The guy who stole Hidilyn's heart
Just before they moved into their new Eastwood City condo, I was lucky enough to bump into Julius Naranjo, known to most as golden girl Hidilyn Diaz’s strength and conditioning coach and…hmmm, boyfriend. To someone who is not familiar or have read anything about his background, it’ll be easy to mistake him for a homegrown Pinoy who happens to be blessed with chinito good looks. The moment he starts talking though, people would surely re-think and conclude that it is and Am-Boy that captured the heart of the country’s first Olympic gold medalist.
Truth is, 30 year-old Julius Irvin Hikaru Naranjo is Guamanian. He is born as the eldest son of a Filipino father (from Pura, Tarlac) and a Japanese mother (from Osaka, Japan). Checking out his social media accounts would show that he is a weightlifter, coach and a filmmaker. Naranjo bagged his Bachelor of Science in Exercise Sciences and Health Promotions (minor in Nutrition) from the University of Guam in 2013. He also holds an IWF Advanced Coaching Certificate, which makes him an expert in his field of choice and passion.
As a weightlifter, he represented Guam in the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games, competing in the 62kg category. That’s also where he met the Philippines’ Hidilyn Diaz
“I met Hidilyn in 2017 in Turkmenistan. I was in the national team for Guam as a weightlifter. We met in Turkmenistan and that’s where we got acquainted,” he recalled. That meeting in Ashgabat wasn’t at all love at first sight. He knew he liked her, but he didn’t know much about her background. It was her commitment to weightlifting as well as to being the best she can be in that field that really made him take greater interest. It was the friendship that blossomed out of their common love for weightlifting that truly got them together. The many times they spent in the gym training made him see beyond the superficial.
“Hidilyn comes from humble beginnings. She is selfless and loving, and those qualities are truly what I admired the most about her,” he said.
Getting him into Hidilyn’s Core Team, which is now popularly branded as Team HD (together with Janeth Aro, Nutrition Coach; Dr. Karen Trinidad, Sports Psychologist; Kaiwen Gao, Weightlifting Coach) was initially hit by a lot of people from the local sporting scene. Many criticized his inclusion into the team, even questioning his professional qualifications. The common belief then was that he made the team simply because he is Hidilyn’s boyfriend. Watching and seeing how Hidilyn eventually competed in the Tokyo Games only validated the importance of every team member. “Watching her compete just shows how much work we put in. It showed how prepared she was, kasi we worked so hard for this. Just to see how she was able to give results with everything we worked on is such a positive thing for us,” Julius declared.
In essence, Hidilyn’s gold medal performance was not only a fitting reward for one individual’s love and commitment to her sport. It was likewise sweet vindication for her entire team, especially to Julius. “When Hidilyn won the gold, at first it didn’t hit me. It took me a while to process it but I was really happy. It just shows that we proved a lot of things–that we can make this work. It can happen. It shows that Team HD was a very important thing for Hidilyn and this journey,” he said in retrospect.
Now back to their love story. Training is naturally physically straining. Sports, being a science, is also very methodical, which requires a lot of planning, of varying styles and strategies. Do these get them into fights?
“We fight all the time. Sometimes because of the language barrier. Some things said in English are interpreted another way,” he admitted. While this may be true, the fights are not enough to break the strong bond they have already built over the nearly four years that they have been together. While the couple is setting their eyes only until the next World Championships for now, Julius shared that Hidilyn already has the Paris Olympics logo as the screensaver for one of her phones. Given her plans to still pursue weightlifting, is marriage on the horizon?
The true gentleman that he is, Naranjo said: “She just won the gold and all the focus is on her. I don’t want it (marriage) to take away that focus on her victory at this point.”