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I Speak Mamba: Jamie Lim isn’t afraid of perfection

Waking up at dawn to work out. First in, last out. Playing through an injury. No excuses, no days off. Giving it everything you’ve got. And then giving some more. This is the language of Mamba Mentality. To celebrate Mamba Mentality Week, SLAM Philippines tells the stories of five athletes who have something in common: […]

Waking up at dawn to work out. First in, last out. Playing through an injury. No excuses, no days off. Giving it everything you’ve got. And then giving some more. This is the language of Mamba Mentality.

To celebrate Mamba Mentality Week, SLAM Philippines tells the stories of five athletes who have something in common: they all speak the same language as the legendary Kobe Bryant.

Photo from Johannes Bernabe / Illustration by SLAM PH

Once in a while, you personally meet actual Kobe Bryants of this world. The kind of people that are so well-roundedly excellent that you’re convinced that God plays favorites. Blessed in the genetic lottery paired with a generous serving of drive, the only appropriate reaction when you get to meet one is, “Is this person for real?”

A quick Google search of Jamie Lim would reveal that she’s a SEA Games gold medalist for karate and a BS Math summa cum laude from the University of the Philippines. That’s two things that almost never belong in a sentence nor refer to the same person — just like five-time NBA champion and Oscar winner.

Is this person for real?

Jamie started karate when she was six years old. It took her several summers and several different sports for her to eventually zero in on her sport of choice. One of the sports she tried was basketball, the sport where her father, Samboy Lim, is considered a legend. “I enrolled in his camp, the Skywalker’s Camp. It was so cute but out of 200 kids, I was the only girl,” she says.

Photo from Jamie Lim

Her basketball stint did not pan out, but karate worked for her. Her mom, Atty. Darlene Berberabe, her inspiration to reach the highest latin honors in UP because she did so 30 years ago, was the one who pushed her to attend her karate training sessions. Her basketball superstar father on the other hand was still getting used to the idea of her daughter doing martial arts.

“He treats me like daddy’s little princess. When I was young tapos nagkakapasa ako because of training, he would hate seeing it. Minsan tatamarin ako mag train, pareho kami ni Daddy kakausapin si Mommy at magpapapaawa, ‘Magtatraining pa ba kami?’ Pero si Mommy mananalo. He was so gentle with me. It’s funny because si Daddy yung athlete. Si Mommy yung taga-push, si Daddy yung taga-masahe, taga-ice ng pasa,” she says.

She never got to witness the days when her father excited everybody in the PBA, but the fearless, skywalking, hates losing, buwis buhay attitude was already passed on to her. (Kids, look for Samboy Lim highlights on Youtube. You’re welcome.) Her father’s favorite story about her as an athlete happened around the time when she just started playing competitively. “When I was a kid, I would join both events — kata and kumite. I lost in kata and my dad comforted me. He said, ‘Jamie, it’s okay.’ He was so happy when I replied, ‘No Dad, it’s not okay!’ He felt very proud that I think that way, that I am not contented with losing. Sabi niya, ‘Aba, nagmana ‘to sa akin ah,” she says.

“My mentality towards the sport is the same mentality with my dad and Kobe. When I think of Kobe and Gigi, nakakatuwa kasi it was very similar with me and dad. Kobe supported Gigi all in, right? He wants her to be the best. That was dad for me. He believed in me just like Kobe believed in Gigi.”

Jamie was all-in with karate until she got in the BS Mathematics program of one of the toughest universities to get in to in the country. That’s when she took a break from the sport to meet a new challenge.

Photo from Johannes Bernabe

“Ang goal ko noon eh bawat subject uno. Goal ko yun as a bibo freshie. If I had a bad quiz or a bad exam, I would freak out. I need to bawi. Focusing on academics made it hard for me to continue karate. Hindi ko ma-accept na hindi ko mapagsabay, in denial pa ako noon. I’ve been focusing on karate since elementary and high school. But now, it’s time for my academics naman. I know that my main priority is summa cum laude.”

The goal-setting part is normal. Summa? Sure. How many college kids dreamt of being summa only to realize that college is a different monster? A lot. But Jamie was all-in. She wasn’t happy with a 1.25 or a 1.50. It had to be 1.0 flat. Period.

And Jamie didn’t just set a goal, she reached it. She’s a BS Math summa cum laude and the College of Science valedictorian with an average grade of 1.073. That means she beat every other summa cum laude in all programs in her college. That includes courses like Molecular Biology, Physics, Geology, and Chemistry. She did that while keeping up with her daughter duties to Samboy — who was at the time, already managing the effects of his heart attack in 2014 — while maintaining a healthy social life, joining an org, and not swerving away from the terror profs.

Is this girl for real?

Some kids when they graduate from college, regardless if they do it with honors or none, the usual path is to take a few weeks or months off right? But Jamie, literally a day after she wore her Filipiniana and sablay, decided to put her karate gi back on.

Photo from Johannes Bernabe

“2019 SEA Games wasn’t just SEA Games, it was in the Philippines,” she says. Her family encouraged her to get back to the sport she left four years ago. After a teammate from the national team started encouraging her, that’s when she went all-in. “Kapag family kasi, sobrang biased. I needed to hear it from someone from the national team.”

“Some days, I don’t want to come back na kasi, bakit pa? Retired na ako doon. It’s going to be hard for me to come back, I’m not in shape anymore. Mommy thought that I didn’t have to do it anymore too because I already finished 2019 off on a high. There was a high chance of failure for me, too” she says.

“But my heart really wanted to do it,” she says.

That’s when she started her five-month crash training. The road to the SEA Games gold medal — the same medal her father won in the 80s. She set her mind to it and went to work. “I needed the training the most. I wasn’t as fast and strong as everyone else. They knew more than I did. They were more conditioned. And the game evolved ever since I left. There were new rules, there were new techniques,” she says, “I had to relearn the game.”

In those five months, she spent two months in Turkey for focused training. The rest was spent in the Philippines going back and forth twice a day to ULTRA. She had an opportunity to teach as a Math lecturer in her college, but while she really wanted to give back to the University, she had let that opportunity go and stay focused on the SEA Games.

“Nag all-in talaga ako. Mamba Mentality is being the best version of yourself. I do that in everything. Nag 100-percent ako sa academics. Kaya nung bumalik ako sa karate, nag 100-percent uli ako,” she says.

The way Jamie was never happy with anything but a flat uno in college is the same way she was on the mats. She shared about obsessing over a specific move that she couldn’t quite execute perfectly a week before the SEA Games. No matter how many times her coach praised her for her effort, she still couldn’t smile because she knew that she still couldn’t do that one move perfectly. Remember Kobe practicing the same simple jumper 400 times? Jamie had that same drive for perfection.

When December came, Jamie rolled through the competition. The UP summa cum laude was also a SEA Games Gold Medalist.

Jamie, are you for real?

Photo from Johannes Bernabe

There are so just many amazing titles you can associate with her.

Jamie Lim, PBA Legend’s Daughter.

Jamie Lim, Daughter of Badass Lawyer,

Jamie Lim, Leader of COVID-19 Relief Operations.

And there will be even more titles coming in the next few years.

Jamie Lim, 2021 Olympic Hopeful

Jamie Lim, Future Master In Data Science.

Meeting people like Jamie, the Kobe Bryants of this world, the freakishly well-roundedly excellent individuals, God’s favorites, will always be inspiring. They’re the kind that challenge you to be better.

“’Yung Math, gets ko siya eh so gagalingan ko na lang din. Yung karate, gifted na rin ako eh, so gagalingan ko pa,” she says, “I’m not going to settle with what I have. I have a lot of goals. I want to be best in everything I do.”

So, like Jamie and Kobe, get up and get to work. The favorites have already been at it for hours.

I Speak Mamba

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Val Chua’s focus lets her stay the same beast

Camille Nolasco stays true to herself and the game

Kat Tolentino won’t let challenges hold her back