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Visually impaired since the age of five, Marcos Lima has never allowed others to see his condition as a limitation. The Rio 2016 Paralympic Integration Analyst is a journalist by profession, the founder of a non-governmental organisation to promote sport for the blind, and was even Brazilian 5-a-side football champion.
In an interview with the rio2016.com website, Marcos told us how his story of overcoming challenges brought him closer to one of his greatest dreams: the Paralympic Games. Check it out!
Rio 2016: How did you cope with visual impairment as a child?
Marcos Lima: Despite having no family history of the condition, I was born with congenital glaucoma and at the age of five I completely lost my vision. It's very hard for parents to realise their child has a disability, so my family took a few months to realise that I had problems with my vision. I had 16 operations, but even so I was losing what little vision I had. So, I joined the Benjamin Constant Institute (learning institute for the visually impaired) at the age of two, where I studied until primary school and learned to cope with visual impairment. And it was at the Institute that I discovered Paralympic sport.
Rio 2016: How about your history with sport?
ML: I found out about 5-a-side football in 1993, when they started offering the first classes in the sport at the Benjamin Constant Institute. I was only 10 years old, and somewhat skinny, so it took me a while until I started to participate in championships, which I did from 1996 until 2010. That’s almost 14 years of competition, which earned me titles such as Brazil Cup champion and three-time regional champion. I remember that, in the beginning, we played with a ball wrapped in a plastic bag. I had no idea balls equipped with noise bells existed, for example.
Rio 2016: And why didn't you pursue a career in sport?
Marcos Lima: I've always loved playing football. For me, it's almost therapeutic. I played for the Brazil national team and I even pre-qualified for the Athens Paralympic Games, the first to include 5-a-side football. But at the same time I had passed very difficult entrance exams to study Journalism at UFRJ (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Portuguese), and I ended up opting for university because it is the safest way to go. I could get something out of football, but it was still far away and nothing was guaranteed. I kept on playing, but not with a high level of ambition. The level of football in Brazil is very high, and my career was never meant to be that of an elite athlete, really.
Rio 2016: In your opinion, what are the main challenges a Paralympic athlete faces?
ML: I believe Paralympic sport is growing and gaining more space today. However, when I was at the peak of my form I didn't have this structure. You could never have imagined that an athlete could earn a living from sport, especially if it was a Paralympic sport. As it was already very difficult for Olympic athletes, for Paralympic athletes it was even more complicated. You didn't think it was possible to have a scholarship for athletes, for example, or find people interested in sponsorship.
Rio 2016: You are Vice President of a foundation for the promotion of Paralympic sport. What was the motivation to create this NGO?
ML: In 2005, while I was at university, my friends and I founded Urece Esporte e Cultura para Cegos(‘Urece Sport and Culture for the Blind’ in Portuguese) and our main objective has always been to professionalise Paralympic sport. When we created the foundation, Paralympic sport was still an amateur movement, something that caused a feeling of pity in people and was not seen as sport. So we wanted to enable athletes to train and make sure they could count on a structure for that. I had a great professional experience for five years, working daily as Vice President as well as in my area of expertise, the NGO’s Press Office, always as a volunteer. This experience prepared me for the work that I do here at the Committee.
Rio 2016: This job also granted you some unforgettable experiences. How did you find skiing?
ML: This was one of the projects I've done for the NGO, in 2008. I went skiing in the Czech Republic with my friend and colleague at the foundation, Gabriel Mayr. There we attended a workshop and went skiing. It was a very nice experience and a very different one for me. I had never seen snow, it was a totally unknown world. The only advantage was that I couldn't see the height, so it was quite easy to overcome fear.
Rio 2016: How did your trajectory bring you to the Rio 2016 Committee?
ML: In March 2013, I was invited to lecture at the launch of the Committee’s “Paralympic Friends” programme and, at the end of the event, I was invited to join the team. Mariana Mello, who is now my manager, found me through my blog, “Histórias de Cego”(“Stories of the Blind” in Portuguese). She also was one of the people who convinced me to resume writing my stories.
Rio 2016: Now, what is the challenge until 2016?
ML: My area is Paralympic Integration, and our challenge is to raise awareness and engage all areas of the Committee about the importance of the Paralympic Games and the requirements for celebrating this event. As these are two very large events, the trend is for people to focus only on the Olympic Games, but we have to consider that more than 4300 athletes will come to compete in the Paralympic Games. It is one of the largest and most important events in the world. And as athletes themselves are people with different needs, you have to pay attention to a high level of specificity on issues such as accessibility, for example.