“I started to feel the pressure. Other athletes looked for me and they were afraid to talk with me because it was like ‘She’s Veronica Hipolito the world champion’. That happened and I think I grew up.”
The date of 22 July 2013 changed Veronica Hipolito’s life. The day the shy Brazilian teenager stepped out of the shadows and into the glare of being an athlete to chase, to inspire.
Hipolito had become world champion at 17-years-old, winning gold in the 200m T38 in Lyon, France, and setting a new championship record in the process – things would never be the same again.
In only her fourth ever para-athletics competition – and her first representing her country – the talented youngster was thrust in to the spotlight. Returning home to Brazil, Hipolito quickly realised that life had taken on a new dimension.
“Since 2013 things are very different,” she explained. “When I went back to Brazil everybody looked for me. I wasn’t Veronica Hipolito a new athlete in para-athletics, I was Veronica Hipolito the world champion and championship record holder. People looked differently at me and talked differently with me.”
With her newfound fame came expectation. The slightly built Brazilian knew that she would have to learn to stand tall and remain strong in the face of public scrutiny.
She admitted: “I started to feel the pressure. Other athletes looked for me and they were afraid to talk with me because it was like ‘She’s Veronica Hipolito the world champion’. That happened and I think I grew up.”
Hipolito’s experience at the World Championships also brought home to her how much she loved para-athletics, and how big a part it could play in her life.
A second year Economics student at University in Brazil, she had originally wanted to study engineering: “But not for love, I wanted a good job in the future, and the love was not so important.
“After the World Championships when I won the 200m and I started to do something that I loved – running. I love the paradox. When you run, everything is fast. It’s the fastest thing in my life, but in the same time it feels slow. I think the world just stops for me. I meet Veronica and who I am. I just love it.
“I said to my mother and father that I preferred to study economics. I love running and I love economics. This is my chance.”
Now Hipolito is determined to make the most of that chance, and has set her sights on the top of the podium at the World Championships in Doha, Qatar this year – and of course at the Paralympic Games on her home turf in Rio next year too.
Achieving these ambitions will not be easy however, for the Brazilian lines up in one of the most competitive classes – the women’s T38 sprints. It is a class bursting with talent, with the likes of Great Britain’s 100m world champion Sophie Hahn, Russia’s 100m Paralympic and European champion Margarita Goncharova, and China’s 200m Paralympic champion Junfei Chen all chasing gold too.
Hipolito is more than aware of the high standards she is up against. For her, it is not just about overcoming her rivalries out on the track; she is determined to make sure she also has a winning mindset. For Hipolito, mental strength is paramount to success on the track. That two-pronged attack is what she feels is needed to be the best in the world.
“If I want to win I have to win on the track and psychologically too. I talk with my coach, and I have a psychologist in my club, and also with the Brazil Paralympic team. So I will talk with them and my coach,” she said.
Last month’s Berlin Grand Prix was a crucial stepping stone for the Brazilian as she looks to conquer any lingering fears she may have – although a win in the 200m and a second place finish in the 100m T38 behind Goncharova still left Hipolito disappointed with her performances.
“In the Berlin Grand Prix it was similar to a bad feeling because the people have expectations about me and it was a bad competition, the worst competition in my life!” she exclaimed. “But the World Championships is the World Championships and I know I have four months to train and get my body and my mind ready.
“I want to win the 100m, the 200m, the 400m at the World Championships, but I know it’s difficult. I have Sophie, I have Margarita, I have Junfei; it’s difficult, but I want it and I train for this. I think I will win.
“With Sophie Hahn, it is a good rivalry,” she admitted. “I want to win, and she wants to win. But after and before the race we are friends. But with Margarita and Junfei, I was a little afraid.
“At [the Berlin] competition I saw Margarita, and I don’t feel so much afraid now. I know how I will be focussed for the event.”
Of course as a young Brazilian star, the Rio 2016 Games remain foremost in her mind.
“For Rio I am so excited – it’s my country and my family and friends will be there. I was at the World Championships at 17-years-old, so people look at me and forget how young I am - they see a world champion. I am a little afraid because it is such a big stage, such a major event. I have big rivals but I want to win. I think I am more excited than afraid. I want to win, I hate losing. I want to win everything!”
Hipolito will be one of 1,400 athletes set to line-up at the 2015 IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha, Qatar, between 22-31 August.