In June last year, Noelito Jose Jr. was competing in the Asian Championships when he got a message from national teammate Maxine Esteban.“She told me she wanted to help me out and that she had a sponsorship that she wanted to share with me,” Jose told the Inquirer over a weekend lunch.
The sponsorship was huge, said the 26-year-old fencer, who is chasing one very familiar dream.
“I think every athlete dreams of becoming an Olympian,” Jose said. “That’s my dream, too.”
“But with the limited budget we have for fencing, sponsorships like the one Maxine shared with me are very important.”
Esteban, now fencing for Ivory Coast after what she termed as “a series of unfortunate events I had very little control of,” said she had extra sponsorship money in her hands, worth P500,000, at that time.
“The first thing that crossed my mind was to share it,” Esteban said. “And the first person I thought of was kuya Noel.”
“He was always nice to me and despite his success—he’s like the best male fencer in the Philippines right now and he’s been No. 1 for a long time—he always reaches out to younger fencers, even those who are really new to the sport.”
The financial support has so far paid for tickets and allowances for Jose to campaign in two World Cup events last year, stints that immediately bore fruit.
Jose had always been a silver medalist in the Southeast Asian Fencing Federation, finishing behind a Vietnamese foe who was an Olympian in 2012, a year before the Sports and Wellness Management major of University of Santo Tomas’ (UST) Physical Education program even picked up an epee.
But after his World Cup stints, he struck gold.
“The exposure, the experience playing against other countries was a big help,” he said.
More importantly, the experience also earned him precious points as he chases his Olympic dream.“Getting to the Olympics is still hard, but at least, I have a good start,” he said.
Currently ranked 106 in the world, Jose needs to make it to the top 30 to qualify directly to the Paris Olympics next year. But there are other pathways available, like through the Zonals. If China, Japan and South Korea hold their spots at the top of the ranking, then Jose is left to chase down fencers from Uzbekistan, Hong Kong and Chinese Taipei to make it to the Olympics.
Luckily, Jose is used to taking the hard road to success.
Jose started fencing when he was already 16, and only because he was looking for a full scholarship at UST. And his mastered craft, “arnis,” wasn’t a UAAP (University Athletic Association of the Philippines) event then.
“So they asked me if I was willing to try fencing,” Jose said.
To gain full scholarship, he needed to work his way to the school’s Team A.
That hard work holds a lot of promise, Esteban believes.
“I know he almost wanted to stop fencing at one point,” the world No. 39 said. “But I think now isn’t the right time to stop because he has a lot of potential because he can beat a lot of qualifiers in Asia and qualify directly.”
Her advice? “Continue pushing and do it for the country.”
Esteban said if sponsors will back her again this year, she plans on sharing whatever extra she gets with Jose.
And the epee standout hopes to repay that help—and the one he already has received—with success. “I remember when I made the national team, people kept asking, ‘who is this Noelito Jose?’” said Jose, who was the top Filipino finisher in this year’s Asian championships across all weapons, finishing 10th among close to 90 epee competitors.
One day, Jose hopes to answer that with one word: Olympian. INQ
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