How a super typhoon turned Joanna Barca into a bronze medalist

Joanna Barca, a 15-year-old rower from Tacloban, Leyte who is a Super Typhoon Yolanda survivor, is now a SEA Games bronze medalist. Jan Ballesteros/ESPN5

SUBIC - Joanna Barca may be the youngest member of the Philippine dragonboat team, but she's as tough as her teammates.

Or maybe even tougher.

The 15-year-old Barca, who comes from Tacloban, Leyte, has already seen and experienced so much and is no stranger to adversity.

When Super Typhoon Yolanda plowed across her hometown in 2013, the storm left a pile of bodies in its trail and displaced millions of families, including Barca's.

Their house that stood in the narrow coastal plains was gone. They struggled to rise from the rubbles of the forgettable disaster that was one of the most ruthless ever.

Struggle, in fact, is an understatement. There were days in the aftermath of the typhoon when they couldn't find anything to eat, drink, and wear. She couldn't even find the right word to describe how hard it was to survive a day.

"We had no food, no water, and no clothes to wear. There was really none. We were really washed out," Barca said in Filipino.

Yet Barca remained optimistic.

She persevered night in and night out, hoping to find a way out of their plight. That's why when the opportunity to play for the dragonboat national team came knocking three years later, she grabbed it with no hesitation.

Now things are looking good for Barca, who is part of the team that won a pair of bronze mints in the 30th Southeast Asian Games traditional boat race (22-seater 500m and 200m mixed, respectively).

The water that ravaged their home is now her source of income.

"I earn now and I give a part of it to my family back in Tacloban," said Barca.

The disaster brought out the best in her. But she is just starting, with a flurry of medals still on the horizon.

"I was just 10 years old then, but Yolanda toughened me up. It helped me in my sport now," she said. "I always think I have to persevere for my family back there. Because our situation there has yet to be better."

The sky is the limit for Barca. Head coach Len Escalante sees so much potential in her and the rest of the rookies on the team. She believes they will lead the next generation of Filipino rowers who will stamp class not only in the regional meet.

"We have a lot of new players. The other members went to Dubai to work because their allowance as athlete was not enough to feed their families. But that's normal. We will not stop. At least a bright future awaits these athletes," said Escalante.