nicdao for the July 2024 Issue of Vogue Philippines.

From humble beginnings to the Olympic stage, Filipina rower Joanie Delgaco proves that success in sports is about more than physical attributes—it’s about heart and resolve.

Every day at La Mesa Dam, you will find rowers on the water at first light. Among them is Joanie Delgaco, the first-ever Filipina rower to qualify for the Olympics. 

The 26-year-old SEA Games gold medalist maneuvers through the waterway for at least eight hours a day, six days a week, training with a team whose rules she had to bend for a spot on.

In 2015, the Bicol native traveled several hours by bus to Manila. For a chance to lift her family from poverty, she packed all that she had into a recycled cardboard box. She knew that competitive sports required a certain sacrifice, and at 17 years old, she was prepared to make it. 

But the team had a strict height requirement of 5 ‘7, and Delgaco was four inches short.

Olympic rower Joanie Delgaco wears a CHARINA SARTE dress. Photographed by Mark Nicdao for the July 2024 Issue of Vogue Philippines.

So, accompanied by her dad and, despite no prior knowledge of the water sport, they pleaded for a chance to at least try. When granted, Delgaco gave it her all. “I trained on off days. From Monday to Sunday, I would train alone. And not even a year later, I earned my first medal,” she shares in Filipino. “It was after then that my coach realized that height had nothing to do with rowing.”

Nearly a decade later, Delgaco and her father are set to again embark on a life-changing journey—this time, to Paris for her Olympic debut. “Nung may start pa lang, bata pa ako, lagi talaga siyang nasa tabi ko,” she explains. 

Before rowing, Delgaco had dabbled in different sports like athletics and volleyball. In fact, she recalls a high school project, where she declared ‘national team, volleyball’ as her ultimate dream. Through it all, her father stood as her ultimate supporter. “Si papa ko, senior citizen na siya, 68 years old. (He’s a senior citizen now.) And I want to give him the experience of traveling to another country, of seeing me compete in person.”

Distinct from paddle sports, rowers sit with their backs facing the direction of travel. This means that, most of the time, a rower’s eyes are fixed on where they came from while their body works to propel them forward. “In the boat, I have no one to talk to but myself. So in every game, I need to tell myself to keep going: Kaya mo yan. Huwag kang papatalo.

This month, Vogue Philippines pays tribute to stories of grit, determination, and the pursuit of excellence. Below, meet more of the athletes who continue to shatter the glass ceiling of sports.


Vogue Philippines: July 2024 Issue

By BIANCA CUSTODIO, NANA CARAGAY, PATRICIA VILLORIA Photographs by MARK NICDAO Beauty Editor JOYCE OREÑA Fashion Director PAM QUIÑONES. Stylists: David Milan, Steven Coralde of Qurator Studio. Makeup: Angeline dela Cruz, Bea Mocorro, Janica Cleto, and Japeth Purog of Estée Lauder Philippines, Nadynne Esguerra. Hair: JA Feliciano and Kyle Velasco, Jessica Riva and Noel Muncada of Toni&Guy Philippines, Mong Amado. Art Director: Jann Pascua. Producer: Anz Hizon. Bookings Associate: Bianca Zaragoza. Beauty Writer: Bianca Custodio. Nails: Extraordinail. Photographer’s Assistants: Arsan Sulser Hofileña, Crisaldo Soco, John Phillip Nicdao, Villie James Bautista. Stylist’s Assistants: Geno Karlo, Kyla Uy, Ticia Almazan. Shot on location at Balay Kobo and Vogue Studios.
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