LONDON – Elisabella Calimpon Cesista, the reigning UK poomsae champion in the first senior women’s category, said yesterday she’s looking forward to permanently relocating to the Philippines, where her parents are from, and trying out for the national taekwondo team after finishing her sports science course at the Ealing Hammersmith and West London College next year.
Cesista, 19, was born and raised in London. She’s the only child of Felix Cesista, 52, and Rosalina Calimpon, 60, Filipino migrants who have lived in the English capital over 25 years. Although she speaks with a thick English accent and isn’t fluent in Pilipino, Cesista said leaving London won’t be a problem.
“I know I’ll be happy in the Philippines,” said the 5-4 Cesista, a first dan black belter who took up taekwondo as a means of self-defense after she was harassed by a drug addict in the street on the way to school when she was 11. “I just spent three weeks in Manila and Borongan (Eastern Samar) and enjoyed myself. My dream is to compete for the Philippines. I hope I’m given the chance to try out with the national team and improve myself in taekwondo.”
Cesista learned the sport as a fighter with the Original Taekwondo Club under Iranian coach Mehdi then moved to the London Taekwondo Academy with coach Ronnie de Guzman to concentrate on poomsae. Last February, she was invited to join the British Taekwondo Control Board national team by manager Odette Stringwell on the recommendation of UK coach Master Gemma Biescas and chairman Derek Sumner after being scouted in a Sheffield competition.
Cesista’s breakthrough came in Belfast last July when she bagged the gold at the UK poomsae championships, beating five-time titleholder Taylor Parkins. Her regimen of training two to four hours each session five days a week paid off. Even as Cesista has joined the UK squad in training camp, she said competing for the Philippines is her goal.
“I started out as a fighter and competed in sparring for five years,” said Cesista who topped her age-group at the UK championships in Dublin in 2004 and went on to claim three more national titles. “Then, I stopped for 2 1/2 years to focus on my schooling. I came back in poomsae because my coach (De Guzman) wanted me to go for the national title. I know no Filipina has won a medal for the Philippines in a singles event in the World Poomsae Championships. That’s my motivation. I want to be the first to do it.”
Cesista said during her recent visit to the Philippines, she phoned the Philippine Taekwondo Association to inquire about tryouts and was referred to national athletes Rani Ann Ortega and Japoy Lizardo. “In Borongan, I did some sparring supervised by coach Sherwin,” she said. “They put me up against bigger opponents, some even 10 kilos heavier, but I was lucky to bring them down, one by one. I learned to be aggressive training with boys and it’s something I bring to every match even in training.”
“We’re ready to go home,” said Cesista’s father, an agent for SM Development Corp. in marketing condo units to Filipinos in the UK. “When Bella graduates, we’ll sell two of our houses and just keep one to rent out. We’re getting old and I think it’s time to go home. Besides, Bella loves the Philippines and her cousins in Manila and Borongan. I’m planning to set up an ice plant in Borongan. My wife and I also want Bella to live her dream of competing for the Philippines so we’ll support her all the way. I notice the taekwondo training isn’t as in-depth in England as in the Philippines. I’ve seen a lot of Filipino fighters and I think Bella can learn a lot more from them. Bella is quick and strong. She will only get better.”
Cesista said she plays a little basketball but taekwondo is her real passion. “I’m lucky I was brought up in the UK and had the opportunity to go to school in London but now, it’s time for me to go back to my roots,” she said. “My cousins laugh at my English accent and call me Harry Potter. But I assimilate quickly. I’m learning to speak more Pilipino and Waray.”
Cesista said if the Filipino coaches want her to move back to sparring, she’ll do it. “I want to be able to contribute and produce in any way I’m allowed whether in sparring or poomsae,” said Cesista who is in the 59 kilogram class. “I finish school in July and our family is relocating after the Olympics. I only hope the Philippine Taekwondo Association gives me a chance to train with the national team. I’ll do my very best for our country.”
The interview with Cesista was arranged by Jing Rivera Nejad, a respected leader of the Filipino community in London.