WHEN Joanie Delgaco was starting as a national team member, she used to get awed by the stars of the sport.

But with relentless hard work and iron will, Ms. Delgaco will have a chance to compete against them in the biggest stage that every athlete dream of — the Olympics.

The ecstatic 26-year-old Ms. Delgaco, who yesterday rowed her way straight to this July’s Paris Games after finishing fourth in the Asia Oceania qualification tournament in Chungju, South Korea.

Needing to make the top 5 to punch a ticket to the quadrennial games, Ms. Delgaco responded to the challenge in did just that after she clocked seven minutes and 49.39 seconds in the women’s singles sculls.

Thanks to the effort, she became the first lady rower from the country to compete in the Olympics while joining a few good men who represented in the country in the discipline in the Mt. Everest of all sporting events — Ed Maeirina in 1998 in Seoul, South Korea, Benjie Tolentino in 2000 in Sydney, Australia and Cris Nievarez in three years ago in Tokyo, Japan.

She became the 11th member of that extraordinary team seeking Olympic glory in pole-vaulter EJ Obiena, gymnasts Carlos Yulo, Aleah Finnegan and Levi Jung-Ruivivar, boxers Eumir Marcial, Nesthy Petecio and Aira Villegas and weightlifters Vanessa Sarno, John Ceniza and Elreen Ando.

“This is our story: After 20 years of absence in the Olympics after Benjie Tolentino in 2000, the Philippine Rowing Association has contributed back-to-back Olympians — Cris Nievarez and Joanie Delgaco,” PRA President Pato Gregorio told The STAR.

“Hard work, determination and love for the sport. We can excel in rowing. It is a beautiful sport,” he added after thanking PSC, POC, MVPSF, Smart, Maynilad and MWSS. — Joey Villar