His nickname is ‘Crazy Pig’, he trains on rollerskis in temperatures that could toast the pavement and for most of his childhood, watching movies like Home Alone was as close as he got to snow.
Welcome to the extraordinary world of winter Para Athlete Cristian Westemaier Ribera.
This Brazilian prodigy, who made history at 15 years old as the youngest competitor at the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games and came sixth in the cross-country long distance sitting, trains in the heat when he is home and transfers his skills to the snow in competition time.
He did not even see real snow until he was 14, in Sweden. Now 19, he heads to Beijing 2022 as a medal hopeful.
In January, at the World Championships in Lillehammer, Ribera claimed silver in the cross-country sprint sitting – Brazil’s first Worlds medal.
“It surprised me a lot,” said Ribera, who goes by the name of ‘Porco Loco’ among his friends.
“I had done good middle and long races and analysing my performance I realised that I was fast and I knew that the final was possible. In Beijing I can guarantee that I will fight until the end to be among the best.
“Yeah, my nickname is Crazy Pig. I support Palmeiras [Brazilian football team from Sao Paulo known as Porco] and when I started skating a teacher gave me a green cheerleading shirt and it had a symbol written on it – Crazy Pig – so my friends started calling me that. I can say that this is my nickname in the world of skateboard and I love it.”
Ribera, who is studying English and then wants to do a course in mechanics, has been at a training camp in Italy since Lillehammer.
“At home we usually train with temperatures around 30, 35 degrees celsius. It's a little difficult to adapt but with time you get used to it. I do 300 hours a year on rollerski training.
“I have acquired a lot of experience in this [Paralympic] cycle. I’m more patient now. I trained a lot and it will be very cool because despite our young age, Aline [dos Santos Rocha] and I will be the veterans of the team and it is very good to be in the Paralympics Games again.”
It is not just Cristian who is flying the flag for the Ribera family. Younger sister Eduarda has just competed in cross-country skiing at the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games.
“I’m very, very proud. The whole family is very proud of her because we know how hard she worked and dedicated herself to be there,” said Ribera, who was born with arthrogryposis, a congenital condition that causes joint contractures.
“Unfortunately, Bruna Moura [athlete who was called up at the beginning] had an accident and couldn't go, but I know my sister fought and she worked really hard on all the races.
“We talked a lot about how the [Olympic] Village is, she told me that she doesn't go out much, but tries to enjoy every place she goes.”
Looking at Ribera’s middle name of Westemaier, perhaps it is not so suprising that he took to the snow so readily.
“It’s German. My great-grandfather was German and during the Second World War he came to Brazil to try to have a better life. About the genes, my strongest genes are Brazilian but the German ones could help me too.”
Ribera was introduced to Para Nordic Skiing in 2015 as part of a project put together by the Brazilian Snow Sports Federation (CBDN) with the support of the Agitos Foundation, the International Paralympic Committee’s development arm.
The aim was to have a Brazilian athlete contending for a medal at the 2030 Games. Ribera is way ahead of his time.