Eric Buhain is a perfect portrait of a man as an athlete and a human being one who overcomes personal challenges, bring honors to himself, the country and, most importantly, to all of us Filipinos.
Buhain, then 22, emerged as one of the heroes, the biggest hero, actually, in the 16th Southeast Asian Games the Philippines hosted in 1991, helping make that year’s gathering of the region’s best and finest athletes the “Manila Miracle of ’91.”
The Games were nearly scrapped because of economic restrictions brought about by several natural and manmade calamities that struck the nation the two years before the opening ceremonies – killer quake in Luzon in 1990, Mt. Pinatubo eruption in 1991 and flash flood that devastated Leyte two months before the Games were to commence.
While being able to stage the Games as scheduled was a “miracle” in itself, keeping 91 gold medals within this shore, one short of the eventual overall champion Indonesia’s, haul, was a revelation.
And swimmer Buhain, stood tall in those memorable 11 days of hostilities from November 25 to December 5, harvesting six gold medals, the most by any athlete, five in individual events and one in relay even as he was adjudged the “Most Outstanding Male Athlete” of the meet.
The pride of Bacoor town in Cavite actually duplicated the honor bestowed on him two years ago in Kuala Lumpur when such recognition was first awarded. He bagged four gold medals in that 15th edition of the Games.
Like many of his peers, local and foreigners, Buhain had to endure numerous obstacles to reach the apex of his career. Already a frail young boy growing up, Eric was inflicted with asthma when he was still six years old and his parents — Bien and the late Cecile, a former Vice Mayor of their town – had, in fact, no inkling that the boy would be a swimmer one day, and the best in the country at that.
“Several of our relatives and friends advised us to bring him Eric to the pool as a therapy to strengthen his lung towards complete recovery,” Cecile told this writer one day.
“Halos araw-araw naging buhay na niya ang swimming pool hanggang magustuhan na niya ang ganoong buhay at gumaling ang kanyang asthma.” Cecile related.
“It was swimming which cured me of my sickness so, napamahal na sa akin. I thought wala naman akong sport na kinagalingan, bakit hindi na lang swimming,” Eric confided in a separate interview.
The healing process wasn’t that easy though, the young man with the steel-famed eyeglasses asserted. He grew up into an intense withdrawn young man. He liked to be left alone and didn’t relish interviews. Such was the intensity of his concentration and personal discipline.
“I jogged and lifted weights to compliment my daily swimming grind of five hours,” he reminisced. “My diet was low on salt. I drank a lot of milk, a gallon a day. I shunned parties. I am an athlete, I had to set my priorities accordingly. That’s part of discipline.
The kind if discipline that carried him to academic excellence, too. A year before he Manila Miracle of ’91, he graduated suma cum laude
By the time he reached 12, Eric was already a member of the national age group teams that invaded all Asian countries. In search of honor and fame. At age 16, he already donned the nation’s tri-colors in the 1985 SEA Games where he showed his potentials by bringing home six gold medals and making him the region’s toast in his favorite sport.
Eric regretted though not being able to able to perform well in the1986 and 1990 Asian Games and the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games. He applied for an athletic scholarship a Philadelphia’s De La Salle University and succeeded, not only in honing his swimming skills but, likewise, earning a degree for his future.
He finished hi course cum laude in Bachelor of science in Finance besides mastering all the strokes in swimming that enabled him to sweep all the five individual events he competed including the 100m breaststroke, 100m butterfly, 200m butterfly and 400m individual medley and one relay, in the process breaking the SEA Games records in two of them.
Buhain’s wife, Batangas Congresswoman Eileene, and their all-girl brood – Eira Nicole, 17 years old; Eliana, 14; and Erela, 9 still live in the family’s ancestral home in Bacoor. He owns and operates two bicycle shops in Las Pinas.