Francisca Mardones was ready to make her debut at the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, when she received a painful message: her father Hernan, who had suffered from Parkinson's disease for 30 years, had died at 71.
These were moments of great sadness and many doubts for the Chilean, who finally decided to compete inspired by the passion her own father had instilled in her for sport.
"Before leaving Chile, when I was saying goodbye to him, I told him that I would bring him many pictures of Dubai and he said that he wanted to come with me. I told him not to worry, that everything would be fine and that I would try to do my best. I turned around and told him that we would soon see each other again. That was our last conversation," she said.
"I always thought that if I ever had a family emergency when I was competing outside Chile, the first thing I would do would be to take the plane back and get home as soon as possible. However, since my dad insisted so much that he wanted to be with me at the Worlds, I'm sure he would tell me to stay and compete. I even discussed it with my mum and brother, and they thought he would want that too."
Mardones demonstrated a unique strength of character and, driven by her father's love, rounded off a magnificent performance: she won the women's shot put F54 competition with a world record of 8.19m.
"Everything went really well, I always felt accompanied by him", she recalled. "During the days before the shot put event, just after the funeral, I had made two similar throws, but without a doubt it was something very special to do it in the competition.
"When the judges marked 8.19m, I started crying. They thought it was for the world record but I was happy to honour my father the best I could.
"That moment on the podium was very special. I was far away from my family, but I felt accompanied by all my country, they were sending me lots of messages of encouragement. While I had the gold medal around my neck, I was listening to the national anthem and looking up to the sky; it was the most exciting moment of my entire career."
"I've been asked where I get the energy during those adverse moments, how I get more strength. I think that life is simply like that: it puts up barriers, it makes you suffer something that was not contemplated and you can start crying. But the truth is that you have to go on, live in the moment and look at the future with optimism."
Mardones first got involved with Para sports through wheelchair tennis. At the age of 23, while working at a resort in the Virgin Islands, she fell down a ravine in the middle of a cyclone and suffered a spinal cord injury.
After a long rehabilitation, she took up wheelchair tennis. Over 12 years, she competed across two Paralympic Games (London 2012 and Rio 2016), three Parapan American Games (Rio 2007, Guadalajara 2011 and Toronto 2015) and reached the world No. 11 position.
She decided to stop practising the sport due to a chronic pain in her neck which also affected the mobility on her right arm. It also impacted her coordination and speed. That is when athletics came into the scene.
"Throws were what I liked best and found similar to tennis," she said.
Mardones had to alter her training plan due to the postponement of the Paralympic Games. "It's complicated, but if I work well I hope to reach the peak of my performance again in Tokyo," she said.
"I don't want to demand a podium of myself. I want to work every day so that the results can be seen later in the competition. I want to be confident, comfortable and enjoy. But obviously it's a dream of mine to win a Paralympic medal."